Higher Education

Robert recently me a gentle note chiding me for silence.  Being a lifelong academic, I used a tried and true response: “I am off for the summer.”  Intellectually, I shut down from May to August–even if I do pick up a class or three over the three month hiatus.

The question sounded something a bit deeper.  And the sounding was reinforced by an article he included in the note:

Link discusses his loss of faith in academia.  The implied metaphor shook me.  Teaching has been a vocation for me.  And I have always considered myself lucky to have been able to make a living off of a passion and a vocation.  (As a friend once told me, “It is always better to be lucky than smart.  And I have always been smart.” )

In some part, my loss of faith is based in the very thing that has made my vocation a viable livelihood: the commercialization of higher eduction.

Michael Rowe, the Dirty Jobs guy, has made a strong created a foundation addressing what he terms “Profoundly Disconnected.”  He “challenges the absurd belief that a four-year degree is the only path to success.”

At first glance, the movement would seem to be an assault on higher ed.  In reality, though, it is an affirmation.


Equating success with college degrees is a form of reductionism that has cheapened skilled labor and higher ed alike.

I wonder if, like Oliver, my faith has been lost as well.

At the end of The Mission–a movie I have always wanted to live up to–one priest decides to follow his face and face death with the host.  Another embraces his roots and battles overwhelming odds.  I had always seen this as the two responses to that sort of injustice: embrace with love or battle for what you love.

What I failed to notice was the third option: the Indians, the believers, who melt quietly back in to the forest rejecting the options offered by the Church, Spain, and Portugal.

Guns, Immigrants, and Higher Ed

Dr. Z

Things have been quiet.  It’s the summer.  Summer classes are ramping up.  Kids are coming home from college.  The rain has stopped.  So bicycling and kayaking have begun to occupy my days–to the extent that I am behind on my classroom readings.  (My students have had to correct me twice on details from Huckleberry Finn.)

During these doldrums, the Texas state legislature has been grappling with two bills that will shape the culture, the nature, of college campuses.  One deals with allowing concealed weapons on campus and the other allowing undocumented students to keep in-state tuition.

The repeal of Perry’s Dream Act, which would have ended in-state tuition for undocumented students, was not popular among conservatives. Nevertheless, they were unable to pass a measure ending the act.

Perhaps the confusion is my own.  Perhaps it is a reflection of my own political inattentiveness.  I can’t help but wonder, though, if this strange mix of legislation reflects the legislature’s own inability to understand the role of higher education and its relationship to the state’s economy.

Reductionism and College Education

Dr. Z

I am in the process of wrapping up a short, three-week, online class: a mini-mester.  Ideally, in less than a third of the time, students cover the same materials in three weeks that they would in a traditional 16 week semester.

Although I benefit from the overload, I have always been ambivalent about the classes–even as I have continued to teach them on a regular basis.

My reservations about the courses have been difficult to articulate.  The students are expected to meet the course outcomes. But perhaps that is part of my discomfort.

The focus on clearly defined, defining, outcomes seems to be a form of reductionism.

This reductionism seems tied to the emphasis on career preparation and testing.  Education has been reduced to interaction with tests, outcomes, and degree plans, an extended, expensive form of training.  The goal of a college degree is to obtain a job.  I am not sure that is the same as an education.

Mark Bauerlein in “What’s the Point of a Professor?” warns that it is up to the professors to challenge students, to engage them to move beyond simply evaluating assignments.  He concludes if we fail to do so we are nothing more than accreditors.  “We become not a fearsome mind or a moral light, a role model or inspiration.”

The reasoning is simple; part of the dedication to our disciplines is an attentiveness beyond the enforcement and defense of a grade.

Looking at a fresh new set of essays awaiting my comments and grades, I question my own tenacity.

Cheers, Priests, and Gas Charges

Dr. Z
A Seminary Story
Professionally, the last few years have required several changes in direction–chair, faculty, interim jobs, and children leaving home for college.  At times, those shifts have left me disoriented, as well as carless.

It’s not that I expect such changes to be easy.  Just, on some level, I assume, or more accurately hope, that my experience will enlighten me when the plans I have made and shared become obstacles to overcome.

My last year in the seminary was a rough one–much of it my own making. Continue reading Cheers, Priests, and Gas Charges



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