The traditional role of expectations of both students and professors at the university level are clearly interrelated. But the nuances of that relationship vary based on a range of factors. Conflicting beliefs make it uncertain whether it is the role of the students to challenge theories and ideas and the professor’s job to address and answer these thoughts, or whether teachers should suppress controversial topics broached by students.
The basic foundational relationship between professor and student is simple: The instructor seeks to inform the student of all the knowledge they can absorb on a subject or interrelated topics. The professor’s responsibility, by the definition of the role of the instructor, is to teach every student. Promoting this relationship to ensure maximum academic impact, however, can be a precarious line to walk.
The Debate Continues
With so much conflict in society, it’s not surprising that debates have encroached into the academic world. One of these hot topics is how much academic freedom a student has to question things he or she has concerns with.
Some universities believe that students should be allowed to question theories, beliefs, and world views without limits. Other institutions attempt to set a cap on what is considered acceptable challenging in order to protect other, less curious or more conservative students from being integrated into these conversations.
The debate becomes a matter of determining where the lines are and when those lines have been crossed. Topics such as wars, racism, sexual discrimination, and other national or global issues are on the radar of the majority of students, but are they relevant for professors to discuss with their classes during scheduled course times, if at all?
Bringing in Ethics to the Debate
While the official stance on the topic continues to be volleyed amongst the policymakers, instructors are left to make spur-of-the-moment decisions for themselves. Is the student’s question a “teachable moment” or a hot-button topic that could spur on potentially dangerous conflict?
The decision is often based on the position of the instructor ethically. The use of ethics is an integral component that must be involved in deciding the line between academic freedom and the responsibility of the professor to impart knowledge.
In most institutions, the faculty have the responsibility of creating student learning goals and ensuring they’re met, making sure that the lessons they’re teaching meet the standards required, and continually assessing the achievement and growth of each student. They’re given a lot of academic freedom to ensure they can work collaboratively with other faculty members for the good of the school and the students, with the ultimate intention of sending out new graduates who are ready to make a difference in society in a positive way.
As students encounter new beliefs and ideas amongst their education and immersion in the community and world, they’ll come across thoughts and actions that confuse them or cause them to second-guess their previous beliefs. They have to have someone to turn to that can help them clarify these confusing changes, and for many students, the professor of the course or a respected instructor is the perfect choice.
For this reason, professors must ensure they’re ethically responding to these queries and challenges. They must ensure their own personal beliefs don’t come across to muddy the waters of letting the student make their decisions. Debated topics can be used as a learning experience for students to develop their critical thinking and judgment skills and see more than one side of an issue.
The instructors must help students learn that differing opinions are normal, but how each person forms judgments by evaluating evidence is the key to becoming a positive influence in a diverse society.
The debate may continue to rage, but at the foundation is this truth: The instructor and student have a clear relationship in which the student’s academic impact and independence can hinge on the willingness and ability of the teacher to impart the right knowledge.
Experts Turn to Other Experts for Answers on Impactio
As a scholar, you have a specialized field of information inside your head and at your fingertips. But when your students turn to you for clarification on a subject you’re not well-versed in or you’d prefer to have more information before you answer, you can turn to your community of other scholars on Impactio.
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