Labor economics studies how people choose the field of work they pursue. I thought of this recently as I reflected on the title that I go by.
“Is your mother a professor?” a friend of my daughter recently asked her. “Yes, she is.”
At least, that is what my business cards say. However, I often pause at hearing me call myself this, as I am not always sure what it is that I “profess.” Is it the usefulness of calculus and statistics? Or that altruistic decisions can be modeled using Economics? Neither of these seems to rise to the level of what it was that my own professors “professed” while I was a student, so I am still searching to answer that question.
I recall my first Economics professor and his answer when I asked him for more of the mathematical underpinnings to the theory he was presenting. “You can’t study Economics without using math” he said, obviously thinking I was approaching him with the typical complaint that Economics was too mathematical. Months later, when he realized how well I was doing, he suggested I pursue a Ph.D. in the subject. That time, he taught this first generation college student new vocabulary word, “fellowship.”
Although I became an economist who teaches in a Mathematics department, it is the professors from the humanities that made the greatest impression on me. I remember my History professor, Michael Foley, who had us read and discuss literature from the times we studied. I once sat inches from him in the front row as he taught about the human cost of the Industrial Revolution. He moved his arms up and down in a scissor-like clapping motion, explaining that the workers had to put their hands into such moving blades, reach in and tie a tiny knot and remove their hands in time to avoid losing those hands to the closing jaws.
He began each class with a prayer, and began and ended each course with a speech about the importance of education. On the last day of class with him, I had a final paper in another class due that was not completed. No worry, I thought, I need to skip this class, but I will just come back next semester and sit in on his final-day speech. That summer, I learned that I would not be able to do that, as he died before that new semester could begin.
I recall Father Richard McSorley, S. J. who most certainly “professed” when I took his class, “The Nonviolent Revolution of Peace.” Although he is dead, I heard his echo when I learned of the writings of a man whose wife died in Paris this past week, leaving him alone with a small son.
And I remember theologian Monika Hellwig, who used the term “new possibilities” to describe the benefits of a theistic view on life. I have used the same, hopeful term myself to describe political victories and the appointment of a new pope.
And yet, I sometimes wonder what exactly it is that I “profess” here at Ursuline, a question that I thought of recently as our college turned a corner.
This past week saw the installation of a new president for Ursuline College, Sister Christine Devinne, a wise woman with great vision for our college. Again, I find myself using the words “new possibilities” to describe the optimism currently found on our campus.
As I was leaving the house to participate in her induction, my daughter stopped me to ask me where I was going. She giggled at the image in her mind of the faculty “marching” as if in a marching band, and then asked about the robe I was carrying. I showed it to her, recalling the struggles, both financial and medical, that had threatened to keep me from earning it. “I worked hard for this” I told her, with a proud, serious tone in my voice.
I am afraid that she was unimpressed, as she answered “but mom, I bet you could have bought that on e-bay.”
And so, to paraphrase a credit card commercial, what do you profess?
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