How to know when to Challenge a Statement Made by the Professor

Students who decide to question a statement made by a professor, can expect a challenge.

The article “Problems with your Professor” offers some suggestions about approaching a professor if you wish to challenge a statement he or she has made.  

Many professors enjoy having a statement they have made challenged, simply because it livens up their classroom.

A word of caution however, when a student is challenging a professor in a way that becomes argumentative, combative or potentially violent, it can create serious, adverse tensions in a classroom, thus knowing when to challenge a statement made by a professor is important. Rudeness and arrogance on the part of the student is never appropriate.     

Academic freedom allows any student to risk challenging a statement made by his or her professor.

There are times when an appropriate challenge can present an opportunity for a student to advance his or her standing. It may be an opportunity for a professor to present his or her research or to introduce new knowledge. If a particular student proves knowledgeable on a specific topic, there may be an opportunity for him or her to tutor others, or even give a class on a college or university level.     

No professor knows everything; neither does any student. A professor is not in competition with his or her students, even though a challenge can make it look that way. It is in sharing knowledge that both a professor and his or her students begin to open new horizons of thought.

Challenging a statement made by a professor can be openly in class, but ideally, approaching a professor after a class, or requesting an office visit with him or her later, may prove more appropriate. The professor will allow time for the student and inquiries re a particular statement can be the major focus of their attention. Another method of approaching a professor is via e-mail, but e-mail etiquette is important.

A student challenging a statement made by a professor should ascertain that his or her knowledge and research are accurate. The professor may enjoy working with a student who shows interest in a particular topic. He or she may allow access to advanced knowledge or research for a student working on a thesis or major paper.

Remember that knowledge is continually changing and with a multiplicity of primary and secondary sources, the professor and the student may be coming from different directions. Both may be correct in their own way.         

Challenging a professor about a statement made in class when he or she is in a social setting is not a good idea, although a student may take the opportunity to make an appointment with the professor. Presenting a challenge to any professor when one is consuming alcohol is never advisable.

Presenting a challenge to anyone, especially a professor, always invites a challenge in return.