In a recent New York Times article titled “What’s the Point of a Professor?” Mark Bauerlein discusses the way that many college students have approached their interaction with teachers. He begins by noting that roughly two million Americans will earn their bachelor’s degree in the coming weeks. Some will look to join the workforce, others will continue their education, but most will move on with some fond memories and lasting relationships. However, he warns that the soon-to-be graduates are likely to leave behind one important part of their academic career, the professors.
Their reason for not attempting to maintain these relationships is seldom due to conflict or ill will on the part of either party. Bauerlein notes that most students say that they are quite happy with the jobs that their professors have done. However, many students today see professors as existing to provide a service, namely education in a particular field. Once that service has been completed there is little reason to continue the relationship. It is more transactional than relational.
Such an approach accomplishes the purpose of advancing towards graduation. Yet, in the process, the student loses out on much of the wisdom that many professors have to offer, the kind of wisdom that comes from dedicating one’s life to the pursuit of a particular subject.
However, the problem is not simply student expectations or the perspective that school is just one more obstacle to overcome on the way to success. While those factors contribute to this decline, teachers that would rather spend time researching than interacting with their pupils can be an even greater detriment to building the kind of relationships that enable true learning.
Yet, perhaps the greatest deterrent is not institutional but technological. It is much easier to ask your professor a question via email than it is to walk to their office and wait for a chance to speak with them. Email allows students and professors to conduct extracurricular conversations on their own schedules. With so much going on, that solution often seems far more appealing. However, as Bauerlein points out, the problem is that “those queries are too curt for genuine mentoring. We need face time.”
Email and other forms of text-based communication have rightfully taken on an important place in our lives today. They can make us more efficient at work and better enable us to maintain connections with other people. However, they hinder the growth and development of those relationships when they are the only form of communication utilized.
That is true of students and professors but it is also true with your family, your friends, and in your place of business. Moreover, while verbal communication is important for all people, it is especially vital for leaders as leaders often set the standard of communication for those below them. As a leader, if you are intentional about making time for face to face conversations with others, it can build stronger relationships and encourage others to do the same.
Throughout the New Testament, the written word is used when necessary but more common is the desire for a more personal form of communication. While they obviously lacked the sort of technological abilities we possess today, one gets the sense when reading the Gospels and Paul’s letters that, even if able, they would not have relied on such things as a replacement for genuine interaction.
Paul’s letter to the Romans, for example, is one of the most theologically deep and practical letters that we still have today. It contains the kind of divinely inspired wisdom that is of great use to the believer. However, one of the first things that Paul writes is that he regrets not being able to teach them in person (Romans 1:8-14). Paul understood that the written word cannot replace verbal communication. He longed to be able to relate those important truths to the Christians in Rome in a more personal manner but, because he was unable to do so, he wrote it down instead.
As leaders, if we make the same choice not to forgo face to face conversations for the ease of email, we will be better able to develop the kind of relationships with those around us that bear abundant fruit. We will be better prepared to lead through the difficult times because the foundation of those relationships will be strong. And ultimately, we will help those below us understand that they are valued as individuals rather than as assets. Aren’t those benefits worth taking a bit of extra time to be intentional about communicating with others in a more personal way?