Editorial: Us, them and the common ground in between

A nod to the newest distinguished professors who have helped to create a prestigious name for the University.

Broadening our focus

Being a professor is not simply showing up to class before everyone else to turn on the projector and spout words for over an hour. Imagine giving that dreaded end-of-the-semester, fifteen-minute-long PowerPoint presentation with three of your groupmates. Now, imagine multiplying your presentation time by four, giving it thirty-two times, and doing it by yourself. That’s what our professors do.

Far too often our perspectives as students compel us to focus on student achievements, while the achievements of our professors — the ones who impart onto us the knowledge that enables us to attain said achievements — can become evermore disconnected from our day-to-day thought processes.

Accomplishments, in general, are to be celebrated. And yes, many students are quick to praise, or disparage, that one professor who they liked most, for reasons that range from optional attendance and lenient grading to being funny and easy to understand. 

But, as many of us can and should also admit, this type of praise for our professors is superficial, because it is everything short of parsimonious and nothing more than a dereliction of an awareness of the plight of our professors. They also have to meet deadlines, experience writer’s block and appease superiors, all while trying to maintain their own mental health and a healthy work-life balance. 

We also have to factor in more responsibilities for our professors, such as conducting research, often times multiple projects at once, building a scholarly reputation with other professors, preparing lecture material and grading. 

We should be broadening our focus to think more about and recognize the outstanding professors at our University. 

Becoming a Distinguished McKnight University Professor 

In March, the newest Distinguished McKnight University professors were announced. The professors are Deborah A. Ferrington, Christy L. Haynes, Susan D. Jones, Richard M. Lee, Vuk Mandic, Sang-Hyun Oh, and Kevin D. Wickman. 

Earning the distinction of a Distinguished McKnight University professor is somewhat akin to the dean’s list — except that it’s for professors, and it’s far more selective, rigorous and prestigious. 

It involves a lengthy application process in which, according to the application materials, a mid-career faculty member is to be nominated by their department head or chair, department nomination committee chair, or collegiate associate dean or dean. Also required are up to six letters of recommendation.

While similar to many awards meant to celebrate individual accomplishments, this award is steadfast in recognizing professors who have helped to make a name for the University. 

The award emphasizes metrics such as distinction and prestige that the professor’s work brings to the University, their national and/or international reputation, and how their work and reputation are identified with the University. 

Us, them, and the common ground between

Even though we focused on the Distinguished McKnight University Professorship, the main takeaway is not to harp on this particular award, per se, but rather to broaden our focus just enough to think about and recognize the outstanding professors at our University.

In many ways, professors and students are similar — they read things they don’t want to but have to; they have to write even at times when they are uninspired to do so and they also have intertwining responsibilities and commitments that compete with their productivity. 

As much as professors might seem to work and operate in a far distant universe, their plight parallels ours in many ways. And although we might not realize it, there is plenty of common ground between us and them.

There are many different professors who are important to many of us in different ways. The McKnight Distinguished University Professor award is not the sole indicator of who may or may not be outstanding, as there are countless professors who have affected us in different ways. 

At this time, let’s assiduously recognize the newly-announced Distinguished McKnight University professors, as wells as the outstanding professors and mentors who have inspired us. 

We should take notice of their arduous commitment to their profession, the reputation of the University and the success of their students. Let’s refresh our minds and humble ourselves in light of those who came before us and continue to forge the path for us.

The list of past and present recipients and information about them can be found at the University’s Scholars Walk website, which celebrates award-winning faculty and students at the University.