Advice by Rob Jenkins The Chronicle.
April 12, 2010
Like cats, professors tend to be highly intelligent, deeply self-actualized, and fiercely independent. They need to be stroked occasionally, but only on their own terms and in their own good time. Mostly, they just want to be left alone to do their own thing. They might not come when called—perhaps because they're suspicious of the caller's motives—but they may very well show up on their own when least expected.
In fact, the real question isn't whether or not faculty members are like cats. The real question is, "What's wrong with that?" Perhaps, instead of constantly trying to rein in faculty members, we should be cultivating their catlike qualities.
Take independence. It's true that many faculty members, perhaps most of them, seem to view themselves as independent contractors rather than employees in the traditional sense. They sometimes find themselves at odds with administrators who definitely regard them as employees, in every sense.
For college professors, however, independent-mindedness is hardly a negative trait. Indeed, it's largely responsible for the rich diversity of personal viewpoints, teaching approaches, and classroom methodologies that makes getting a college education such a rewarding experience.
Another quality I admire in cats is that they have a certain moral integrity. The truth about dogs is they can be bought. Cats generally can't. You won't see anybody bribing a cat with a kitty treat. Oh, it might take the treat, but it will still do exactly as it pleases.
Similarly, good faculty members are not easily manipulated—much to the frustration of some administrators, who think they can persuade professors to embrace the latest make-work mandate simply by stroking them with vague promises, empty rhetoric, and meaningless awards. Like cats, professors are naturally suspicious, not because they're cynical (although some are) but because they're highly sensitive to ulterior motives. […]
Just feed them regularly, don't abuse them, don't patronize them, and occasionally they might climb up on your lap and purr—metaphorically speaking, of course. Rob Jenkins is an associate professor of English and director of the Writers Institute at
. He blogs at http://www.academicleaders.or Georgia Perimeter College