What Makes an Ideal Hampden-Sydney Professor?

Dylan DelliSanti ‘14

            One of the most commonly debated questions on campus is: what is the ideal Hampden-Sydney man? This is an important debate to be had, and – while some peripheral questions remain – after centuries of inquiry, a fairly general consensus has been reached which can be captured in our Honor Code and Student Code of Conduct. However, a less debated, but equally important, question is: what is the ideal Hampden-Sydney professor? While college professors are not asked to hold our hands as tightly as grade school teachers, they are still charged with the important task of helping us progress from boys to men.

            Along with being a good man, a Hampden-Sydney student is asked to be a good citizen. This often entails that he engages in the public discourse, and works to discern and preserve truth – sometimes even going against popular opinion. As a result, the ideal Hampden-Sydney professor should be a role model in intellectual inquiry. Professors should help students pursue many and varied lines of thought, while also showing them correct methods of reasoning. What should be important for the professor is not that the student agrees with his or her opinion, but that the student argued his own opinion in a logical and reasonable manner. This does not entail that professors should be devoid of voicing their own opinions. Instead, professors should be open and explicit about what they believe, perhaps even arguing with students on issues where they disagree. Nonetheless, the professor should set a good example in this area by separating the individual from his ideas: if a student has an opinion contrary to the professor’s, the student should, of course, not be punished for disagreeing, but be judged on his ability to make a reasonable argument.

            This tenant of intellectual inquiry extends outside of the classroom. Often, students see college as either a playground with booze, or a stepping-stone to a career. However, college is also a time to appreciate acquiring knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Professors can serve as stalwarts of intellectual inquiry by engaging – in a respectful and intellectually honest manner – with other professors with whom they disagree. In a society in which ad hominem and loose reasoning is the norm from Presidential debates to Facebook comment threads, professors who demonstrate how to properly engage in debate on controversial issues can be the role models that Hampden-Sydney men need to be good citizens.

            Along with being open to intellectual inquiry, professors should work to preserve the highest standards. Our public education system often panders to the lowest tiers and many students go into college expecting the same treatment. However, there is little that is more demeaning to the dignity of the student, nor damaging to the value of our education, than professors who would pander to the lowest common denominator. This does not mean that professors should be unreasonable, but they should ask the student to grow. Hampden-Sydney – far from being an institution that simply hands out diplomas – should be a college that transforms students into something greater than they were when they first entered the gates. Thus, our professors should keep high standards to ensure that our students truly do grow from boys to men.

            Finally, our professors should take a reasonable interest in the growth of their students. There’s no doubt that many professors lead busy lives, often living far from campus. But, as best they can, they should take an interest in the lives of their students. This might mean being an active mentor in clubs for which they are the faculty advisor, or staying after class to debate controversial subjects or discuss career plans. At a small school like ours, this is one tenant of the ideal professor that should be easily achieved.

            If being a Hampden-Sydney student is a special distinction requiring high standards, then being a Hampden-Sydney professor should also come with greater duties. College is not simply a place you have to go to before you start your career. Rather, it is the only time in a young man’s life where he can pursue new ideas free from the environment he grew up in. In order to do so, the Hampden-Sydney student needs a culture that is open to inquiry, and will push him to become more than himself. Our professors are on the frontlines to creating and protecting this culture.

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