The academe is a place where knowledge is supposed to flow freely; it is a hub of intellectuals who share almost the same passion of producing new knowledge or filling the research gaps in their specific academic discipline.
Conversely, it is also one of the most toxic environments that enable gossip, rumor-mongering, backbiting, professional jealousy, and power-tripping.
I have been in the academe for around 12 years, not so much, of course, compared to other professors who have stayed more than half of their life — 30 to 40 years — in the academe.
However, I can say that I have seen and experienced my fair share of good and bad stories while serving as a faculty of history.
I first taught at Silliman University as a graduate teaching fellow for the History & Political Science Department from 2010 to 2012. Back then, I was a young, idealistic fresh history graduate who thought positively about life in the academe, and was genuinely enamored by lives of senior professors who have stayed most of their life in the academe.
At that time, I was trying to refine my craft as a future historian — trying to improve how I teach and connect with students. Research and other matters was not a priority, except, of course, when I was required to write my Master’s thesis.
By and large, I loved my stint at the History & Political Science Department of Silliman — it was there where I learned how to love teaching and connecting with students, even when I was — and still am, by the way — an idiosyncratic, introverted person.
I transferred to the Negros Oriental State University by June 2012, and eventually felt a sense of culture shock given the multitude of students per section, and the different intellectual environment.
Later on, however, I was able to adjust with the help of some senior faculty members who had been teaching in NORSU for decades. If not for them, I would have struggled adjusting teaching in a state university.
Suffice it to say, one thing I realized about working in the academe is that it is all about incessant learning about your craft or specialization, be it in instruction or research and extension, and even learning from your students.
It’s actually a self-fulfilling profession. The fact that you are doing something you love — in my case, teaching and writing research papers on history — is aa good enough reason why life in the academe has been good.
Nevertheless, not unlike every workplace, there are some rotten apples who breed toxicity and envy. These are the individuals who backbite, gossip, and get jealous of other peoples’ success or achievements.
These are also individuals who use, if not misuse, their authority to abuse others — the power-trippers, the ones who take pleasure in putting others down.
Oft-times, these toxic elements in the academe are usually the attention-seekers and those who ostensibly enjoy drama. As an academic, I have not encountered a lot of these people, and I hope — as I still do not consider myself an old-timer — I do not get the chance to meet people like them; but there are some indeed who are like them, whom I try to avoid as much as possible.
What’s worse is that these individuals do not see anything wrong with their actions, and unknowingly continue to be toxic to others — spreading false rumors, talking behind other faculty’s back, fostering hate and jealousy, and putting other people down just to keep them “in their place”.
Be that as it may, the best thing to do about these people — based on my experience — is to ignore and continue with what you are doing.
This also applies to any workplace — your success will only drive you detractors mad; it definitely won’t stop them from talking behind your back — no, that will never happen, given their insatiable need to talk about other people just to make their depressing lives better — but ignoring them will only drive them nuts.
Anyway, with the current social and political milieu we have in our country, I suppose the academics should try to make their researches and the instruction of their subjects more relevant more than ever.
Now is the time for us — especially in the Social Sciences — to speak out and write against any form of injustice. Now is the time to let the students understand that what they are learning in the classrooms should be brought not only to the respective workplace in the future, but it should be used outside their respective careers — they should be politically vigilant, not obsequious, and they should always hold government officials accountable for their actions, not blindly obey them just because you are loyal to them, and that you voted for them last election.
The president is not God. Senators, congressmen, and other local government officials are not demigods. They are not infallible. They commit mistakes, and when they do, we must hold them accountable — not blame their mistakes on past administrations or other individuals. Try as much as possible to lessen your pride.
These are the things that I learned from my professors in Silliman, which I am applying now that I am a faculty of history at NORSU.
I do hope that in time, the Filipino people will realize the important role of the academe in society. And I really do hope that the ‘bad apples’ will change their ways, and realize their role in helping mold students not necessarily become successful in their field or future careers, but to be socially and politically vigilant.
However, if their political views are questionable and they do not have a moral compass, then good riddance!
In the end, it’s all about choices — you choose your battle. Students can choose to ignore their professors whose views about society or politics are verily questionable, but they can also choose to believe in them if it affirms their pre-existing beliefs.
I would advise them, however, to always question their professors. A professor who does not like to be questioned is dangerous; that professor is simply full of himself.
The academe is a place where ideas flow freely — students learn from their professors and professors learn from their students. It is not a one-way process.
We must, therefore, preserve this kind of culture since I have observed that Filipinos nowadays do not like to be questioned; seemingly, whenever someone questions them, they are quick to judge that person for trying to be smart. This then leads to smart-shaming.
Why do Filipinos seem to be fond of smart-shaming? I’ll discuss more on this in my next article, as this toxic trait among Filipinos was quite evident during the 2022 national elections.
Author’s email: [email protected]