You Watch Your Phraseology!

So, as is usually the case when I blog, I find myself in a bit f a quandary about just what to feel after reading this article:

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/10/23/professionalism

I’m a generation in age removed from those I advise and teach and have noticed some accuracy in the reporting of universal tendencies in the behavior of members of the Millennial Generation.  However, the general tone of the article seems to indicate that the HR people doing the assessing were as curmudgeonly as Mayor Shinn from “The Music Man.” And the suggestion that university educators are contributing to the problem simply isn’t good for the vein in my head.

Polk offered a number of suggestions about what colleges can do in the classroom to improve the “professionalism” of their graduates.

“… some professors will say, ‘Just call me by my first name.’ There’s no way I think that’s proper behavior in my classroom. It creates this wonderfully false impression that professors are less authority figures than they are friends.”

No, let’s not break down the typical power structure of teacher-centered teaching by humanizing ourselves as professors. Ignore the fact that one of the verifiable universals of the millennial generation is that they respect and admire educators who are not only experts in their field but who can also have a healthy laugh at her/himself and display an appropriate level of irreverence from time to time.

“There’s this moral authority that some professors get uncomfortable with. For this to work successfully, when a professor calls out a student’s behavior, the administration should be there to back them up immediately and say, ‘Your behavior is wrong.’”

Isn’t is possible to impress the importance of professionalism and respect upon younger generations by earning it and displaying it to them as well. And what happens when the professor is being unreasonable with her/his demands of respect or accusations of inappropriate behavior, the department backs her/him unquestionably and the student is unjustly reprimanded? What have we taught the student then?

“One of the things you’ve got to ask yourself is, are we just a bunch of dinosaurs looking at young people saying, ‘What I’m seeing here is inappropriate,’ ” mused Polk, who made sure to note he was 61. “Are the changes in attitude here generational or are they lifestyle changes? Will you people eventually take on conservative professionalism or have things just changed?

And what if things have changed–is that such a problem? Do we really care if the investment banker reaping the super huge bonus at the end of the year despite his under-performance is tattooed or sports body piercings? Is the more-problematic behavior in this scenario the former rather than the latter?

By all means, as educators, it is inherent upon us to prepare those we teach for a successful life in the world of work–let us teach a strong work ethic and an unwavering sense of professionalism and respect. But to suggest that the only way to do so is to blast university education sixty years into the past is ludicrous.

“First, it’s medicinal wine from teaspoon, then beer from a bottle!”

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About Art

I've been a higher education professional for over 15 years and an Academic Advising administrator for the past eight of those. I have a background in exploratory student advising and have spent a great deal of time guiding students through contemplating their personal college-to-career pathways. I've published, presented, and consulted on the intersection of social media and academia and am a firm believer in social media's power as a tool for engagement rather than solely information delivery. I've worked at public and private institutions as well as 2-year colleges and 4-year universities. I believe in Academic Advising as a teaching and learning activity, that learner-centered education is the key to students' academic success, and that as long as we keep students' individual goals and success at the center of our decision-making process, the problem of college-level student attrition can be solved.
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One Response to You Watch Your Phraseology!

  1. Art says:

    A colleague on Facebook left this comment there–I felt it necessary to re-post:

    Jenine Buchanan:
    “Great post, Art. I can see your point. Blue jeans and first names will not lead to a slippery slope of disrespect for educators. And as a frequent flyer of my local tattoo shop, I don’t think that tattoos and piercings are career stoppers. Perhaps the article is a bit extreme. At the same time, I whole-heartedly agree with its statements that this generation of students has got to learn independent decision making and learn that there are appropriate times and places for certain things. With regard to decision making, I have students often (at least weekly) tell me they’ve got to call their parents before making a minor decision (“Hmm,. should I take World History or US? Maybe mom remembers which one I like better.”) I have been in “the biz” for about 10 years and have witnessed a large increase in a lack of appropriate boundaries. Students casually swear and use the cell phones (texting and accepting calls during sessions) quite frequently in my office. And I do believe it’s important for me to talk with them about those issues. They seem surprised that I might find it disrespectful. This stuff isn’t to disparage this generation – they’re brilliant and talented. But I do think they need a little help on the soft skills.”

    I love Jenine’s take on this!

    I like to think of our students’ transgressions as great teachable moments–they open the door for us to say, “you know, most people not of your generation (i.e. the ones who will likely give you your first job), find that highly dis-respectful

    Like

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