The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Commentary May 5, 2007

Professors Lacking Professionalism

Last Wednesday I attended an informal conversation about the partial-birth abortion ban upheld in Gonzales v. Carhart (2007). Almost everyone present was outraged or at least disturbed by the action taken by the Supreme Court. Though the gender and women’s studies department sponsored the meeting, professors from a variety of fields attended. As students and faculty voiced their thoughts and reservations about the legal act, one professor, Professor A, made a passing remark in which he tried to clarify what he believed was an important point he thought people were overlooking.

When the conversation came to a close and Professor A had left the room, Professor B, who had stayed for the duration, asked, “Can someone inform me as to the identity of that man who was sitting over there?” referring to Professor A. One student responded by making negative comments about A’s political affiliations. Another student clarified that “that man” was a (tenured) professor. After hearing who he was, Professor B called him an “asshole” while others agreed, using similarly derogatory language; Professor C stated that he was a “prick.”

I cannot convey how stupefied I was by such a lack of professionalism. These were my professors — the same people who, for the last four years, I looked up to as my intellectual role models. Rather than offering an opposing view, they made harsh and unwarranted character attacks. About a colleague, I might mention, they had never even met. Of course, these people are entitled to their opinions, and if you believe that a peer is a “prick,” then that is all well and good behind closed doors. But personally attacking a professor in front of students is inexcusably irresponsible.

I respect all the professors who attended the meeting, the insulters and the insulted. However, they degrade their position by using ad hominem attacks to quiet people’s opinions. To insult a fellow professor in front of impressionable students is bad, but to do so to undermine their opinions is a total abuse of power. I am skeptical about the notion that Oberlin is dogmatically liberal and that people cannot express different ideas here, because most of the students I have met are smart and open-minded. I would like the College and faculty to do some serious self-evaluation, and remember that it should foster an environment of diversity — as it so stridently claims to do.

I always thought the point of a college education, or any education, is to leave with more questions than answers — to be more open to possibility. Or are four years at Oberlin just akin to running a dogmatic gauntlet? 


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