Continuing my previous discussion about making students uncomfortable, I often second-guess myself or feel that, when I bring up topics that may be too challenging, I am opening myself up to negative consequences.
Articles like this one and this one do not help me feel safe (Addendum 10/18: or this one). To me, what these two articles have in common is that the two professors in question dared to be exactly who they are, out in the open, in front of students. Students or administrators felt threatened by this authenticity. We want professors to be real, to be challenging, to make students uncomfortable — but not that real, not that challenging, not that uncomfortable.
Although not fired for her actions, I also think about this professor who, like me, is an academic single mom, and, also like me, has had to bring her children to class at times to meet the demands of the profession.
The thing about tenure is it doesn’t make you safe. Pre-tenure faculty definitely aren’t safe. Despite Parker Palmer’s edification that the best professors teach who they are, after reading enough of these sorts of articles, I am much more inclined to think that professors who challenge students, who are openly complicated or opinionated or just plain real with students, these professors are setting themselves up for a fall. The system in which we work does not serve the interests of those who toil within it, not the students and not the professors.
Of course, I plan to continue challenging my students and being myself. But I have to admit that, in the back of my mind, I worry about the possible consequences.