by Oluwafunmilayo Miriam Akinpelu, MA student in the Department of History
In a general sense, what makes a good university? It is possible to list one too many criteria - a pleasant, agreeable campus building, a closely-knit, amazing student community and approachable administrative staff members. Oh, and there is one more thing that cannot but be added - great professors and faculty members. This, for me, is in fact, the most pivotal pillar on which a good university stands. At Central European University, I have had the opportunity to meet awesome professors who have impacted my life positively in several ways. My definition of ‘awesomeness’ in this sense has more to do with the support, approachability and conducive learning environment created by all the faculty members in my department at CEU.
Being a Nigerian in the History Department at CEU, I must admit that I had a lot of fears to deal with in my first year of study. During the first few weeks of classes, I remember being terrified about whether or not I was understood by my lecturers, classmates and worried sick about how to assimilate the lectures and readings that were constantly being doled out. In short, I was scared about how I was being academically received by my professors, especially given the unfamiliar learning environment and new processes of knowledge production that I encountered within the four walls of CEU.
However, with time, I have come to discover that the professors are genuinely interested in helping me learn, understand and work through the arguments of several historical scholars. But, even more, I am impressed by how the professors whose tutorship I have been under, in the History Department and in other departments like Gender Studies and Sociology and Anthropology, challenge students to scrutinise and interrogate the existing literature in their fields of study rather than swallow written texts and arguments whole.
They urge students like me from different educational backgrounds to learn to question ideologies while, at the same time, extract useful premises by reading in between the lines of texts. Honestly, the deep reading and learning of texts, the discursive platform given to students, the freedom accorded to me and others to apply our own unique theories, approaches, case studies and methodologies from our learning toolkits are all too different from the former academic spaces I had been in, where cramming information just as it came was prevalent.
Beyond classes, I am enthralled by the down-to-earth nature of most lecturers and academic staff. Whether I meet them in class, in the passageway, via email or a Zoom meeting or on Skype, they are always super approachable. They have no qualms about hanging out with students at the beginning or end of the term, hiking with them while discussing academic topics or random chats or organising occasions where they eat alongside students and get to know the real people behind thefaces . What’s more, one can see that they do not do it out of obligation but are genuinely interested in showing students the fun part of being students. Trust me, this culture of casually meeting professors for picnics and talking about Trump or the Ottoman Empire and then moving on to preferred tastes in music was all too new to me when I came to CEU and I relished it as much as I could. I still do.
Furthermore, the approachability of many professors does not end with casual hangouts, beer talks and itsy-bitsy chit-chats but it also is evident in how they render support to students when necessary. The support that I have, so far, been personally rendered has ranged from the prompt writing of recommendation letters on my behalf for several purposes to the provision of financial support through internship employment in the department. Indeed, the professors have always been kind to collaborate with administrative staff to attend to the specific needs of students like me. Being one of the many who have received concrete support, I cannot but be grateful for this kind of rare opportunity to have professors that care not only about the academic progress of students but also for their personal wellbeing.
The COVID-19 pandemic that has engulfed this year has shown even more how caring and supportive the professors can be. Being aware of the mental fatigue students have been undergoing, the professors in my department have been kind enough to extend deadlines, join in the advocacy of allowing pass and fail marks and even make thesis writing and submission (for 1-year students) more flexible.
This is not to mention their efforts to make lectures on Zoom shorter, less burdensome and even reduce readings so that students don’t get drained under the pressure of so much work. During these hard times characterised by the raging global pandemic and the school’s move to Vienna which has, in fact, prompted a lot of issues common for an institution taking its baby steps in a whole, new setting, one would have thought that professors would be more withdrawn from the lives of students, more bothered with their own workloads to care about mentally-drained kids or ‘whining’ young adults, but the opposite has been the case.
From my experience with professors in three departments within CEU, I can say that the professors genuinely care for their students and, with the care and support they have shown to me and others, they have made us feel a little more at home in CEU.