Should we be pals with our lecturers?

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It’s not too many decades back that the wall of separation between educators and educated wasn’t as strong or as high as it is now. For a long time, it was standard practice for lecturers and seminar tutors to go for a drink with their students after their work was done. That practice has now become vanishingly rare – but it might be time for a revival.

Consider for a moment that, like many of us, you study for a Masters or PhD. Unless you’re some kind of academic magician, you’re going to be spending a lot of time with your lecturers. It would be advantageous (not to mention quite fun) to have a good relationship outside of work.

This isn’t school any more, where the teachers seem untouchable and wisely elderly (even in their late twenties). We’re all adults, and our shared subject interest means there’s no use or sense in having a rigid hierarchy between people. It’s far easier to share ideas with someone you’re relaxed and comfortable around. There’s less fear of ridicule, and it’s easier to debate ideas without it seeming like you’re tearing them down. The ability to get drunk with your lecturer could even help when it comes to asking for help with work – they’ll know you weren’t just being lazy – you were putting away valuable alcohol with them.

In general, it’s reasonable to think that it’s okay for people of similar ages to go out for a drink or to a party together. I know at least one seminar tutor who’s younger than some of their students, and enforcing (even if only societally) an artificial divide between people who might otherwise get on seems rather odd.

Most courses have the “cool lecturer”, or, if you study in one of the dorkier areas, the “normal human”. The one who follows people on Twitter and subscribes to their YouTube channels, who, if they’re young enough, people might – gasp – actually find attractive. There’s certainly advantages to being personally friends with them in the popularity stakes. University can be a brutal knife fight of social standing at times, and having the chance to make a leap for the next rung on the ladder can be very handy indeed.

Of course, it’s a two-way street. There has to be some understanding of who’s in charge, and the rapport between lecturer/tutor and lectured/tutee cannot be so close as to prevent effective and critical marking (though this is helped to a large degree by anonymous marking). On the other end of the equation, it’s not necessarily good to be taught by someone you’ve got blind drunk with. Would you, for example, be as likely to respect their opinion on a controversial topic, or even pay full attention in their classes? In short, would you take them seriously?

Much would depend on the lecturer and student in question. Certainly both would have to choose wisely – trying to be pals with everyone can either look desperate or be a good way to have your goodwill exploited.

It may, at this point, not even be possible. After so many years spent thinking that to enjoy the company of someone in charge of educating you is weird, there’s no guarantee either lecturers or students would want a friendship. But it seems a shame if that’s the case. Plenty of students, after all, may be in the same boat some way down the line. For there to be social markers of who it’s okay to be friends with and who it isn’t signifies a sadly robotic society, where kindness, humour and an understanding of one another’s humanity are seen as alien creatures to be avoided or ridiculed.

I like some of my lecturers. I hope some of them like me too. Maybe later, we should go for a pint.

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