Photo Credit: David Mulder
Veterans can arrive to college with a diverse set of life experiences. While scholars like your professors may have spent more time reading and analyzing than experiencing, there can be an odd divide for a veteran. Especially when it comes to the humanities with subjects like the military and international travel.
As a veteran, educator and lifelong student, let me share some tips on how to appropriately voice academic disagreements within the world of higher education.
Understand that you have the right to disagree.
You aren’t in the military anymore and even though your professor may feel like a supervisor sometimes, that is not the case. (Even if your professor thinks that’s the case.) Their role is to facilitate your education and to bring their academic expertise to you. Be respectful, but know you are allowed to also bring your unique perspective to the discussion.
Use your chain of command.
OK, maybe not exactly a chain of command. In the civilian world, people appreciate a private heads-up about any issues as much as anyone. If you’ve talked to your professor, particularly about an administrative issue, don’t be afraid to take it “up the chain.” Your first stop after the professor should be your academic advisor. They are the most aware of the ins and outs of the college and how best and who best to approach with your issue.
Don’t let an issue come to a boiling point before you engage your professor about it. Whether it’s the material, a grade or teaching style, your professor will be in the dark until you speak with them about it. Just as you may have more than one class you are juggling, professors are often balancing their students’ needs. Approach your professor privately, either during office hours or before/after class time.
Demonstrate respect and expect it back.
Bring some of your military experience to bear here and be respectful when engaging your professor. You don’t have to call them sir or ma’am, but respect at the very least that they have studied for a lengthy time to get in front of a classroom. Remember, no matter your opinion, they are experts in their fields.
In turn, professors should demonstrate respect for all their students and the experiences they have to offer.
Share your experiences.
If your disagreement is based on a personal experience, especially when it comes to the military, feel free to respectfully share your disagreement. I urge you to explain why, unless you are uncomfortable with sharing your story; in that case, a simple statement that you aren’t comfortable should suffice. It may not change your professor’s mind, but it can be helpful to voice your experience to the contrary.
Academic disagreements are not personal disagreements.
Know the difference. The academic world is filled with scholars arguing relentlessly on all aspects of their specialties. It’s actually an aspect that most scholars are proud of. Informed, well-researched and well-presented arguments are the lifeblood of academic progress. Scholars will craft academic essays just to argue with another scholar’s essay. In fact, there are whole books devoted to rebut the work of another. But it should never ever be personal. The disagreement should always be about the subject matter (academic or administrative) and not the person.
Understand the unbiased requirement of scholarship.
I see a lot of students get in trouble in this area. The academic world is a professional one, and separating yourself from your personal belief systems or politics is important. I’m not saying you should stop believing these things, but understand that serious learning requires the student to understand the material and then analyze it. This doesn’t mean you must come to the same conclusions as your professor. But it does mean you must learn to find credible evidence to prove your conclusions.
Make sure it’s the professor you disagree with and not the material.
If it is the material, realize that professors are often required to teach specific areas in their classes whether or not they agree with them. Engage your professor if the material doesn’t seem to sit well with you. Ask them for additional sources that you can use to do your own investigation in order to draw your own educated conclusions.
Remember they are a person too.
Just like any person, your professor has a personal life and history. You’d be surprised that many professors are veterans too (the GI Bill program has been around for a while). Give them a chance to vet your disagreement in private first and solve any issues at the lowest point possible.
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