When people think of the life of a professor, lecture prep, grading, and research (and meetings!) come to mind as the most time-consuming activities. Yes, these all take considerable time. But, by and large, we are able to schedule and predict this in terms of time management. What outsiders and students often don’t realize is how much time is poured into “care for students.” This is a very broad category, but includes everything from answering student questions via email, and advising on degree programs and course selection, to vocational discernment, and working closely with struggling students. Seminary professors are often attentive to when students are in a health or bereavement crisis – our role may be small (a sympathetic email or note), but lots of these occasions happen in a term.
I meet one on one or in small groups with lots of students over the term and often this is spontaneous as a concern arises or someone pops into my office. The meeting may take a minute or an hour. A difficult situation may be resolved in an email, or may take months to resolve.
My own perspective is that the ideal seminary professor exhibits gifts in pastoral care. We need to model the heart of a caretaker, because our attitude and interaction with students leave an effect on them. It is not enough to be a theology egghead. It is not enough to be great at Greek or Hebrew, or church history, or theology. It is not enough to have great ideas and a sharp critical eye.
Care for students, then, cannot be seen as a burden on seminary faculty. It is a central part of a seminary’s community ethos and it should be treated as a privilege. Of course it can be frustrating and tedious (e.g., dealing with plagiarism), but there is much to appreciate when this care can turn into lifelong friendships with students who stay in contact and go on to have generous and benevolent ministries.
SIDENOTE: Many seminaries pay attention to this “pastoral care” personality dimension of faculty candidates because it helps massively with student satisfaction and student retention. Just anecdotally and from personal observation, I think that this factor has become prominent in new faculty hiring across most seminaries, more than ever before. Of course, it makes good sense, and I am pleased with this development.