Good, Better, Best: Who Should Rank Faculty?

Do college faculty belong up here?

Do college faculty belong up here?

A student emailed me asking for my opinion on which are the, and I quote, “outstanding” professors who teach “engaging” courses, and are considered “excellent” faculty members.  I shouldn’t have been surprised considering that people now want the “best” of everything even if that “best” is determined arbitrarily by someone else whose needs and wants don’t match their own.  I took several days to answer the student, so that I could put together a tactful reply.

As it happens, I have found out that some colleges do rank their faculty.  This idea strikes me as utterly bizarre.  If a faculty person isn’t excellent then their institution should help them become so.  As a student why would you want to attend a university that doesn’t believe in its own faculty?  Sure, students may post nasty things on ratemyprofessors.com, but is that the university’s job itself?  I would dare assert that any school you’re thinking of attending should be in the business of ensuring that all of its faculty are up to par, and that individual students should then seek out professors whose teaching styles suit their needs.

In essence, there is no way to answer the question the student posed to me.  In an academic climate where there are tons of PhDs on the market, but no jobs, colleges have their pick of people who want to become professors.  Whether or not those who succeed in getting the jobs can teach to your specific learning style is only up to you to decide.  If the student loves learning in a visual manner then the student would absolutely hate the types of professors that I adore because I like to read versus watch videos.  You should ask questions about faculty, but those questions should align with you own values.  Questions such as: “what is the number one ranked faculty member in the school” make no sense because what if that person teaches English and you’re majoring in Biology?  More suitable questions would revolve around why they choose the texts they use for their courses, what types of system of evaluation (tests/papers) do they use and why, and does the topic and content of this class sound engaging to me.  If asked respectfully I’m certain that faculty would be happy to answer these types of questions as they show that a student is really invested in his or her own education.

In the end no one other than the student has the answer to “which faculty are the best.” And besides, asking an administrator to rank faculty is just plain rude.

I was a first genner & didn’t even know it…

A couple of months ago, I was sitting in my first class towards my Master’s Degree in Education, when my professor asked, “Who here was a first generation student?” My mind did a quick scan, and I raised my hand. But until that moment, I never thought about the fact that I was a first generation student, or how that had possibly affected me along my journey.

Baby Renee in South Africa

In 1978, my mom and dad packed my sister and I up and we made the trip from our place of origin, Cape Town, South Africa, to what I would know as my childhood home, Dunedin, Fl. For me the transition was seemingly seamless, though to a 6 month old, most things are! My parents worked extremely hard to make sure we had the necessities. They also did the obligatory checks to make sure we were doing our homework, once we got to that age.

Then high school rolled around. The PSATs were coming up, and from everything I read, it was a Practice SAT, so why study or work hard at it….it was practice! I didn’t understand why my friends were staying home to study for it or even getting tutors to help them. Months after I took the test (of which I am not even sure I read the questions), my friends started hearing that they had won scholarships and that they were National Merit Scholars. But wait! I didn’t see an application for National Merit Scholars; I didn’t get a form to fill out for other scholarships. That is when I realized that I had missed the boat. The PSATs may have been a practice test, but they were also the qualifying exam in order to access a large chunk of these scholarships. But how was I supposed to know that? We had never been through this before, and my parents knew less about the PSATs than I had. That was strike one for this first generation student.

After the PSAT debacle, I was not about to miss the boat on college admissions. I was going to college no matter what. But just how that actually happens is another story. My friends were all talking about college applications and early admissions. Fine, that is what I would do to. I was a diehard fan of the Florida State Seminoles, so that is where I would apply. I was extremely interested in the Journalism program at the University of South Carolina as well, but applying out of state? Without having any idea what the first step would be to apply out of state, that plan was stopped before it even started. So FSU it was! I completed the early application, mailed it in, and on my birthday of my senior year, October 25, 1994, I received my college acceptance letter. Thank goodness, because if I had been rejected, I hadn’t even thought about how to apply anywhere else! I called my parents at work, and they were very excited for me, and I continued my senior year.

Fast forward back to that Master’s Course I started off talking about. In this class, we talked a lot about orientation and advisors, two things I knew nothing about. Until I started volunteering post-graduation, orientation was a myth to me. I never knew about it, and never attended it. The same thing goes for having an advisor in college. I received a letter my junior year of college saying I needed to declare a major or I would not graduate. I looked at the school catalog, and realized I had completed all of the work needed for a degree in English/Creative Writing. So I declared that as my major. No meeting with an advisor, no calls home, no planning or thought of what it would do for my future, just a logical, easy decision. Done.

Renee and her parents

Renee and her parents

Although my parents did not know about the college experience in order to guide me, they had set a great example for me when it came to work ethic. I started working in Marketing my freshman year of college, and within a week of moving back home, I was offered a middle-management position with an experiential marketing agency. Luckily, the work ethic I had as an example from my parents, is what really benefitted me more than my actual college education.

Renee and frienda at graduation

Renee and her sorority sisters at graduation

Because my family and I did not know about the processes, the “system”, the protocols and the ways of the American university system, I did not take full (or even partial) advantage of my collegiate experience. If I had it to do over again, you better believe I would be one of those students that constantly checks in with my advisor, with financial services, with student activities, with all of it. From my experiences, my one bit of advice to first generation college students would be to ask. Ask your school what you should be taking advantage of. Ask your advisor if you are on the correct path. Ask career services what you should be doing to make yourself marketable. Ask student activities what opportunities are available. And take advantage of every second you are in school. This is the one opportunity in your life where you will not be penalized for not having experience. This is the last time in your life where you are given the resources to gain that experience, no questions asked! Do not let the unknown dictate your college career. Your family may not have the knowledge to help guide you through your college years, but your college does. Speak up for yourself, ask the questions, seize the opportunities!

Renee Hirschberg is originally from Cape Town, S. Africa, and was raised in Dunedin, FL. Renee received her B.A. in English/Creative Writing from Florida State University. After 13 years in the field if Event Marketing, part of which was spent owning her own agency, Renee has made the switch to Higher Education. She currently works for Boston University’s Executive MBA program while working on her Masters’ Degree in Higher Education Administration, also at BU. In her space time, Renee consults on Social Media for local businesses, blogs, and enjoys being outdoors. She just discovered a love of running…but we will see how long that last…

Explore Early

Photo courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory

Photo courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory

College is a great and wonderful place to discover new things. You may not have known that you were interested in geology until you had to take it because it was the only class available that fit into your General Education Requirements.  The chance to open your mind is in fact what a great deal of what a college education is supposed to be about.  However, that doesn’t mean that you should not also consider your future.

Students who plan on going into specific professions have very specific requirements.  For example, the student know absolutely knows that they are pre-med must take classes such as organic chemistry early on in the collegiate careers so that they can get to the more advanced courses that are required of students who want to take the medical school entrance exam in their junior year.  Also, engineers must take several courses in mathematics before ever starting courses in their major.  The student who discovers that they are interested in either of these majors well into their college careers could be forced to spend longer than necessary at school.

As an English professor, I can only hope that you take the time to enjoy some fabulous course in literature if you’re into the sciences.  Conversely, I hope that all of the humanities and social science majors find the time to take more than the required number of courses in either the natural sciences or a professional program like business.  However, exploration also has it limits.  In order to ensure that you can graduate in four years, be eligible for internships, and start building a relationship with a faculty mentor it is important to make the decision in what you want to pursue at least for the first phase of your life.