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Professionalism in Academia: It Goes Both Ways

March 21, 2016

I read this piece—“Why are Some Academics So Unprofessional?”—in the Chronicle of Higher Education with great interest.

My interest stems from an opposite concern: the unprofessionalism of some students. My interest arose during a period when I advised pre-health professional and medical students. Altogether I spent nearly five years, between two positions, advising those classes of students. The topic mattered to students and educators because of the premium placed on professionalism in the health professions overall.

On the article, nearly every piece of remedial advice in it could apply to students in all fields, as well as academics across the board:

  1. Respond in Kind
  2. Follow Through
  3. Be There
  4. Speak Temperately
  5. Follow the Golden Rule

Thinking longitudinally, I have observed, after 20 years in academia beyond my undergraduate years, that academics and professors often complain the loudest about immature and unprofessional behavior among undergraduates. Based on the Chronicle piece and that same 20 years of experience cited above, it’s clear to me that academics are not exemplars for the behaviors they desire. And students notice.

I have become convinced that professionalism programs should be required for all students, faculty, and staff. Undergraduates should be taught professionalism in their first two years of coursework. Graduate students, whether in masters or doctoral programs, should receive refreshers in their first year of study. New staff members are very often evaluated on professionalism criteria. And new faculty members should be both trained and evaluated on professionalism for contract renewal. On the last, there has to be a way to thread the needles of civility, academic freedom, and professionalism—and the subjectivities related to all three—in relation to obtaining permanent positions in academia.

What say you? A good idea? A bad idea? Should the five pieces of advice above be revised or expanded upon?

Whatever your answers to those questions, we can’t expect more of students if faculty and staff don’t expect more of themselves. – TL





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