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Opinion: Respect isn’t a one-way street, professor!

Professors and students need to provide mutual respect to one another.
Image by Noah Liebl
Academic settings benefit from having clear expectations and boundaries.

It can be difficult to admit when you don’t mesh well with a professor. 

Whether due to poor communication, unreasonable classroom expectations or disrespectful behavior, this problem needs to be addressed more thoroughly by universities.

I’m having a particularly tough time trekking through my final semester at the University of Minnesota. There are several significant projects to complete for my degree and a professor I can’t stand.

On top of the heaping pile of assignments and research allotted to me from my classes, I have two jobs and a campus organization to divide my time between.

The additional stress emanating from the squabble with my professor has even begun infiltrating into other areas of my life that deserve and expect attention from me.

Looking back on my spring semester course selection, I probably would have done a few things differently.

For starters, I would’ve utilized websites like Rate My Professors or Gopher Grades.

These websites provide users with detailed information about courses, professors, departments and more!

In addition, these sites allow former students to share their unfiltered opinions about their experiences with professors, which could provide prospective students with insight into what they should expect from the course or professor in question.

While some argue that using these sites could be considered unfair to professors who have lower ratings, making students unwilling to register for a course with them, these sites are helpful resources for students who feel uncertain about their options.

Grace McLeer, a fourth-year student, said she finds these websites helpful when selecting courses for her upcoming semester, however, she tries to remember these ratings are extremely subjective and unique to each former student’s circumstances.

She said her method for determining whether she should consider taking a course with a professor after reading their reviews on Rate My Professors is to steer clear of professors who have low ratings across multiple reviews left by students and to give the professor a chance if they have seemingly mixed reviews from students.

“Not everyone’s perfect and everyone’s gonna have a different experience,” McLeer said.

The University provides the Student Rating of Teaching (SRT), which is a feedback form completed by students that allows them to express necessary course improvements and instructional excellence.

In regards to SRTs, McLeer said the feedback form is a great resource for students as it provides them with a platform to directly share feedback with the University, which could lead to instructors making necessary changes in the classroom.

“I think it’s really important for professors to get both sides of it, get all the feedback they can so that they can change if need be or continue doing what they are doing,” McLeer said.

Kelsey Madden, a third-year student, said she has been fortunate enough not to have had an overwhelmingly negative experience with a professor at the University but knows plenty of friends who have.

“I have heard some of my friends talk about how their professors are always super strict in how you should communicate with them,” Madden said. “I’ve had friends say that their professors won’t even respond to them if they misspell their name or something on accident.”

While appropriate and polite forms of communication with your professors are important in fostering a healthy relationship with them, it should not be an excuse for professors to react impolitely to students who generally present themselves with proper email etiquette and meet course expectations.

The professor I’m currently bumping heads with regularly contacts me over email with grammatical errors and disrespectful language. With this logic, it would only be fair if I didn’t respond, given that they didn’t take the time to edit their email before sending it to me.

When is this type of disrespect deemed an abuse of power?

This is a difficult question that often has an unclear answer. 

Madden said frequent acts of disrespect towards students while still expecting unconditional respect can be considered an abuse of power.

“If the University is preparing us to be career-ready but then expecting us to take mistreatment or lack of respect from professors then, that’s also what you’re teaching us to expect in the real world,” Madden said. “It’s definitely an abuse of power because everyone here is a human being and everyone here is an adult.”

McLeer said it’s important for professors to understand that the lives of students don’t end upon exiting the classroom. Students’ lives are multifaceted and often involve work, extracurriculars and family commitments.

“I do understand that professors have things going on outside in their lives as well, but that does need to be a mutual respect. It needs to go both ways from student and professor,” McLeer said. “When it’s clear that one party doesn’t respect the other, that’s where a lot of hardship comes from and conflict.”

It’s important both students and professors receive the respect and attention they desire and expect from one another. However, it must be made easier for students to communicate their discomfort or frustration to their professors or University faculty without feeling invalidated.

Respect is an important part of maintaining a healthy academic setting on college campuses. Let’s make sure it’s given and received accordingly.

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  • Sarah
    Apr 15, 2024 at 10:58 am

    I can tell you – if I had an Instructor send me emails with grammatical or spelling errors (especially my name) I would probably let it slide. ONCE After that, with each reply, I’d highlight the offense. There is NO excuse for not using spell or grammar checking.

  • Sue
    Apr 12, 2024 at 10:27 am

    CSE is rife with professors that demand respect, but don’t offer it back. I remember several during my four yeas – one in particular accused us of not studying enough which was why over 70% failed his test. That is a professor issue, not a student issue. He refused to respond to email, rarely held office hours (even when posted) and walked out of class immediately telling us to work with the TAs.

  • Deanna
    Apr 12, 2024 at 8:58 am

    I do find the rate my professor ratings to be pretty accurate….but I found that reading the comments and not just looking at the ratings were way more helpful. A professor can have a pretty decent ratings but still have red flags. Professors who talk about past or present students is unprofessional in any setting….especially in a classroom. It’s pretty hard to respect someone like that.