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Professor-student relations will never be perfect

The relationship between students and professors is not all wine and roses.

It’s ideal when students and professors agree on boundaries regarding communication and behavior. Unfortunately, such consensus is not always the case. It’s not as easy as merely walking away when paychecks, employment or grades are dependent upon a satisfactory relationship with someone else.

Students, for instance, might be in a class they don’t enjoy that much. At this midpoint in the semester, they may have arrived at the conclusion that one or more of their professors are detached, self-absorbed elitists. Professors may have arrived at the conclusion that some of their students are disrespectful and unprepared. These professors can’t exactly boot students off their attendance sheets for no reason, however. Unless students wish to withdraw and lose money, they may choose to complete a course despite grievances with the professor. Professors and students sometimes have to continue working with each other no matter how much animosity is between them. In many ways, professors and students are stuck with one another for better or worse. It isn’t very desirable for either party when communication doesn’t go well.

This point was well-illustrated in the Oracle on March 1, when it was reported that professors are becoming increasingly resentful to the style and tone of the e-mails students send them. Nathan Stuart, a business professor, said “-student e-mails are apt to be terse, preemptory, demanding and otherwise disrespectful.” One can certainly understand such complaints. The story discusses how professors, who have received correspondence from e-mail addresses such as “blackdevil,” get a negative impression of students. Also included in the story was the fact that some students expect feedback within unreasonable time frames. Such behavior is clearly not professional or desirable.

However, like all conflicts, there is another side to this problem of communication between professor and student. As valid as the complaint may be that students can be rude and thoughtless, professors can be the same. We are all human, and no one is without flaws. The list of students’ gripes against professors can be quite lengthy.

Students are routinely graded unfairly. Not every examination is performed by objective means, so the grade a student receives can be prone to any number of subjective factors. Students living on financial aid, with little or no parental assistance, can be forced to buy books that cost hundreds of dollars, which they can’t afford. For some classes, no singular book is overly expensive, but sometimes, as many as 20 books are required.

Professors may not be in their offices during their posted hours. They may be obstinate in reaching compromises with students who have legitimate excuses. Professors may take the policy that their course has requirements and that coursework for other classes, no matter how heavy, is not a concern. I know of at least two examples in which a professor unduly accused a student of plagiarism only to retract the accusation after further investigation. Untold numbers of professors and graduate students who teach classes simply don’t understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. Perhaps most annoying is when professors assert, directly or indirectly, that college is a life-or-death experience upon which success hinges.

Not every student wants to be a professor or lead a life connected to academia. Considering the number of students who enroll and never graduate, it can be deduced that not every student takes college very seriously. These students are not necessairly mistaken for having a lax attitude. They may have changed in the numerous years that make up the college experience and no longer have a goal that requires excellent academic performance. If a student wishes to be a doctor, lawyer or professor, certainly such performance is quintessential.

On the other hand, it seems evident that for many careers and goals, grades are hardly important. Academia is not the flawless predictor of success that it is so often made out to be. A look at the most wealthy people in the world, or even successful people in general, will illustrate this quite clearly: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Lance Armstrong, Eddie Murphy, Abraham Lincoln, Peter Jennings, Thomas Edison and even Harry S. Truman never graduated from college. Professors are not necessarily wrong for emphasizing the importance of college, but students are not necessarily wrong for caring so little. It all depends on the individual.

Professors have legitimate grievances, and students have equally valid grudges. It’s doubtful that students and professors intentionally get on one another’s nerves. Just as doubtful is the possibility of complete harmony between every student and every professor. Therefore, it is unprofitable to get upset over these differences.

No one wants to have to enforce boundaries, but that is often what is required in life. The advent of e-mail and diminishing hierarchical differences between professors and students are not at fault here. Life simply isn’t fair. Rudeness and annoyances exist and won’t ever go away, be they in college or other places.

Jordan Capobianco is a senior majoring in English literature.