Embrace an old-timer now

Cherish the humble professor whose focus is on knowledge - not the latest gimmick - while you can, says Jeffrey Ross

February 4, 2010

Perhaps an increasingly diminishing population, the Old Time Professors (OTPs) group is evidenced by good works, concern for students and commitment to academic excellence and prosperity. Far from the madding crowd, they are stewards first, and leaders when called ...

Generally their eyesight is good, their social skills are good, and they are unafraid of the light - both physical and figurative. You will find them in offices visiting with students, or in virtual classrooms, or chatting electronically, or reading journals, magazines, or other texts relevant to their academic lives.

Both male and female, they are happy, adjusted, and enjoy coming to work and seeing students and co-workers.

They are part of the strange, shrinking, almost invisible group of faculty who operate at a very different level than the ersatz "leaders", the New Time Professors (NTPs), who are happily participating in the mycareer.com cultural focus.

Worker bees, OTPs are rebelling against nothing. Celebrating true accomplishment, and honey-sweet knowledge, many OTPs find the whirring chinchilla wheels of the 21st-century workplace bemusing - and sad.

Oh, you may recognise the OTPs' attributes, their traits, their unassuming and seemingly unseemly habits.

OTPs avoid meetings called to rewrite mission statements. (They would rather work directly to improve student learning than create textual abstractions.)

OTPs do not cancel student conferences or classes to attend interview search committee meetings or software upgrade training.

The OTPs' frustration may, at times, be manifested in grumpiness, or stoic stares, or strange silences - there is really nothing left to say - and what the OTP does voice is frequently dismissed, misunderstood or ignored by The Culture.

You will rarely see them standing in hallways wired up about becoming a dean or retiring in six years, or vexed at the cost of an online programme in education leadership ... or fearful of what's coming down from the vice-principal's office.

They don't need to speak in the clipped, career-effective speech forms common to the NTPs (data driven! stakeholder focused!). They have confidence - the confidence that comes from academic immersion, from thinking, from listening, from reading, from interaction and observation with people who have something to say or question.

The OTPs believe that real knowledge, real awareness, real communitarians, real partnerships, real sustainability, real learning-centred work matters, and that focus and immediate action have power. And that decisiveness, quietude and integrity may manifest true success.

An OTP will happily answer student questions about covalent bonding, or the White Russians, or Mackintosh architecture, or Rogerian psychology - off the cuff - because she is well read, educated and not fully immersed in the mind-numbing aspects of pop culture or meeting speak.

Her world is focused on learning about the "other" - other times, other places, other ideas, other subjects, other explanations, other views - not about her "self" and a harried future latched to longer commutes, smarter phones and board-meeting speeches. For her, knowledge and focus constitute true career growth.

Humble, and seldom defensive, these folk teach their classes, manage staff and successfully improve student learning without shape-shifting advice from administrators, software packages or the ubiquitous interns and consultants.

The OTPs attend conferences centred on their discipline or areas of expertise, but avoid college Burning Man gatherings. They have embraced teaching-learning processes enhanced by technology but avoid its acculturating side-effects - they understand that accessing information is not the same as knowledge and intelligence.

The OTPs will give their students an appropriate answer to a question without a textbook, a website, without a global hermeneutic circle - probably because at the onset of their careers they ardently joined the Community of Scholars, not the Community of Dollars.

If you know an OTP, give him a hug today. You will see fewer and fewer of the species. Those jackets with the elbow patches and meerschaum pipes have really gone out of style!

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