I imagine that if you told the average college professor that he was a role model, he would deny it. They could counter by pointing out that they are hardly the most influential persons in the student’s life, and they are certainly not all models of what the perfect professor should be. Both these points would be true, but they are beside the point. When a student thinks “how should an academic person act?” the most powerful answer to the question will come from simply remembering the actions and character of the various academics that he has actually met. It is not the case that the student only takes the best teachers as role models: this is implicit even in the very word “role model”; for a role model is someone who models a role, someone who shows us what a certain role looks like. If we model the role well, then the student will get a good idea of what the role is; and if we model it poorly, the student will get a bad idea of what it is. If a student only sees professors who are skeptical, hesitant, dispassionate, and overly enamored with their own theories and with their own jargon; then it will be almost impossible for the student not to think that he must act exactly like this if he wishes to act like an academic: even if he disagrees with the content of everything he has learned.
Because we are real persons, existing in the flesh, we cannot avoid first modeling ourselves on the real persons we know. In whatever role we have been placed, we do not have the choice of whether we will be a role model or not, only whether we will be a good role model or a bad one.