Friday, 14 May 2004

Being the expert

Something I’ve discussed here on the blog on occassion, and when I had dinner with the chair/other half of the department at Future Employer™, is my wrestling with what it means to be “the professor”—the assumed expert in all things political, even those things far afield from my relatively narrow specialization. Being “the professor” does, in and of itself, create an expectation of authority—I’m the jackass standing at the front of the room, pontificating about congressional committees or Ted Lowi’s typology of domestic public policy, and that confers some natural (and perhaps unearned) authority.

That, of course, will get a young faculty member far. But sometimes it’s not enough. I taught—or, at least, was scheduled to teach—a class the afternoon of 9/11, and I didn’t have the first thing to say that made any sense, yet I was the one my students turned to for answers. If asked today, I couldn’t begin to explain the pure evil behind the beheadings of Daniel Pearl and Nick Berg at the hands of al-Qaeda, or the vile acts of American soldiers at Abu Ghraib. I suppose the best I can do is cope as best as I can, even if sometimes I won’t be the universal expert my students expect I should be.