The other day Alex Sévigny, a professor at McMaster University, posted a wonderful answer to this question on his blog.
I encourage you to read it. Here are some excerpts to tempt you, though I fear they lose some of their power separated from the whole.
Universities should strive to build in students a yearning for the good life. They should be accessible, open places, and a professor should be both a guide and a companion on that journey. I grow with my students. Sometimes through discussion over coffee or a beer in The Phoenix, our McMaster University pub. Sometimes through in-class interaction – answering questions, fostering discussion, sometimes even through the silent nonverbal feedback I get when I am lecturing. Sometimes during quiet, emotional moments in my office when young people who are faltering at meeting the challenges that life or the university has dealt them, open up to me and relate to me their dreams, their sadnesses, their frustrations and their aspirations.
We live in a cynical age. In the 19th and 20th centuries, we put our faith in the machine, but the machine has failed us. Materialism has reduced our sensitivity to one another, to nature, and to the future. We have been numbed by the machine. People are not machines. We are far more complex than the most intricate of computers or space stations. The least among us is an astonishing blend of knowledge, and feelings and experiences.
Universities are one of the last bastions resisting against the onslaught of the machine. Although much diminished by materialism, closed mindedness and instrumentalism, they remain places where a citizen may find quiet. Where professors are allowed to exist in monastic autonomy and organize themselves. Where the ideas of the world meet to be debated, examined and pondered. Where people from all social classes, walks of life and backgrounds can gather in safety to discover one another and, in the process, perhaps discover something about themselves.
Reading this post got me thinking.
Wouldn’t it be interesting to read a whole bunch of different answers to this question?
I don’t want to hold up Alex’s answer as the Right answer (or the Wrong answer). His is one answer.
If there is value in asking you to think about, and write about, your answer to this question it is in how that illuminates your answer.
And there may be value in sharing your answers so that you can see how varied the answers are. That your answer is just as Right (or Wrong) as anyone else’s. That there isn’t one way to be a professor.
By the way, we are using “professor” in the North American sense of the term here. You don’t have to be a FULL professor to answer even if, in the UK and elsewhere, you wouldn’t call yourself a professor at lower ranks.
I invite you to write your own response to the question “Why are you a professor?” (or, if you aren’t yet a professor, “Why you want to be a professor?”)
If you have a blog, post the answer on your blog and then come and post a link in the comments to this post so others can go find it. You can also put a link to this post in your post so that your readers can come find other people’s answers here.
If you don’t have a blog, don’t worry. Send me your answer (less than 500 words, please) in an e-mail, along with information about who you are and a contact e-mail address. Let me know how much identifying information you would like published along with your answer.
I will publish answers on my website as individual posts, with links so people can find them.
This is my website, so I reserve the right to decide what to publish here. In general, I am open to all kinds of answers. However, I do have guidelines for these posts (these don’t apply on your own blog, where you set the rules).
- This is your answer. You are not defining how it should be for other people, you are telling how it is for you.
- You do not need to be defensive. Assume we accept your reasons, whatever they are.
- I will moderate the comments that appear on this site and won’t allow personal attacks or nasty comments.
- If you want me to post your answer, you need to be comfortable sharing your full name, affiliation, e-mail address, etc. with me. If you don’t want to share all that with the world, that’s okay, but I need to be able to verify who is writing content that I post here.
- I reserve the right to edit for readability and skimmability. That might mean you end up with some one-sentence paragraphs and some headings. Blog writing is not the same as academic article writing.
- I don’t have time to edit a lot of submissions. Please keep your post to 500 words or less.
Even if you don’t want to publish your answer, I welcome comments letting me know whether writing out your own answer was helpful or not.
Thanks for indulging this idea. And thanks to Alex Sévigny for such an inspiring post.
Categories updated March 8, 2016.