It’s a fascinating– and horrifying– thought to some students: Your professors used to be young.
In their current roles, of course, they teach. They publish. They advise. They hold office hours at weird times. They fail to grasp the concept of a Twitter hashtag. And some wear bowties. But before they were professors, they were students.
What were they like then?
Did they party? Did they study abroad? Did they switch majors more than clothes? Did they secretly hate their roommates? In general, did they enjoy the “stereotypical college experience” or something far from it?
The Columbia Daily Spectatorrecently sought to answer those questions and more. The campus newspaper offered a half dozen Columbia University professors the chance to “reflect on their days as students.” The headline of the profs’ first-person essay set: “The Way We Were.”
Like all good professors, the Columbia sextet manages to wax quite philosophical and impart some lasting life lessons from their memories. They also confirm: Professors are not born with tenure and a silver spoon.
Renowned Columbia sociologist Herbert Gans recalled attending the University of Chicago mainly because it was within walking distance of home– he didn’t have the money for room and board at a school any farther away.
Allan Silver, an emeritus professor of sociology, discussed the challenges of gaining acceptance to an Ivy League school in the late 1940s, including outside factors such as the so-called “Jewish quota” and the influx of returning World War II veterans. “I am amazed by today’s undergraduate résumés,” he wrote. “They burst with precocity– internships in Congress or the British parliament, fluency in languages unrelated to English gained by working in lands far away, scientific research on problems I can’t imagine. Undergraduates like me were rarely offered a chance for experiences deserving a résumé.”
Elisabeth Ladenson, a French and comparative literature professor, wrote about an all-too-familiar academic change of heart during her freshman year. “Like many students, I arrived at university knowing exactly what I wanted to study: English and Classics,” she noted. “It took me little more than a semester to eliminate both these fields.”
Perhaps the most powerful memory is sociology professor Priscilla Ferguson’s recollection of a graduate school class. During one session, a famed professor told a classmate of Ferguson’s that he envied her ignorance of an important literary work. Why? Because she then still had the opportunity to discover it.
The underlying lesson, in Ferguson’s eyes: Always have an appetite for taking in new knowledge, even after you get a diploma confirming you have already learned a lot.
“College pushes you to discoveries,” she concluded her essay. “It’s what universities are all about. But when you pass along College Walk in Columbia cap and gown, remind yourself to keep discovery mode active. And keep reminding yourself every few years.”
The ultimate reminder of the Spectator feature: Your professors are human. And once upon a time, they were even, gasp, young.
Powered by Facebook Comments