Honesty in Professional Approval: Reflections on my Experience as an Academic

Every time I fill out a profile of myself on a social media account I mention that I went to graduate school at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio and subsequently taught English for three and a half years at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. It is only recently that I have reflected on the individuals in those two schools who helped move me along toward my 40 some year career teaching English at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, and my next several posts will be about them.

While reflecting I have found myself amazed at the honesty of these people. For a long time now professional “approval,” whether of students, teachers or any other job seeker, seems to me to have become almost automatic. A teacher who assigns a student a final grade of less than a B is generally not considered to have given the student an “honest” grade. It is assumed, certainly by the student, that any lower grade must have originated in some petty grudge or another. If I had a doubt about voting to advance a colleague, I was expected to ignore it and write a letter singing that colleague’s praises for fear that suggesting even the slightest criticism would be pounced on by some administrator in the business of saving money by jeopardizing, or at least slowing down, career advancement.

This is not the way I was moved along, and I am extraordinarily grateful for the honesty of those who evaluated me, whatever disappointment I may have felt at the time. My teaching was never flawless, my scholarly production took a long developing, and I made my impatience with most committee meetings clearer than I should have. Nevertheless I did advance, though more slowly than many, and that advancement, unspectacular though it was, is something I am now proud of.

My first example of a person who evaluated me honestly is Professor Florence Marsh, now deceased, who was my thesis adviser. Explaining just how honest she was in managing me, however, is something I will save to my next post.

Later in my Career