Academic Engagement

Is there academic engagement, in the teaching and learning process, from professors? That appears to be a question.

In a discussion of why students are failing to engage in their undergraduate education, Thomas H. Benton wrote about a college junior who

recalled that she “really thought college would be an incredible experience. … I expected a series of heated debates in class, and meeting for coffee to discuss classroom topics. But all I hear is ‘I’m bored’ and ‘I just don’t care.'” A lot of students have worked extraordinarily hard to get into the “right” kind of college, only to wonder what all the hype was about. The common experience is that getting admitted is the most exhausting part. After that, the struggle mainly is financial. But at the major universities, most professors are too busy to care about individual students, and it is easy to become lost amid a sea of equally disenchanted undergraduates looking for some kind of purpose—and not finding it.

Perhaps it is because I am not now, and have never been as anything except a graduate student where I taught undergraduate classes, at a research university, but I have not found that professors are “too busy to care about individual students.”

My undergraduate professors wrote long and glowing references for me to pursue graduate school. My dissertation director (ten years after the fact and five after her retirement) just wrote a foreword for my next book, immediately after her return from a six-month long honeymoon cruise. I have gotten input and feedback on presentations from professors at other colleges, some of whom I had worked with and others whom I never had… So I think that, at least at the levels where I work, the too-busy, unengaged professor is not an actuality.

Certainly there have been times when I have been too busy. Last week I told my son I couldn’t talk because I was writing the QEP proposal for my school’s SACS accreditation. But even then, I stopped what I was doing for students.

Am I really that rare a bird in academia? Am I the lone surviving dodo? I don’t think so.

Picture is John Tenniel’s illustration from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

One thought on “Academic Engagement”

  1. Nope, you aren’t. My experience at an R1 as an undergrad was that I had to learn to take the initiative to go to office hours. When I finally learned that, my professors were incredibly generous with their time and patient with my slowness. At the community college where I went later, I don’t think I went to office hours because I was working full-time in the day and taking night classes, but again, the professors were helpful in responding to questions during and after classes, and wrote letters of rec. And later, when I went to a comprehensive university, again, my professors were more than generous in helping me.

    The key is that students need to be interested and take the initiative. Enough of my students are engaged and active in class and office hours that they keep me busy. But the ones who aren’t, I admit, can slip through the metaphorical cracks without my much worrying.

    Because even if 30% of students aren’t learning all they should, we’re evidently succeeding with 70%, and if a baseball hitter hit 70% of the time, he’d be the greatest hitter of all time, right?

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