What professors should be thankful for

lecture hall

William Pannapacker, an associate professor of English at Hope College, says academe has a culture of ingratitude.

(Just read On Campus to get a dose.)

It’s apparently because academics aren’t supposed to accept the status quo, and so must struggle endlessly — and crabbily — for progress and enlightenment.

But for Thanksgiving, he suggests thinking a bit about all the things that make life in the classroom worthwhile.

I’ve edited his piece (written under a pen name) for length — and the potential for sappiness:

  • Students: I often wonder about the impact of my scholarship or the purpose behind endless committee meetings, but I have never doubted the value of teaching something—even something seemingly small, like the art of punctuation—to a student who sincerely wants to learn and who might benefit from what I have to teach.
  • Scholarship: The building of scholarly credentials—the maintenance of an engaged academic mind—is essential to good teaching.
  • Conferences: I particularly like small conferences, where most participants have something in common, and where the possibility of helpful suggestions and future collaboration is greater.

  • Colleagues: Because there is so little mobility in academe, feuds between faculty members can incubate and fester for decades. But such tensions are nearly always minor in comparison to the intellectual, social, and even spiritual support we receive from the people with whom we work.
  • Libraries and librarians: While the Internet has been a boon to scholarly research, the physical library is—more than stadiums, more than student centers—the heart of the academic enterprise.
  • Administrators: We may disagree with their choices, but administrators typically have the larger picture in mind. As a group, administrators work harder than most of us to maintain our institutions in the face of increasing uncertainty.
  • Philanthropy: Since I was an undergraduate, I’ve benefited from scholarships, fellowships, travel grants, and, most recently, the support of a major foundation to create a program that combines what I most valued in my own education with more recent technological innovations.
  • Shared governance: The opportunity to have a respected voice in the policies of one’s institution is what makes academe fundamentally different from a business or a bureaucracy.
  • Flexibility: You could say that we have the freedom to work any 70 hours a week that we would like, but having some flexibility makes a large difference for households juggling two careers and possibly some children, as well as all the other responsibilities of life.
  • An office: It pays psychological and professional dividends as a secure, comfortable “laboratory” for my scholarly work, a place of retreat and recharging between teaching and meetings, and a place where my students can find me, and I can advise them with lots of resources on hand.
  • Luck: Nowadays, the qualitative difference between those who hold privileged posts and those who are working part time in contingent positions is smaller, as they say in contested elections, than the margin of error. There are many people who deserve tenure-track jobs and will never get them. Somehow I won the lottery.