I work at a university, and every year, usually during faculty seminar, and sometimes on other occasions, I hear a variant of this. Some respected person, generally 40+ is speaking and says, “College changed my life. But you know what? I don’t remember a book that I read, I don’t remember a test that I took. It was the professors. The relationship that I had with my professors changed my life and made me who I am today.” This is to make the professors feel good, like we matter. And we do. I had a professor who changed my life too.
But guess what? I actually remember a couple of final exams (perhaps not for good reasons—i.e. perhaps I didn’t do as well as I should have). Even more, I DO remember books that I read. The poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. The works of Charles Williams. John Donne’s sonnets. The Second Coming by Walker Percy. These books changed my life at least as much as my professors did, and unlike my professors, who stayed while I left, and who have passed away or retired, the books are still with me, like good friends. I have wonderful memories of the professors, but they are fading as I grow older; the books I was introduced to during my higher education haven’t faded a bit; in fact, I have returned to them, and each time, they give me something new, for this time in my life. In turn, they have even introduced me to others of their kind.
I’m not trying to make a case against valuing professors. I just wish that by valuing them, we didn’t have to devalue something similarly precious and underappreciated. Maybe people should say that they don’t remember the college food, or the weekend parties. But please, leave the books out of this.