The following letter was written in response to “Give Respect to Get Respect” ( The Bullet, September 20th, 2007).
Three weeks ago I wrote my first letter to the editor, entitled “Seizing Maturity,” about students’ reasons and means of establishing power in the classroom. I was glad to see that it got a response; it’s always good to see people giving thought to an issue.
However, upon reading the response I was disappointed to find it was more focused on my personality than my ideas.
In that response, the three authors spoke of the importance they place on respecting others, though in practice, I don’t think their letter reached the ideal it spoke of. Regardless, the tone of their writing, like the tone of my writing, is completely beside the point. The issue of students’ rights is bigger than my ego.
The authors of that letter expressed a sentiment that professors’ “expertise” should “humble” the student. Most professors do have a lot of knowledge about their field, but that is not the point. Professors are mere humans who make human choices and are subject to group think, failures of memory, closed-mindedness, bad judgment, and bias like the rest of us. You do not need a doctorate to have good ideas, having a doctorate doesn’t ensure that you have every good idea, and a doctorate does not guarantee that every idea you have is good. Inevitably there will be improvements students see that their professors miss.
As convenient as it would be if respectful disagreement were always sufficient to convince professors, realistically it won’t always get the job done. Polite disagreement is a good for a first step, but a poor for a final step. We students are one of the many groups that have been systematically treated as inferior, and like the others we can overcome it through a whole range of methods.
Though most students who are repelled by the idea of speaking with confident force do so from a deeply ingrained submissiveness, I understand that for a few it may be a matter of character.
For this reason, I also have a few proposals for those students who want to improve the educational system but are not yet ready to do so with verbal power.
First, establish equality: If the professor likes to be called by his/her title then ask that you be addressed by your title.
Next, speak softly: Come up with a list of the things you find inefficient about class and give them privately to the professor during office hours. Getting student signatures on your list may also be effective.
Third, empower others: Encourage your friends to use that critical thinking on the very place they live by discussing this with them.
And finally, try the formal routes: Share your ideas with the organizations that set campus policies.
So far as I know, there is no class that teaches sticking up for yourself. If you want to take that skill out of your college experience then here is your chance. Anybody interested in bettering this university experience by systematically approaching these types of flaws should get in contact with me: firstname.lastname@example.org. Carpe Vita.
Alex Rohde is a sophomore.