By Emmett Lee Gill, Jr., PhD, MSW
When I thought about pursuing my terminal degree I really dedicated little thought to all the components of a J-O-B in academia. I pondered the research I would have to do, but the teaching and service components were truly afterthoughts. I assumed these elements would naturally come with the territory - you know they would be integrated into my game plan. In particular, I thought the teaching would be less challenging because I know my research methods and behavioral theory, I wanted students to learn, and I would avoid grade inflation. I was a miseducated Negro male assistant professor. I characterize myself as miseducated during my first two years because teaching in higher education has assumed a business model, and it has been adventurous to navigate to say the least. The consumer (i.e., the student) must be satisfied with their grade. Intellectual stimulation, new competencies, and the rigors of writing and creative thinking are of little value. Yet, I knew this because not long ago I sat on the other side of the speaking lantern.
My miseducation emanates from my miscalculation of the intersection between consumer satisfaction and the professors’ race. As I approach my third year review and I reflect on my years at a research one institution, I have wondered privately and publicly whether I would have experienced some of the issues I have if I were a White sports scholar activist. During my short sojourn I have had more students than I care to mention… threaten to challenge grades, speak to colleagues about my/our classes, actually challenge their grades, tell mistruths about our verbal interactions, or flat out curse me out. One student stared me down and then slammed the door so hard that my 6’1”, 180 lbs. frame starting shaking so bad I had to call a 30-minute break. When I shared this with my incredibly supportive Dean he asked if it was racism and I said no because it was coming from blacks and whites. Sexism? Racism? Ageism? I am not sure, but like Duke Lacrosse something is going on. It’s enough to make you think twice whether to maintain your values and not give grades or make it easy on everyone.
Students who trash me on www.ratemyprofessor.com often write that I am arrogant and to a certain degree it is true. Arrogance (i.e., confidence and consistency) is a trait I’ve had to learn. I am in a small minority in a competitive profession that requires precise writing, frequent oratories, quick responses to questions when there are very few “right” answers, and the self-motivation to succeed with very little supervision. I am an introvert so if I do not wake up each morning with a little confidence I would be eaten alive – in class, faculty/committee meetings, presentations, and parenting (lol). Arrogant a little, but how self-absorbed is a Negro male assistant professor who… delays his papers so students can finish assignments from other classes, wears jeans and caps to class, teaches theory using television programming, provides work for students in need, and holds some classes over meals… be? There are also those who give me good ratings on www.ratemyprofessor.comand I appreciate it when my “kids” show me love. Muchas gracias!
When I entered the NBA of education I truly believed that I was prepared to quickly become an all-star. I cannot say I never thought about race, but my first two years teaching in the league have not been injury free. My miseducation has caused me to suffer some sprains, bruises, and maybe a concussion or two. Thankfully I have many supportive colleagues and satisfied consumers on my team. Moreover, I love this game… and with the grace of God and a little more schooling… I can help other miseducated Negro male assistant professors.
Emmett Gill is an assistant professor at Rutgers, The State University, School of Social Work.