Professors as Wielders of Truth, Dictators, or Facilitators

In the humanities classroom—I speak in particular of literature here—what is the role of the professor now? Is it changing? How has it changed? Does the professor at times hold and use too much power so as to be authoritative with his published books and many letters behind her name? Is the professor a facilitator only that aids the literature student in finding his way? How often should a student openly disagree with or challenge professorial authority? In other words, in their attempts at dismantling authority, showing hegemony for what it is, separating us from the paradigms in which we unwittingly live, do professors also ironically demand certain kinds of "knowledge" which they ought not to?

  • Depends on the prof...There are as many different types of profs as there are students. I don't think they can be lumped into one category. In any profession there are people who abuse their power or who altruistically give of their time and knowledge. Perhaps whoever writes this article could look at how professors are portrayed in literature. The writer could also look at how the role of professors are depicted in movies even though the topic is in the literature category if the writer wanted to expand. In the kids movie Big Hero Six the prof was the villain. Surprise!! But how are most profs roles written? As villains or heroes? – Munjeera 6 years ago
  • I personally think they can perform all these kinds of roles. Take your university -or the academic world- as a micro-society; everyone of this people has a role to play and fills it with individuality. A professor might choose to focus on his/her students learning because he's not able to produce academic material; another one may produce it, but become frustrated because the academic community doesn't value it, so he pushes his ideas on his students with authority; and so on. There's no fixed role for the professor. I've had teachers who wouldn't admit any answer as right as well as those who would agree to anything, as long as it was inventive; those pursuing the improvement of the whole class, and those motivating us to fight like dogs for points. They are human beings with a determinate set of goals, ideas and complexes; and yes, they have a position of power that 'practically' would be unwise to challenge. If you want to dismantle authority, you may always find other kinds of spaces: a conversation, your own published book. – Paul Iago 6 years ago
  • Speaking as a professor, I can tell you that every one of us has a different teaching style, personality, size of ego, and pedagogical philosophy; as well as what we believe is important in the classroom atmosphere. You will find Wielders of Truth, Dictators, and Facilitators in every discipline; in every department; often all in one person! It really is about the individual. Interacting with students in the classroom is often based on the students themselves - not all students will respond the same way to the same material. Some classes are talkative and like to discuss issues, some do not; some seem as a general group to be defensive, or bored, or engaged, or laid-back, or hyper, or distracted (and if it's a 2 pm class, everyone is just trying not to fall asleep), so we have to (or ought to, at least) adapt our teaching strategies in turn. But your topic is actually very timely, as it is closely related to the current, often passionate debate over tenure: its perceived benefits and drawbacks, and whether or not it is a guarantee of free speech (as it is meant to be), or a free pass to be self-serving, lazy, and/or abusive toward students. Good stuff here. However, can you clarify the last part for me? I understand the implicit irony of expecting compliance while simultaneously preaching free thought and raging against the machine, but I'm not sure what you mean by demanding (?) knowledge "they ought not to be" requesting. Do you mean they are being inappropriate? In what way? – Katheryn 6 years ago
  • To second the above comment, I, as a professor, would appriciate more nuance. Sometimes students challenge a professor with no evidence to back up their claims. There is a right way and a wrong way to challenge authority and the people with more letters at the back of their name are better trained in the art of critical analysis. I teach theatre which is close to literature and there IS a such thing as a wrong interpretation if it cannot be backed by textual evidence or dramaturgy. – Christen Mandracchia 6 years ago
  • I teach theatre too! - seconded. – Katheryn 6 years ago

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