I have always found stereotypes about professors humorous on a good day-especially within movies and the media. So much so, in fact, that I have even embraced some of them just for fun. Yes, I do love to wear sweater vests. I wish I did own or have a need for a corduroy jacket with elbow patches. Oh, and tweed. I wish I could justify any purchase of tweed. Sadly, I live in a hot place and most of the time a shirt with a collar and dark denim with dress shoes or chuck taylors becomes my professional attire. I will however, be requesting a leather shoulder bag from Santa this year…or buying one as my reward for tenure. My other stereotype I would strive to fit, if I were able to ever afford it, would be to live in a Frank Llyod Wrightesque home with amazing landscaping. I mean who wouldn’t–and of course it would be located on a quaint little street that is just close enough to my campus for me to stroll or bike to work and town, but also far enough from away so that I have extreme privacy for my concentration.
There are also stereotypes I hate. A couple I will not even mention as to not perpetuate them. One biggie that is talked about quite a bit in the media and to my face is how little we work. It is assumed that we work only a few hours a week, make big bucks, and have a cushy life where we just sit at coffee shops all day engaging in various intellectual debates about impractical topics with fellow elite colleagues, coffee shoppers, and if lucky students–which by the way can be very productive in that it stimulates us to think, learn more about what we know and don’t know, and may motivate us to act. All of which leads to new ideas for teaching and research interests and goals. There is also the absent-minded professor stereotype, one of the most common, and also potentially true for me at times. It is still annoying that the assumptions begins with something I would associate as carelessness. Okay, so I do get so obsessed with my research and the fact that I should be writing whenever I am not, that I do run into objects. However, I have never fallen into a well or been in a bone-breaking accident. I do usually remember my work and personal commitments and I do keep up on my hygiene. Further, I do like to think that I think of others…or at least their research projects. If I appear to be resilient to feelings, this is really in large part because I care so much. Sometimes too much for my own health. So, the notion that I only care about MY research and pay little attention to anything else–my students, family, etc. becomes extremely offensive.
This long lead up regarding general professor stereotypes is actually developed out of a recent article I read about how “Pop Culture has Turned Against the Liberal Arts.” The article largely focuses on the students and stereotypes of liberal arts majors and I think it’s dead-on. While I have noticed a great deal more of bias against liberal arts in the past few years, I just assumed it was because I was in the thick of it. I also assume that during economic hard times, liberal arts is often taken for granted. However, the above article re-reminded me of the greater culture students are living.
Thinking back 15 years ago to when I was a wee undergrad, it was mentally harder for me to come-out as wanting to be a liberal arts major to my family, than to come out about my sexual orientation. Also, it seems to be common knowledge among my undergrads and even graduate students that, “it’s ok to major in Liberal Arts if you are going to go on to law school” otherwise you will probably be poor and end-up working for minimum wage. (Side note: law school really seems to be the big fad right now and while I do have some suspicion as to why, my own friends experiences in and with law school coupled with articles like this really scare me as student after student come into my office inform this is their back-up plan if they can not get a job out of their BA/BS).
The claim to fame most widely boasted for a liberal arts major is that it creates and contributes to skills of critical thinking and analysis–skills that can be applied across settings and time. Yet, at the same time coursework is often conceptualized as less serious, or even worse “easy.” I also think the narrative is quite problematic…in part because there is not one. My students largely site their parents and family as leading concerns with being a liberal arts major. In fact, I would be as bold to state that most majors at some point in time have been asked “what are you going to do with that?” I know my own family and personal friends outside of academia recognize that I am a professor…but as far as what I really do… well it just all goes rt back into that big pot of stereotypes. I will continue this idea in my next blog perhaps titled something like “What I do and Why Liberal Arts Rocks!”