Monday, December 18, 2006

A Call to Action: Not in My Class

Lately, idealistic professor of the humanities that I am, I have felt beset on all sides. On one side is an administration that sees students as a clientele, programs as products to be marketed, and academic standards subject to modification if students find them too difficult.

On another side are students who refuse to take their work seriously. At present, those students count for about two thirds of the students in my courses, and the trend does not look promising. On still another side is my own faculty association which cares only about how much faculty are paid, all the while fighting for the rights of the underqualified instructor and the abusive full professor alike.

And so I have made a resolution, a statement of non-compromise. A line in the sand, if you will excuse the cliche. Simply, it is this: Not in my class.

I have tenure and I'm going to use it. I will not lower my standards no matter how much my colleagues do. I will not compromise what I know to be fair and reasonable expectations because students complain. I will not turn my back on the grand tradition of university education to embrace petty division and adversarial politics. If my class is the last real university class in the English-speaking world, so be it. I will go down with this ship if I have to.

So, Deans and Vice Presidents take note. Say all you want about niche markets and the need to make things easier for our recruiters. That's fine. Do what you have to do. But not in my class.

Students, there is no one who will spend more time helping you learn to be a broad-minded, educated person than me. I know some of you want to work hard, and I have faith that the power of literature and the pleasure of honest, hard, intellectual effort will continue to attract at least a few of you every year. But if you want something for nothing, if you want less reading because you don't have time to do it, if you want a different kind of course because you think it's more relevant to your chosen career, I have to tell you, it's not going to happen. Not in my class.

Union bosses, take note too. I'll cash my paycheck because I need to live, but I'm not here for the money, and I will gladly give up a raise if it means higher standards, better access to research materials, and money to fix the crumbling plaster on the walls. I am not a worker; I am a scholar. And if you want me to be anything else, you've got the wrong guy. That's not how I do things. Not in my class.

And the thing is, I'm pretty sure I'm not alone. I'm pretty sure there are lots of others out there, idealists just like me who are tired of constant concession and are ready to say enough is enough. To all of you I say this: you can't change them, but you can decide not to change.

So say it with me: Not in my class.