Friday, October 07, 2005

The End of Confidentiality?

This will be my final post regarding professor-student privacy.

To be clear, I think Aspazia absolutely did the correct thing in this situation with the student. I am a hard working student, and I often feel as if my grades are devalued by lazy, trickster, uninterested students. I have no issue with the policy, or the graceful way in which Aspazia handled the situation. My issue was with the publication of the encounter. And I only shared my thoughts because Aspazia asked me to respond.

One individual, when commenting, referred to a website that rates professors as evidence that students do the same thing. This website is trash. I often find my most challenging and interesting professors are loathed on those sites for the very reasons I treasure these professors. This fits perfectly into my worldview. Faculty are professionals. Students are not.

I think I go to a great school. Even so, I constantly encounter students who cheat or at least try to cheat the system. This saddens and angers me. As is indicative of how exceptional a professor Aspazia is, she met with me over coffee this summer to discuss life, lobby me to take her course, and offer to write a letter of recommendation for a scholarship I was applying for. Amidst our more than two hour discussion, we began discussing what makes students special. We both agreed, at least in part, these students were the ones who see outside their personal advancement, and invest themselves intellectually, and often emotionally, in the subject matter.

Many students do not do this. Many students try to skate by and cheat the system. They are not exceptional students. However, this does not mean that they are not exceptional people. I have encountered many poor students who treasure their relationships with their professors, who—even as they sit drunk at the bar on Tuesday night instead of in the library—laugh about the interesting conversations they have had in professor’s offices, the wacky class discussion of the morning, or the way their professor (like Aspazia did a couple of weeks ago) really put them in their place and made them question their path in college, and indeed, life.

These are special things. For me, it is often overwhelming and humbling to see such exceptional professors take such interest in my life, both academic and personal. From my experiences with friends and peers, I have seen that the majority of students, good and bad, look up to our professors, and in many cases, treasure them. Often, it could be said, the poor student trying to cheat the system is akin to the mischievous child trying to cheat her or his parents. Their actions may be loathsome, but it certainly doesn’t mean that they don’t care for, even love, the adult. If any of you know Aspazia, you will believe me when I say, the vast majority of students who step foot in her classroom like her, even care for her. They respect the relationship and take comfort in its privacy. Do you think students would step foot in faculty’s offices to discuss problems in their lives, their lack of understanding of the subject matter, or potential problems with their fellow students if they knew there was a video camera taping the entire exchange? Do you think students would be comfortable confiding in faculty and seeking their advice and support about serious issues if they know the content of the conversation will be publicized?

For me, this is personal. Aspazia has been friend, mentor, fellow activist, and professor in my life. Her effect has been profound. Quite frankly, I shudder at the thought of our private interactions becoming public fodder for this site. In the future, when I have a conversation with her, do I have to worry that the contents will be pasted word-for-word to this site? If I screw up, and want to confide in her, do I have to worry that my wrongdoing, like the student’s recently, will be posted on this site?

I am not trying to hold anyone to super human standards. But from my perspective, this really entails a choice between respecting the sanctity and privacy of what goes on between professors and students in the halls of this college, or publicizing it at the risk of losing student's confidence. I understand the value of faculty discussing these instances, but this site is not just read by faculty; it is read by students, by web meanderers, by community members, by feminists, and many more.

This will actually be the last time I discuss this issue. I feel that my comments have already damaged my relationship with Aspazia--I have emailed her twice since I originally commented yesterday, and have not yet received a response. I stood up for professor-student privacy and confidentiality, and right now, I am, quite frankly, sick of paying the price for it. I thought philosophical debates were places where our public disagreements did not affect our personal and professional relationships. It saddens me to find I may be wrong.