Barack Obama was a law professor at the University of Chicago, so it makes sense for his professorial past to be part of discussions about his experience(s), but not all Obama/professor references in the media are direct references to his work as a professor. In fact, this post was motivated by hearing Obama's recent debate performance described as "too professorial", an oft-repeated phrase in reference to Obama.
An internet search for "Obama" and "professorial" yields several phrases highly favored by the mainstream media and bloggers. I have color-coded these in the examples below, not because I think my readers are stupid and unable to understand complex concepts without having everything simplified for them, but for ease of viewing and for dramatic and aesthetic effect.
Obama struggles to feel voters' pain because of his ..aloof, professorial side.
But whether out of professorial reserve or budding political caution..
Democrats Worry That Obama Is Too Professorial.. In Debate Settings.
Obama's professorial style didn't keep him from scoring quick points.
The intellectual Obama professorial style doesn’t work for most Americans.
Obama's professorial approach to Iraq..
..many people - maybe because of Obama's professorial nature .. seem to think Obama talks down to them.
When he’s not giving Teleprompter speeches he comes across as quite professorial and far too analytical.
But I think Obama, who has had the problem in the past of being too professorial..
..ability to channel enough charisma to overcome his professorial reserve.
That’s him, exhibiting typical Ivory Tower Professorial reserve.
..those that are anti-Obama will say that the cool, calm and reserved demeanor is Obama just being aloof or too professorial.
Obama already suffers from coming across as too professorial ...
Obama is considered by some to be too professorial, too distant..
Obama is too professorial in his convoluted explanations.
Question: Is it OK to be professorial, as long as you aren't too professorial?
In the above examples, there are three professor-themed descriptions that appear again and again:(1) Obama is too professorial; (2) he has/shows professorial reserve (a concept clearly associated with being aloof, distant); and (3) he has a professorial nature, style, and/or approach.
What do these descriptions mean? I think they are bizarre. Nonsense. Stupid. That said, I will now elaborate using complete sentences and perhaps also obscure words and multiple relative clauses that few people can understand.
I get the fact that these descriptions are shorthand for someone who gives complex explanations (= convoluted, not simple) and who does not have a warm and fuzzy personality (= distant, aloof, reserved). What I don't get is what this has to do with professors -- as in, real-life professors that one actually encounters at the nation's universities and colleges -- and why professorial is synonymous with condescending.
Has anyone done a study on this?: What % of professors are aloof? In my personal niche in the academic ecosystem, the number is exceedingly small. In fact, to succeed as a professor these days, the ability to communicate in a clear and compelling way (e.g. to a classroom of students, to a proposal review panel) is essential.
The % of professors who are condescending is larger, but still by no means even close to a majority. I have more commonly been condescended to by doctors and home repair people, but for some reason this description is more typically applied to professors.
I don't spend a lot of time hanging out at the law school so I don't know what things are like over there on a day-to-day basis, but I serve on university committees with law school faculty and know law school professors socially. The words "too professorial" or "professorial reserve" or even "condescending" do not come to mind at all as accurate descriptions of the law faculty I know. Perhaps some law professors glide silently through the halls in their personal space bubbles and over time forget how to be anything but aloof.
I do not believe that professors are statistically more reserved than the average American. In fact, speaking as someone from a part of the country where people are rather well known for not being particularly forthcoming in friendly conversation, it seems to me that the personality of a reserved person, professorial or not, might resonate quite well with ordinary Americans in this and many other parts of the country.
To me, professorial describes someone with deep knowledge of a topic or even someone who can explain things. These are not obviously bad things. It is clearly time to eschew uses of the term professorial that imply a cold, condescending person who is unable to think or speak clearly.
12 years ago