Undergraduate Survey Findings
findings on Emory graduate students
Professor Brownley's essay
responds to a report in the February/March 2000 Academic Exchange
of the recent survey of Emory seniors. The survey found that
while 97 percent of the respondents felt their professors provided
them with intellectual challenge and stimulation, only 20 percent
said they received frequent emotional support and encouragement,
and over 30 percent said they never received emotional support
or encouragement from their professors.
My concern is not with the
relatively low percentage of the Class of 1999 who reported receiving
emotional support and encouragement from the Emory faculty. In
my view, the basic problem is that the question was ever posed
to the students in the first place. Such a query reflects serious
misunderstanding about proper professorial conduct and sets up
false expectations among students about what we who teach can
and cannot reasonably offer to them.
The question is yet more evidence of the problematic blurring
of public and private spheres that has increasingly marked U.S.
society as traditional family, community, and religious structures
implode. Every college student has a right to expect professors
to be thoroughly prepared, to offer intellectual stimulation,
and to be available for all the academic guidance needed. No
student has a right to expect professors to provide the kind
of quasi-familial or therapeutic relationships that involve emotional
support. Professors fail students when they move to be mothers,
fathers, psychiatrists, or buddies to them.
Arguing against professorial dabbling in the emotional lives
of students is difficult, because the automatic response is:
"Oh, you just don't really care about students." But
I do care about my students, and I care enough about them so
that I want to offer the best assistance that I can. I have no
training in psychology or psychiatry, but I do know a good deal
about English literature. And if I teach my literature courses
as I should, both my students and I will derive emotional as
well as intellectual sustenance from the stories that we read
and analyze together.
The emotions that professors can most appropriately share with
students are their passion for their subject matter and their
commitment to do all that they can to help every student master
that material at the highest level possible. As Samuel Hazo's
poem "For My Last Class of Freshmen" puts it, "we
share the private tables of the mind." From this kind of
intellectual focus, many different kinds of relationships evolve
between students and faculty members, relationships that remain
healthy only if the distance required for proper intellectual
respect and discipline is maintained. My students' emotions should
be focused on the literature they study, not on me.
My experiences in the classroom continue to indicate that most
Emory students are not deficient in self-esteem. Their deficiencies
in areas such as the basics of English grammar, however, grow
more appalling each year. Right now, I spend far too much of
my time teaching my students things that they should have been
taught in middle school--or at the very least, in high school.
I keep thinking that perhaps if their other schools had paid
more attention to their minds and less to their egos, they, I,
and the society as a whole would be a lot better off.
As professors, the intellectual challenges we face are increasingly
demanding, as students arrive more poorly prepared. We cannot
give our students the educations they deserve if we try to be
all things to them. If I do the job that I have been trained
to do-if I teach my students how to use the English language
properly and how to read it with not just comprehension but understanding--their
experiences should give them a solid ground on which to build
esteem not only for themselves, but for the literature that itself
can provide emotional sustenance for them that will remain long
after I am gone.
A new study by the Office
of Institutional Planning and Research indicates that some 45
percent of graduate students seeking advice felt they were not
receiving adequate advising on career and personal matters related
to the profession. The Academic Exchange invites faculty responses
to this finding, as well as to the findings on undergraduate