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Ten step program for successful students

AS CHAIR of the Faculty Senate, I am charged with speaking for what we

in the faculty have come to call intellectual community, that is, the experiences students have in and out of the classroom which add up to the overall education you receive at the University.

With that in mind, I have crafted the following Top 10 list of accumulated wisdom that you might consider as you begin planning your courses for next semester.

Rule 10: Come at the last possible minute to get a signature. I share your irritation with professors who are "never" in their offices. After all, how many times have you come looking for a signature on a Friday at 4:50 - with the deadline being, of course, 5:00 - and the professor wasn't there? This is inexcusable, since professors clearly should be in their offices all the time, like "normal" workers.

Rule 9: Avoid all contact with your professor after class. You do not want to be labeled a "brown noser" or worse. Word has it that the teacher probably does not want to speak with you, either, so you're even.

Rule 8: Take gut courses. You do not want to tax your brain too much while you're here, or distract yourself from the really important stuff, like partying on Rugby Road or making road trips. You hardly want to be known as a Dork or a Nerd, and clearly, if you take too many serious courses you might be caught wandering the Grounds with a laptop, briefcase, a book and a plastic pocket protector.

Rule 7: Go to Clemons Library, but only to watch movies or chat with your friends. Clemons has tons of good videos and laser disk movies, and private rooms for napping. Granted, it's clogged with too many books, but you can avoid those if you're clever. If you find yourself by accident in Alderman Library, you always can have a coffee at the Alderman Café, or just use the bathroom and flee.

Rule 6: In the early weeks of the semester, shop for courses. Professors love the chaos of beginning a course without an idea of who is actually in the class. If we did know, we would be able to make better assignments, get to know students sooner, and shape the course into something coherent and meaningful.

Rule 5: Begin your weekend partying on Thursday. Professors hate Friday classes, and hope you won't show up. If you don't, we're free to go golfing or catch up on "All My Children." Do not, for any reason, ever get caught going to a play at Culbreth, a dance recital at Newcomb, a foreign film at Vinegar Hill, or a lecture by an invited intellectual - unless, of course, you get extra credit for doing so.

Rule 4: Take only young professors, preferably nobody over 25. You don't want to get confused thinking that an old guy (or gal) knows more than you do about any given topic. We all know that only young professors can be "with it," "cool," and understanding when they don't see you in class for weeks.

Rule 3: Stay within your group. It's very dangerous to venture beyond the confines of a limited group of people. You certainly don't want to have contact with students from different religious, ethnic or cultural backgrounds, since this only will distract you from your Truth. Thomas Jefferson once said "Here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it." We are not afraid of truth, as long as it is our truth.

Rule 2: Never go to a professor's office hours. He or she probably isn't there anyway, and if he is, he doesn't want to talk to you. After all, he or she has "real" work to do, like publishing esoteric, weird stuff that nobody reads, or making arrangements for the next academic conference in Bali. And remember, if you have one bad experience with an advisor or a teacher, by all means generalize that one experience to include all professors.

Rule 1: Ignore Rules 2-10.

In fact, we might revisit this Top 10 list. The real fact is, professors love students and want to talk to you. Otherwise we wouldn't be here. Most of us love the age group, love the challenge of opening up young minds, and love the intellectual sparks that can be created as a friendship develops.

We have come to realize that students don't actually know what we do. Our reality is one of high pressure and high visibility in our fields of endeavor, so we don't hang around our offices waiting on the off-chance that a student will wander in. We need to be in front of our computers preparing for classes, reading the latest material in our field, reading undergraduate and graduate papers and exams, writing papers for conferences, writing articles and books for publication (that is, teaching our peers), doing University and departmental committee work, and the like. Office hours are important, and in general they are kept, although emergencies and unexpected meetings sometimes call us away. That's what e-mail was invented for - to make an appointment with us and establish a mutual meeting time.

Have you ever asked a professor what it is that he or she actually does? Have you ever asked what his or her outside interests are? I think the answers might surprise you. We want to get to know you, but we are as inept and insecure as you are. The point is, don't be afraid - come in to talk with us.

We professors look for ways to interact with students outside the classroom, but legalities and cultural prejudices sometimes make this difficult. I cannot, however much I would like to do so, single out a student from my class and invite that student to lunch for a chat. I could be accused of favoritism, or worse, harassment. But you can make that invitation, and my guess is, it would be accepted. There are lots of places on Grounds where this might happen: residence halls, cafeterias and dining spots, Alderman Café, or even the Garden Room above Hotel E (students in the College can get a free dining card to treat a professor to lunch). I also would guess that your professor will feel flattered, and indeed both of you will have a good time.

So ignore my list. Get involved in your academic and intellectual community, get to know your teachers and don't be afraid to be - and to be perceived to be - smart. Be a real Wahoo, one you will be proud of later in life.

(David T. Gies is a Spanish professor and chairman of the Faculty Senate.)


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