Advice. A professor who shoots from the hip…

At the university where I teach we have two kinds of professors: those who are tenured and those who have some time to kill before they become tenured. The professors who are not tenured are still playing nicely with others, and try not to ruffle the feathers of their precious students. After all, student evaluations are one of the many items comprising the tenure profile. If you are unfamiliar with the system, tenure is the golden apple of teaching. Once a professor has earned her tenure, she nearly has a job for life (unless…well, I’ve heard some stories, but this would be more of a digression than I want to impose).

I am in the camp of nearly-tenured. Specifically, I know I have a profile worthy of the golden apple, but I am patiently waiting for my turn. (If systems were human we would spend less time waiting.) So I tend to choose delicate wording in the classroom or in emails sent to students, especially if I know the student is not going to want to hear what I have to say or write. In fact, I end up doing a lot of self-editing. Perhaps these six years are my life lesson in constraint. Much like measuring twice and cutting once, thinking before you speak is the mark of a professional.

However, many of my friends are tenured professors. They often share crass emails with me just to demonstrate that I, too, will lose my fear of student disapproval (or possibly to show off just how direct you can be with students once you have tenure). This one came from Dr. Paul Martin Lester, who has been tenured for more than a decade now. The email below was addressed to a student before the first week that his class met in person. (Note: although we share stories, we never share student names or other student information as this would violate the HIPAA Privacy Act of 1996.)

The following message was sent to a student who failed to follow a simple set of instructions that were sent via email before the first week of class. I don’t think the advice that follows is terribly crass, but I know that I would not have the nerve to email a student in this tone before our first face to face meeting. I am posting it here because I think the advice is worthwhile for all art and design students, and because I wish I would have written this to so many of my former students:

Just so you know:

Photography is a practice that helps teach you (among other things) to be disciplined, organized, and precise. Try to take that lesson into account in everything you do. The result is a concept called quality.

For more advice from Dr. Lester, you should read his book, The Zen of Photography: How to Take Pictures With Your Mind’s Camera.

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