For those of you who may have wondered where I’ve been for the last semester (yes, I know this is a total of precisely zero people), I took some time away from Binghamton University to study in Dublin, Ireland for a few months. I’m not going to bore you all with a column glorifying Guinness and Irish accents — both of which do happen to be superb, for the record — but I think there is something really excellent going on in the Irish postsecondary education system that is worth exploring in the United States: the prevalence of lecturers.
Throughout my semester in Ireland, I was not taught by professors; all three of my classes were conducted by lecturers. What’s the difference, you ask? While professors are full-time academics dedicated to studying their particular field, conducting research in it and teaching it to their students, a lecturer’s main job is to actually maintain a job in the discipline they are teaching. They are experts in the subject because they have extensive experience working in it, which gives them the knowledge and expertise needed to teach the topic. They are not required to do research or to publish because academia is not their passion — working is.
In Ireland, my public relations class was taught by a woman who owns and manages one of the leading health care PR firms in Dublin. My law lecturer would frequently run into the classroom 20 minutes late because court ran over. She is a practicing barrister (the European version of an attorney) and has been licensed for 12 years.
The value of this is that my teachers were true experts in their fields. Lecturers have the real-world experience that professors are lacking, meaning lecturers know exactly what students need to learn to ensure success in the discipline. In a 2014 Gallup survey, only “11 [percent] of business leaders strongly agree that higher education institutions in this country are graduating students with the skills and competencies that their business needs.” Rather than professors wasting students’ time by forcing them to study abstract theories that have no genuine use after college, lecturers fully understand the practical information that is necessary for students to ascertain in order to work in the subject post-graduation.
Furthermore, there’s just something that gives your education more value when learning from an expert. Hearing about what it’s really like to work in the field from somebody who’s actually done it means more to a student than being taught a subject by somebody who has merely studied it. Lecturers can point to their own experiences as examples for teaching throughout their lectures, giving them an authority that professors lack. You respect the information more when it’s coming from someone who has real conviction on the topic because you understand its value for your future.
I’d like to point out a couple disclaimers on this whole thing. First, lecturers are not the only type of teachers in college in Europe; professors do exist, they are just less common than they are over here. Furthermore, there are currently lecturers in U.S. colleges, even at BU, just on a much smaller scale than in Europe. Finally, there are some possible downsides to having a lecturer over a professor. Lecturers are not practiced educators, which means that they might not be the best at communicating their subject to students in an effective way. It can be difficult for lecturers to juggle both their full-time work and teaching, which could endanger their commitment to their students.
Even so, I loved the classes I took in Dublin, and my lecturers played a huge part in that. Learning from teachers who are exactly what you aspire to be one day, who work in the area you see yourself in for the rest of your life, puts a whole new value on your education. So much of modern American society is already rooted in European convention — I think it’s time we adopt just a little more of their tradition and rethink our postsecondary education system.
Emily Houston is a senior double-majoring in political science and English.