Academic journal article Education

Power and the Esteemed Professorate

Academic journal article Education

Power and the Esteemed Professorate

Article excerpt


One of the most enjoyable experiences the senior author of this article remembers as a college student included hearing many provocative stories about university professors. The stories especially focused on the peculiarities the professors demonstrated in the classroom, whereby the teller of the stories would sharpen the details of the unique qualities of a professor. One story in particular involved a professor who paced from wall to wall at a quick rate while he lectured, using long "uh's" as he marched across the room, rubbing his head, never making eye contact with his class. Witnessing this peculiarity was found to be most disconcerting. Another story involved a professor who, in an effort to motivate students, systematically yelled at them, singling out individuals in front of their classmates, telling them how stupid they were, assuring them they would never pass his course unless they made some radical changes. Another story involved a particularly handsome professor who enjoyed talking about what he did outside the classroom, his travels, his publications, but most abundantly his stories about the women in his life. During class he enjoyed flirting with the female students while playfully putting the male students down. Finally, in another story, students appeared to take over the class. They talked the professor out of using the textbook, talked him out of Friday classes, and talked him out of exams. In one instance this professor even called off class and went with the students to a local pizzeria to watch a football game. The students gathered in his office every day for counsel, and could frequently be heard laughing or crying. Such stories about the professorate continue among students, and while they may be entertaining or perhaps unbelievable and un-enchanting, each of us as professors may develop a pattern of behavior which may elicit a myriad of reactions, including negative reactions, from students, administrators, or others.


The literature concerning classroom behavior of higher education personnel appears sparse, although several sources exist and give perspective on the problem. Arnove (1971), Kowalski and Cangemi (1983) linked campus rebellion to unprofessional behavior on the part of the professorate, both in and out of the classroom. Arnove (1971) validated a strong potential relationship between the development of student militancy and professorial behavior. Additionally, college dropout rates appear to have some relationship to the behavior of college professors both in and out of the classroom.

The problem

Many professors do not know the difference between teaching subject matter and teaching students. Often professors emulate their mentors without much analysis of the assets/liabilities of their mentors' classroom behavior. Sometimes when a professor receives his or her Ph.D. degree a belief is developed that their subject area "expertise" makes them immune from continuing to learn about teaching per se and motivating students. The absence of teaching methods in the curriculum requirement for college/university teachers contributes to the problem. The value-laden perception that research is the highest priority on many university/college campuses, often relegating teaching as unimportant and less significant, creates another significant contribution to the problem.

Sources and Types of Classroom Power

The currency of leadership, essential to influencing others and maintaining classroom order, involves a wide variety of factors. Varying authors (French & Raven, 1959; Baldridge, 1971; Kanter, 1977; Hackman & Johnson, 1991; King, 1987) describe sources, types, and uses of power essential to effective teaching. Eight primary sources of power include: support systems, information, credibility, visibility, legitimacy, persuasiveness, charisma, and agenda setting. Support systems include both formal and informal opportunities for networking. …

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