Tuesday, September 02, 2008

In Loco Parentis or Just Plain Loco?

We had an all-faculty conversation about advising the other day and then I met with my in-coming first year advisees just after this post came out on Crooked Timber.

The post discusses gender and student expectations concerning student-faculty relationships.

students demand much more emotional work from female professors than they do of male profs. If the women don’t provide it, they are often viewed as cold bitchy profs that don’t care about students. Although I don’t know of any systematic studies of what types of topics students bring up during interactions with professors by gender, I have heard plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that female profs get approached much more by students wanting to talk about life issues than male profs.

Setting aside the quite legitimate questions about gender here, I am interested in the legitimacy of student expectations. While I may get less of it than, say, Aspazia, I do plenty (read LOTS) of personal councilling -- not psychological councelling, but the need advice about issues that are deeply personal or need someone I trust to talk to Uncle Steve type councilling. Is this part of my job? It is not in my job description, of course, but de facto, is this not part of what a professor does? Should I expect it and be open to it?

These are eighteen to twenty-one year olds, people who are confused about many things, opening their eyes for the first time to the world in many ways, under extreme pressure from a number of sources, on their own for the first time, of course, they are going to need someone they can talk to. The relationship between an advisor and an advisee is in some ways parental when it works correctly, no? My grad advisors have been wonderful in looking out for me when I was newly minted and I look with great pride and affection with advisees who have gone on to do wonderful things (including commenting on this blog).

Yet, should this be expected of the advisor? Is it really part of the job? Anyone who knows academics is surely aware that we are not necessarily the most, how shall I put this, the most socially adept group of humans on the planet.

What is the role of a prof in this way? How involved should you be willing to be in terms of the lives of your students beyond your classroom?