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Dear young professor

Welcome to the university! I’m sure you have heard this line already, not so long ago at freshmen orientation, with your dreams and ideals neatly packed along with your dorm essentials. But it means so differently now that you are on the other side, doesn’t it?

There’s a whole bunch of you—of us—who found ourselves in the hallowed halls of the university once again, though not as an undergrad anymore. Which goes to say that it’s about time our generation took the reins of these medieval institutions. Universities as we know them today are—surprise!—patterned after Catholic cathedral schools. Our young blood will be on that altar to continue this ancient tradition.

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It isn’t a wonder why many millennials are drawn to a career in the academe. You get to pursue so many other things alongside teaching. You take vacations more liberally, spend longer hours at the gym, and pursue more hobbies or interests. Strangely, you are at the receiving end of abundant attention and adoration. Of course, you will receive hate mail, too.

But what isn’t so obvious about a professor’s life is a lifetime dedicated to studying and researching. You may not know this, but the next couple of years will be an endless pursuit of knowledge. That is not a metaphor.

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For being a young professor I must congratulate you. This must mean you have accomplished your graduate studies at a young age. Too young to be traumatized by a master’s thesis. Worry not, it will pale in comparison as you tiptoe your way to your doctorate. Also, if you haven’t yet heard of the “publish or perish” adage, well, it’s not too late to reconsider. You will be dreaming of journals in your sleep and be able to do APA citations even with your eyes closed.

As a professor, you will be expected to do a lot of balancing. You may be an entrepreneur, but you are a researcher, too. You may be a consultant but by virtue, you are a teacher. Universities are academic havens where scientists, businessmen, artists and professionals share space. Regardless of whatever industry you came from, you are invited to teach.

That is the tough part.

It is higher education, after all. The academic freedom granted by the Magna Charta Universitatum makes the method of instruction more liberal and different. As Keith Parsons famously wrote to freshmen, “I am your professor, not your teacher. My job is to lead you to the fountain of knowledge. Whether you drink deeply or only gargle is entirely up to you.”

As professors, we are dealing with adults. As a result, we can expect highly of them on an adult level. These people will be future colleagues, mind you. We are teachers, which means we stand in loco parentis to them, but we are also representatives of the industries they wish to enter professionally in the near future.

This is where the real balancing comes in: to see students as adults but still very youthful individuals, as future colleagues but also as protégés, and most importantly, as humans who are as intelligent and promising as they are flawed and fearful of the future.

Dear young professor, to be one at these times is a privilege. We have seen loopholes in even the most stable institutions. We have experienced the highs and lows of a capitalist system that is just as punishing as it is rewarding. We live in a time where principles are negotiable and facts have alternatives. We have witnessed the compromise of excellence for mediocrity. Contrary to what others may say, the only difference between the two is commitment, not grades, or some manmade recognition.

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You will meet students in a bar, work out alongside them at the gym, go together at concerts even. Soon, you may work with them at the office, sit beside them at professional conventions, and become each other’s references.

But you are also a stalwart of an ancient academic tradition. When they say that universities are “communities of teachers and scholars,” it doesn’t strictly say you are always the teacher and the students are always the scholar. Some days you balance multiple roles, some days you switch them, too.

Dear young professor, some days you will wish that being a professor is all about teaching instead.

michael.baylosis@gmail.com

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TAGS: academic freedom, college, freshman orientation, higher education
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