The Purgatory of the Professionally Qualified ProfessorHigher Education
When I was a kid I learned about the concept of purgatory..not quite heaven and not quite hell. I think that is where many people I speak with find themselves when they choose the route of “professionally qualified” to teach at a university or college. For those of you who are not real familiar with the term it refers to people who have significant practical or professional experience but not a PhD.
I am now the Harrison/Omnicom Professor in Integrated Marketing Communications at West Virginia University, a post I took after looking at a number of options once we decided to leave Ole Miss. I was CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) at Ole Miss and liked the work, but because we’re Jewish and I have small kids it was a difficult place to practice our faith. So we decided to move and struck out for Morgantown so I could try my hand at full-time faculty work.
I’m classified as a Visiting Assistant Professor, have a contractual arrangement with the university, which means I’m not on a tenure track. I’m a lucky guy in the higher ed world, because I have an endowed chair even though I don’t have a PhD. In fact, the school of journalism actually sought out a professionally qualified person for the job, which is pretty progressive thinking so I hear.
Making a career in the academic world is not something I ever intended. But, somewhere along the line I figured out that I was a pretty good teacher. I proved that by teaching as an adjunct and becoming an executive-in-residence at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. My students learn important things they can use in the real world where increasingly our students know virtually nothing about the real world when they enter the real world…you know the place they are going to work and be the engines of an economic renaissance in this country!
Despite my fortunate situation, I know from talking to others who are considered professionally qualified too that we are viewed as second class citizens. The second class status comes both ways..from the PhD’s and from the those who are still working in the real world.
PhD’s dominate the academic world and I am buying this dominance in some subjects..particularly the sciences. My dad had a PhD in Chemical Engineering. He was a smart guy. People with PhD’s in Higher Education Administration, well not so much. But the PhD club runs our universities and they have formed an alliance of entitlement. I’m not in the club and never will be.
On the other side are those who practice in the real world. In my case that’s people in marketing or advertising. They view the professionally qualified as the “hacks” that couldn’t make it. I can’t relate all the conversations with people in the business world I’ve had since taking my academic position, but suffice to say their first assumption is that I don’t really know much and they go out of their way to instruct me on the basics of branding etc. Fact is, I still consult to the biggest companies in America and have put nearly $4 billion in new business on the market in the last 20 years. I also own a growing healthcare company.
Here’s my point in all this. PhD’s and Business Folks need to help those of us who are professionally qualified out of purgatory and preferably to the heavenly side! PhD’s need people who understand the world they either never were in or left deliberately for academia and they need us to teach, something many find to be a pesky impediment to their research work. Business folks need professionally qualified people to train their workers, yes train them, because you are not doing this anymore. You also need to hire professionally qualified academics to work with you, because many of us gave up tens of thousands and more in annual income to do this noble work and believe or not we actually are on top of the latest techniques because universities study these things.
Actually right now we’d all just settle for a little respect. Give it some thought.