Well, the term professor has a variety of meaning depending on where one is. For instance, while in the U.S the term professor is used to refer to any university teacher, in Italy the term may refer to a high school teacher. The illustrate oxford dictionary (1998:654) provides three different meanings which are: a university academic of the highest rank, a university teacher and a person who professes a religion. Tracing the origin of the word may give us a clearer picture of what it really means. The word is a derivative of a Latin word which means one who professes publicly to be an expert (in a particular area). From here, we can posit that a professor is an academic expert in a specific field.
When the term professor is mentioned, it conjures in most people’s minds a personality with highest and smart academic achievement. A professor is seen as an academic giant. Though, this may not be the case, for while they may have substantial knowledge in their area of specialization, they are not know-it-alls. A professor is not a junk of all traits as most people are made to believe.
While in North America for one to become a professor is dependent on career achievement which then ranks the professors as assistant professor, associate professor, full professor and professor emeritus, in Europe a professor may refer to one who holds a university chair, the title is a position and hence unless one is chosen to head a university department, he/she might never live to enjoy the privilege and prestige of being called a professor. These are other categories of professor which include collegiate, adjust, visiting, research, international, distinguished professor and professor by courtesy.
Recently I interviewed a professor who called himself Professor Maxwell. He stated that he became a professor out of his career achievement and a personal decision. He indicated that out of his constant craving for knowledge, he carried out numerous studies and researches in the field of human rights at PhD and post doctoral levels, studies which earned him a position as a professor in one of the colleges in America. He accepted the poison because he felt that he had so much knowledge on Law and human rights so by being a college professor would be the best way to share the knowledge and learn more.
The professor explained he does not only lectures and seminars in human rights but as an individual he is an avid activist of human rights. He said he likes it most when the learners seem to understand and attempt to challenge his views. He likes conducting research that help improve the conditions of human life and goes on to profess that through his research works, many people get empowered and are able to live a more free life when they get and utilize the information generated from his research. He went on to explain that he offers consultation services to humanitarian organizations, something he believes has been of much contribution to the society’s welfare. He likes training young and new academics as this assures him that even after he is long gone, he will leave behind people who are human rights conscious.
He asserted that many a time he borrows George Bernard Shaw’s words and uses them as his teaching and life philosophy. Prof. Maxwell always reminds his trainees the very words: “Be ashamed to die unless you have won some victory for humanity.” The professor doesn’t like it when people or at worse his learners take human rights for granted. His most important professional experience is when he was appointed to be apart of the UN team that formulated the millennium development goals. He believes his contributions in the summits were tremendous and will go along way in bettering conditions for mankind.
Professor or Maxwell expects his student to be aggressive, vibrant, active and proactive both in life and in class. He expects his students to challenge and prompt him do more research and wants to be seen as a fountain of knowledge in his field. Professor Maxwell agrees that he may not know all there is in the field of human rights, but his students should trust his competence and open-minded approach to the field. He believes there is more to be discovered and he will continue researching on the field leaving no stone unturned.
Prof. Maxwell concludes by telling new transfer students to the faculty that “.the field is an opportunity for them to be happy through sharing in human suffering” and goes on to conclude with amnesty international assertion that “human rights belong to each person” (Amnesty International, 1997). During my encounter with Professor, he appeared to me like a societal icon worth to be emulated. And I suppose this is what professors should be.
Thompson D & Metcalf J. (ed). Illustrated Oxford Dictionary. London: Dorling
Kindersley Ltd and Oup. 1998.
Amnesty International. Refugees: Human Rights have no borders. New York: Amnesty