Our So-Called Problem with Modern Academia Culture

Recently, my advanced creative writing workshop professor emailed our class—a feisty group of 15 who really enjoy challenging him—an article from that week’s New York Times and a rebuttal with the email subject “Optional Reading.” At our next class, two days later, he was animatedly disappointed to learn that the vast majority had ignored his email (admittedly, at this point I was in the majority); only two of my classmates had read the articles.

The article, “What’s the Point of a Professor?” by Mark Bauerlein, criticized modern academia culture, starting with grade inflation and moving on to professor-student relationships. Bauerlein argues that students don’t value their professors as “thinkers and mentors” anymore. In his reminiscing of the Ivory Tower of the good old days, he says English majors used to line the halls just with the hopes to get to some face-time with the great minds of their professors. Now, however, students are too worried about GPAs and future careers to waste their time building relationships and milking the knowledge of their faculty.

My professor whined that, by not reading this “optional reading,” we were proving Bauerlein’s point.  The students who did read it vehemently opposed Baurelein’s argument and sided with the rebuttal Professor sent us, “I will Not be Lectured To. I’m Too Busy Teaching” by Kevin Gannon (or the Tatted Professor, as we preferred to refer to him by his blog name).

Tatted Prof challenged Bauerlein in a much more conversational piece posted on his own blog. He initially blows off Bauerlein as an “obliviously pretentious Older White Male Professor,” which, although a fair argument, as Bauerlein is an English professor at Emory University, even Tatted Prof admits that’s a little too easy.

“Academic classism,” Tatted Prof calls Bauerlein’s complaints, recognizing that Bauerlein’s argument only holds weight at elite institutions, “in gothic buildings where even the ivy has ivy.” Tatted Prof’s rebuttal mostly defends the faculty, since that’s the position from where he’s speaking, but his defense also applies to students.

As much as many of us students would love to spend our afternoons waiting on picturesque campuses to discuss modernism with our professors, as Tatted Prof illustrates, it’s just not realistic. Similarly to how Tatted Prof outlines the demands for professors—especially adjunct and non-tenure track—we as students have constant demands outside of our coursework.

Maybe grade inflation is real, but for many of us (about 70% of undergraduates, according to DePaul), even being able to be on this campus is dependent on scholarships or financial aid, and that money is dependent on our grades. Similarly, while students yearn to be sitting in the English department halls, they are at part-time jobs so that they can afford rent, groceries, and tuition. To sit in our professor’s offices, we need to be enrolled in university. But to be enrolled in university here, most students need financial aid, or a job, or both, preventing us from spending hours a week waiting to chat with our professors.

While I may agree with Bauerlein’s complaint that not all students take full advantage of professors’ knowledge, guidance, and feedback, I have to discount it for his lack of a privilege check.

What are your thoughts on modern academia culture?