Pop Quiz: Modeling professionalism
I seriously want to pull my blanky up over my head and pretend the semester isn’t starting. But I have to be a professional. At the time this post goes up, I will have taught my first class this fall so I hope all want well.
In fact, I expect my students to behave professionally, and I hope that my behavior models that mode. What does professionalism mean though?
I generally explain I expect timeliness, effort, and behavior that does not disrupt the learning environment, but that’s the limit on what I specifically describe. I do mention disagreement is allowed but it should be respectful. I verbally explain that means that there are no insults to people when these disagreements happen.
I have just seen the dust up over the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne over the withdrawal of an offer (by saying the Board of Trustees would not get to vote to confirm the appointment) to a professor that was all but working there (accepted offer, resigned previous post) after they saw some of his tweets in a critical article in the Daily Caller. These tweets were harshly criticizing Israel, especially in regard to the current hostilities, and did contain profanity.
There’s been a lot of argument over this event, with one side citing academic freedom and freedom of speech, and the other stating students could be uncomfortable with expressing opposing views given the tenor of the tweets, and could fear reprisals from this professor.
The chancellor of U of I released a statement which stated in part:
Tenure also brings with it a heavy responsibility to continue the traditions of scholarship and civility upon which our university is built.
In a response, the California Scholars for Academic Freedom wrote in an open letter:
But neither “decorum” nor “civility”, highly subjective judgments in any case, have any bearing on the essential right to freedom of expression. Censure or censorship of such political rhetoric would seriously infringe on the range and manner of allowable expression and subject any professor who participates in the public sphere to an alarming degree for precarity, merely for practicing the kind of public critical exchange that we hopefully still encourage our students to engage in as citizens.
Putting aside the argument about whether or not social media presence should directly impact employment if that presence is personal rather than professional, is the expression of profanity and harsh statements inherently unprofessional?
In a post that lists what colleges should expose students to, English professor Kirstin Wilcox states students need to be uncomfortable to learn. Where does discomfort cross the line into a threat? When does passion and advocacy of a viewpoint on the part of the leader of a class become unprofessional? How should we model disagreement to sow students how to disagree especially about hot button issues? What is going too far?
One thing I will not tolerate in my class is any attempt to debate evolutionary theory by creationists. I state that very clearly, and if such a derailment starts, I cut it off immediately. I abide by my own rules and do not argue with the specific students lest it become disrespectful, I just stop the line of discussion and move on. Would that be threatening to those students arguing creationism? Is it “uncivil”? (I have had such students tell me I’m going to hell in their course evaluations; that seem to me to be uncivil – telling me I’m going to suffer for eternity…)
Is civility itself required for professionalism? Is civility the same thing as respect (of the person, not the ideas)?
Here’s my question to you: what is professionalism? What should we expect from our students, and are those expectations different from what we expect from ourselves?
The Pop Quiz is a question posed to you, the Scholars of Doubt. Look for it on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the afternoon (ET).