Appreciate professors while you can

By The Beacon | February 27, 2014 1:57am

During the last several weeks, anxiety has filled educators in Portland and across the country.

Last week, Portland’s public school teachers were prepared to walk out of school. The teachers called off the strike only after a last-minute deal with the school district.

At the same time, adjunct faculty members at Seattle University and Pacific Lutheran University, institutions similar to UP, have petitioned to form unions in order to increase job security. These are just two universities in a nation-wide movement to increase adjuncts’ representation in higher education.

While there are multiple sides to debate on both of these issues, one thing seems clear: many educators today feel their work is undervalued and unappreciated.

In the midst of this uneasiness about job security and labor in education, UP students are about to see some of their most beloved professors leave the University. Biology professor Jeffrey Brown was recently denied tenure. Communication studies professor Brian Simmons will leave next year to teach at another university. Psychology professor Susan Baillet, English professor Herman Asarnow, philosophy professor Thom Faller, sociology professor Bob Duff and several others will retire after this semester.

It saddens many of us students to see these professors go.

The departure of professors saddens us because they are more than aloof educators, more than teapots of knowledge filling us up with information. Whether or not Brown’s tenure denial was the correct decision, students’ strong reactions affirm that he was not merely an effective educator but also a caring mentor and a close friend.

The departure of our professors is upsetting because they care enough about us to create classroom environments that nourish our minds and encourage us to think analytically and creatively. Simmons’ students love his classes because he turns them into what he calls a “living room,” providing a comfortable space for learning.

Many of our professors inspire us because their teaching extends beyond the classroom. For them, office hours are more than an obligation in their job description. They look forward to helping us grapple with tough concepts and work alongside us to answer perplexing questions. They push us to dig deeper into our studies for greater depths of knowledge.

We must be sure that our professors -- the adjuncts and the associates, the tenured and the untenured -- do not go unappreciated for their work in shaping us. As much as it might sound like a stale selling point for prospective students and their moneyed parents, UP’s small class sizes and focus on being a teaching university are important. We have the privilege of learning from professors who go out of their way to support us, professors who care not only about our progress in our studies but also in our well-being.

We have only a couple of months left with some of our favorite professors. And even those who aren’t leaving will only be with us until we graduate. We must be sure that we appreciate the short time we get to spend with our professors.