The conversation about professorial personas, professional ethics, and blogging continues over at weezBlog, where Elouise considers the question of virtual fraternization — students reading professors’ blogs and vice versa. One of her commenters responds (copying his earlier post to Wealth Bondage, which, as Elouise notes, contains an indignation arising from that original conversation) by pointing out the level of control that students have over professors’ success, by virtue of paying tuition and reviewing class performances. Much of this entry originates in my ensuing comment.
I will confess that the consumerist model of education — implicit in the sense that students pay the salaries that we as professors receive — sets my teeth on edge. Part of that has to do with my institution, a small liberal arts college that prides itself on its adherence to a model of education that seems really outdated in this McDonaldized nation: we focus on one-on-one contact (professional contact, that is) between faculty and students, on discussion, and on a sense that learning is a goal in and of itself, rather than preparation for the job market.
And part of it is the sense that my profession — my vocation — and the ideals that many of us espouse are being insulted in this conflation with the service industry. No, students are not waiters (an analogy that the commenter takes issue with, but one that originated in the Wealth Bondage post) — but neither are professors. We don’t want to deliver credentials (or even knowledge) in response to a financial transaction. What we hope is that students are there because they honestly want to learn — and as it happens, we’ve already studied the stuff they’re now studying. This gives us a certain edge in our relationship, one that most of us use generously, giving to the institution and our students far more than we receive in financial compensation, because the other kinds of compensation we get — like satisfaction in seeing a student grow, and think, and understand more deeply than he or she did before — make it all worth it.
Yeah, start the violins. I’m weepy now, just thinking of my altruism. But I stand by what I’ve said, sappy or not.
About the question of fraternization, though: the IRL kind is risky, for the reasons that Elouise and several of her commenters note (difficult to use one’s authority with a pal; too easy to abuse one’s power with a subordinate; even easier to be perceived as doing one or the other by one’s peers, who are really the ultimate arbiters of one’s job security). The virtual kind, I’m still unsettled about. I know I’ve got at least a couple of students who read my blog, but only a few have left comment-footprints. I wonder, as George does on his site, though: has my writing changed since my students have found the site? Do I self-censor? If so, in what ways, and why? What parts of my writing self would I not want my students to see?
So, those of you students who are reading — pipe up. Let me know you’re out there. And if you’ve got a blog — do you want me reading it? What would you change if you knew that I were?