The Relationship in Academia

Tag: Relationships

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Category : Teaching

Several years ago I wrote an article titled, “The Relationship in Academia” for the New Existentialists Blog. Of the blogs I have written, this is one of my favorites. I continue to be disheartened that, in the world of academia, recognition of the importance of the relationship continues to decrease. It is what has kept me in academia. Few blogs I have written have received as  strong a response as this one. I had a number of people contact me voicing their appreciation of the article. This included faculty members at various universities who shared their despondence at the lack of time they have for building good relationships with students. It also included the person who was, at that time, the provost at the university where I was teaching. He shared his appreciation for the article and his own recognition of the need as an administrator to help protect time and support for faculty-student relationships.

Here’s an excerpt from the article followed by a link to the full article.

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on May 6, 2014 reported on recent research suggesting that a connection with a caring professor may be an important contributing factor to college success (Carlson, 2014). For existential psychologists, this is not surprising. There is a preponderance of evidence suggesting that it is the relationship that heals in therapy (Elkins, 2009; Wampold, 2001). It is not surprising that the same is true in academia.

Yet, this is not as simple as just telling professors to be kind and caring. The article states, “College graduates… had double the changes of being engaged in their work and were three times as likely to be thriving in their well-being if they connected with a professor on campus who stimulated them, cared about them, and encouraged their hopes and dreams” (¶ 1). This suggests that the relationship is also about shared interest and a goodness of fit.

While I think this research is very important, I worry that colleges and universities could quickly try to implement this without really understanding what it entails to cultivate an academic environment where these relationships are common. Some colleges will likely translate this into being nice or “providing good customer service.” But a true, caring relationship is about more than just being nice or saying the right words; it is about cultivating the right type of relationship. In this blog, I’d like to discuss what building this environment really means.

Read the full article here: https://www.saybrook.edu/newexistentialists/posts/05-12-14/


We dishonor those early influential thinkers in our movement when we turn them into idols. We distort the message they were bringing to us and the message they lived in their lives. I believe (and hope) that if these figures were around today that their harshest critiques would be of the way we over-revere their contributions. We love and honor our heroes when we recognize their humanity. To be revered as an idol or infallible scholar is much less of an honor than to be revered as a human who within all the limitations of being human rose to contribute a unique voice and make an important, though imperfect, contribution worthy of a lasting influence on the history of humankind.

— Louis Hoffman, The Proper Use of Tradition and Scholarly Authority