The University of Missouri has eliminated Respect and Excellence. I have to write this in a hurry because it won’t be long before others will seize on this gift. Respect and Excellence are the names for two residence halls at the University. They are being closed because the University suddenly finds that its enrollments are plummeting. Two other dorms were closed already in light of the crisis.
Let’s bask in the irony for a moment or two longer. The University of Missouri arrived at this juncture by cravenly submitting to the demands of activists and the threats of football players who decided to abet the activists. On November 9, System President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin resigned rather than face down those threats.
Respect—respect for the abiding values of higher education, respect for civic disagreement, respect for intellectual freedom—went on an unpaid leave of absence from the University of Missouri that day. As for Excellence, it wasn’t all that clear that the University of Missouri was a congenial place for Excellence before November 9. But on receiving the news that Demands were moving in, Excellence cancelled her lease and moved out.
Rumors are that she transferred to the Oklahoma Wesleyan University or possibly Ohio State.
My article here, “Professors Should Dress like Professionals,” speculated that the loss of classroom authority was at least partially traceable to a decline in sartorial standards among the professoriate.
More, however, is involved than shabby attire. It is the systematic attempt to demolish the line between teacher and students that is the culprit. Consider the use of titles–students once addressed their teachers inside and outside the classroom, even if the instructor were young-looking freshly minted Ph.D., as Professor Smith, not ‘Prof” or, heaven forbid, by first names (“Doctor” would also suffice though awkward) . If informality did occur, it would immediately be corrected–“That’s Professor Smith.” Students were addressed with “Mr.” or “Miss.” Yes, in today’s egalitarian atmosphere such formality seems archaic and stiff, but the convention served to remind everyone that the professor, not the students, were in-charge and this, in turn, brought respect.
This arrangement was deeply ingrained. It took me a few years after obtaining my Ph.D. to address my former professors by their first names though I was now also a professor (well-published and teaching at an Ivy League school, to boot). A similar formality occurred at my high school reunions–classmates 50 years out of high school still today talk of Mr. Martino or Mrs. Hill, and in most instances nobody even knew their first names, not that it mattered.
Continue reading On Maintaining the Line Between Teacher and Student