When the Princeton Review recently released its annual college rankings, most Tech students had a field day with UGA’s new title as the top party school, but few took notice of our new ranking: fourth in the nation for “Least Accessible Professors.” This sign of a dichotomy on campus was certainly not the first and seems to only reinforce the results of the Student Experience Survey released last May, where students voiced similar concerns. One conclusion of this study that has particularly shocked and resonated across campus deals with the extent of students’ pessimism on the weakness of student-faculty interaction and their low confidence that faculty want each student to succeed. In simple terms, students and professors are struggling to see eye-to-eye on the features of a Tech education.
In all fairness to the faculty, these convenient talking points serve more as an indicator of student opinion than as reference to empirical studies on the devotion of professors to the education of their students. We should also consider the massive demands on the faculty’s time, from lectures to families, from grant proposals to paper publishing. Perhaps the situation is not perfect, but they work hard to keep everything in balance.
Now begins the blame game. Students will say that professors care more about their research than their lectures. Faculty will say that college students nowadays feel entitled to good grades without putting forth the work ethic to earn A’s. In all honesty, both sides are correct in one aspect or another. Faculty members feel the pressure of competing in a globalized academic melee while students face equally stressful demands to fill their resumes with a solid GPA, leadership skills, work experience, volunteer hours, original research and study abroad.
Instead, Tech faces the cold, hard truth that this breakdown in student-faculty interaction is a shared venture and a shared failure. Only our mutual responsibility to define the classroom culture at Tech can be held liable for overcoming the growing divide we face.
Think back on the best academic experience you have had while at Tech. Perhaps, for a faculty member, it was a study abroad trip that you led through the streets of Taipei or for a student, the extra hours that a professor spent after class to explain the finer points of bioinformatic algorithms to you. These moments, when students and professors can work together, help to develop the education experience we seek, and they will grow increasingly important as we set out on Dr. Peterson’s quest to “define education in the 21st century.” In order to develop the service-learning, leadership development and international programs that our students seek, the Tech community must work together to address the student-faculty divide.
Ultimately, the question we are left with is, how can we as students improve this joint venture? Put simply, the answer is individual responsibility. Each student is not solely responsible for the student-faculty dynamic, but we are all personally responsible for our contribution.
As individuals and as a student body, we must work with professors to outline and live by the principles expected of us as equal partners in this struggle. We must be engaged in developing our larger education instead of trying to figure how to simply ‘Win at Tech.’ We must take every opportunity to correct many of the underlying points of contention, by enhancing the role of the Honor Code on campus and fully participating in the CIOS system. In essence, we must extend our campus’ sense of community into the classroom.
Yet, this understanding certainly does not absolve the faculty of their fair share of the blame for the current situation. Professors can also help improve the situation significantly by building an open and supportive environment in their classes. Simple steps, such as providing a detailed syllabus on the first day of class, discussing their background and research interests, and repeatedly inviting students to visit during office hours, can make a substantial effect on the morale and enthusiasm of their students. As much as students need to recognize their responsibility in this struggle, the faculty must work to see students as partners both inside and outside the classroom.
While each of these suggestions has the potential to positively impact the educational experience at Tech, they can only hope to pick away at the larger challenge of a campus-wide shift in classroom culture. Student Government and the Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning are working hard to facilitate many of these initiatives, but in the end, only individual members of the Tech community can choose to make it happen. Consider this the call to action, the thrown gauntlet.