As I have been thinking about what traditions and values I would like my former employer to preserve, I have been revisiting my writings about differences between academic and business cultures. Below is one my first attempts to capture some of the differences. It was the first of 13 blog pieces I wrote for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as part of their community blogging program.
Written for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Monday, October 1st, 2007
“Just what does a college professor do?” I recall my dad asking me in a bewildered voice. “Sit around in the office all day reading books ?”
He wasn’t being sarcastic; merely communicating the knowledge gap between his business world and the world, I entered when I discovered that college teaching was my calling.
I generally arrive on campus before 7:00 a.m. to guarantee that I’ll find a place to park, be able to have a doughnut and coffee while mingling with a few college staff friends and leave enough time to ensure that the technology I use in the classroom is not going to misbehave. Today I gave my first exam to my 8:00 introductory psychology class — one of my favorite and most challenging courses I teach. iI’s a favorite class in large part because most of the students are first-semester first-year students. It Is the most difficult in that I must convey the findings of psychological science in far less depth and far more selectively than I prefer. Tonight I’ll sit down with their exams, learn how effective I’ve been in teaching, and then plan ways to help them and me improve.
In my 9:00 class, I returned and went over an exam today. This class, “Statistics and Experimental Design,” is required of all majors and draws a nice mix of students from other disciplines. I share with them my delight that, as a class, they did so well (despite the creative Statistics Muse having visited me, resulting in my including as part of the exam the interpretation of an experiment reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel a few days ago). Three of the students who did not do so well and I spent 1/2 hour working on problems together until we each concluded they knew the material.
My last class of the teaching part of my day involved a review session with my “Experimental Social Psychology Class.” Although the students brought doughnuts, they failed to demonstrate that they were sufficiently prepared to engage in the level of discussion I know they’re capable of. Therefore, I dismissed them early and pondered my lack of success. Tomorrow’s another day. I am confident that they and I shall learn from this experience.
My office hours were busy today. My student assistant (who has worked for me for three years) showed me some excellent work she has independently done in developing a prototype of a web-based survey for me. A publisher’s rep stops by and shares some exciting possibilities for online course development. Two students stopped by to say hello and share ideas about an interesting independent study. With one, we begin our spirited discussion about the differences between a college and a university. Another student plopped down on the chair in my office and then, with embarrassment, realizes she has sat on my laptop. I reassured her that Robin, my Newfoundland pup, who weighs more than her, has also sat on my laptop with impunity. We laugh.
A student wanders in to share a personal problem. I try to provide support while not overstepping boundaries (I am not a clinical psychologist). A colleague dropped by, and we began discussing the possibility of collaborating on research. A glance at my e-mail reveals that an alumna from Stout wants to share some of her graduate school experiences, a journal editor is interested in my writing a book review, and our Admissions Office would like to know whether I can find time to meet with a prospective student. Before I leave campus, a colleague invites me for coffee to discuss arrangements for hosting a visiting professor from England. The colleague (aware of my Brewers’ loyalty) kindly gives me a Ricky Weeks bobblehead doll.
Yes, Dad, I have read all those books in my office and even contributed scholarly work to some, but the rewarding life of a college professor involves so much more. I am so lucky.