I will begin this as a confession. My inspiration for becoming a college professor, my founding ideal against which I always measure myself is a character from fiction: the Professor on Gilligan’s Island. That guy knew everything. He was a scientist, a historian, a master of technology.
Of course that is silly. The program had virtually no intellectual content, and I include “virtually” there as simply a wiggle word. We also know that college professors specialize. Physicists don’t teach history; philosophers don’t teach statistics. Indeed, even within departments specialties make us distinct. We aren’t content with a historian; we want who specializes in the history of Asia or East Asian or even Japan.
Yet I find that many of our minds wander beyond a narrow focus. I do know a physicist who is interested in history. I know a Professor of English who is interested in mathematics. Quite frankly, I am sure that many of you who are reading this are identifying interests–profound interests–that you have that are beyond the narrow focus of your discipline.
That is because the university is a gathering of scholars. We have minds that not only inquire deeply but range far and wide in our interests. We are curious and have been educated in ways that help us to feed our curiosity.
Beyond being begin scholars, we are teachers. We are called to take what we learn and share it with others. This can be done in a variety of ways and at a variety of levels. One important way, of course, is in the classroom. We share the things we learn with our students, but I will offer my opinion that there more we do beyond that. I think that it’s important that we share ourselves, our interests, our curiosity.
One of the word wars I fight is “education” versus “training.” At the university, we must provide an opportunity for education. Our students must be able to have the knowledge to succeed when they go out into the world, but they should also be able to re-equip themselves as the world changes. They should become independent learners. They should be curious. They should have the tools in hand to help feed that curiosity.
In my opinion, we learn this sort of thing from a model. While I said in the first paragraph that I wanted to be like the Professor on Gilligan’s Island, in reality I found other models among my teachers in high school and college and among my colleagues when I came to the university.
Like it or not, you are a model. You will have influence beyond your life. You are a scholar and a teacher.