Op-ed: Professors should stop putting their needs before students'

Professors are afraid of losing control, argues one professor

Grappling with an uncertain future, professors overcompensate by exerting too much control in the classroom, Kathryn Blanchard writes for the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Provost Scott Bass and Dean of Academic Affairs Mary Clark at American University wrote last fall in the Chronicle that one of the greatest threats to universities is "criticism from students and others uncomfortable with the points of view expressed in the classroom and by individual faculty members."

This viewpoint has been echoed in the past few months, with many critics saying that college students are overly sensitive and easily traumatized.

The Atlantic: Students are hurting education—and themselves—by protesting speech

But Blanchard, an associate professor of religious studies at Alma College in Michigan, argues that the bigger threat to colleges is the refusal to confront serious problems.

Students speaking out about complex issues is not the death of higher education, she says, it's simply an evolution in campus culture. Students in the past "apparently accepted sexism and racism as facts of life," Blanchard says, but "students today no longer accept those things."

So what actually is a threat to higher education? Blanchard rattles off a laundry list, including;

  • Faculty member and administrators ducking accountability;
  • National rankings that favor wealthy  schools;
  • Sexual assault on campus;
  • Students abusing alcohol;
  • Program and department cuts;
  • Unstable investments; and
  • Bloated athletic budgets.

According to Blanchard, the "gravest threat to American higher education is American culture." The average American is too busy with their day-to-day life to worry about the plight of the professor, leaving academics to grapple with their own issues, such as funding cuts and low salaries.

With all of these outside uncertainties, "the classroom may be the last sphere in which [professors] feel some small measure of freedom and control," Blanchard writes.

But Blanchard implores her fellow professors to consider how their roles in the classroom can influence their students' learning environments.

How to be sensitive to students without compromising academic freedom

"Instead of protecting ourselves, let's do something radical and put student learning first," she writes (Blanchard, Chronicle of Higher Education, 1/8; Bass/Clark, Chronicle of Higher Education, 9/28/2015).

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

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