Posted by: Nathan | May 25, 2006

Academia

I recently read an interesting article by Vicent Cannato (how the Synthesis for that day missed it, I attribute to Kyle having read enough stuff already) about how universities are no longer making any effort to develop their students’ sense of morality and aren’t student-focused. This paragraph I found especially on point:

There is too little accountability at most schools, Mr. Lewis observes. Trustees often abdicate their responsibilities, while college presidents have become glorified fund-raisers. Most professors are “narrowly educated experts” with little experience outside academia. They are “poorly equipped to help college students sort out” their lives. Meanwhile, professors teach what they want to teach based on their own interests, not on the needs of their students. At too many schools, Mr. Lewis argues, students pursue an “à la carte” course schedule that lacks coherence and can leave large gaps in knowledge.

I loved Bethel, but I can relate to some of this (“glorified fund-raiser” anyone?). I loved the English department faculty and their classes, but I certainly noticed gaps in the curriculum: no theory (since remedied), Russian lit, world lit, or contemporary lit. Also, I do think that professors have free reign to teach and study what they please; clearly, the best interests of the students are being ignored at many universities.

Since I intend to spend my days in the Academy, critiques like this one sound like my vocational challenges. I hope to remedy some of these problems when (Lord willing) I become a professor, but it certainly will be interesting to join in department politics.

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Responses

  1. Well stated. I as well hope to join you some day in that venture. Kyle and I have had many a conversation about that very point in the political science and history departments. There is a real need for more sound economic study in the political science department and as far as history there is no one teaching African or Asian history. While that may not be nearly as popular with Bethel students as American and especially European are, there has to be more of a focus on other cultures outside of the west.

  2. Great post and great topic of discussion. I think only part of the article (and presumably the book to which Dr. Cannato refers) is applicable to Christian liberal arts schools such as Bethel. In my opinion, Bethel does give its students excellence and an education ‘with soul.’

    I think the problem more clearly in the elite universities in the US is that the ‘anything goes’ mentality begets courses on the efficacy of South American women’s liberation literature or the history of tribal relations on the Horn of Africa, while often ignoring or short-changing courses on classic literature or an overview of the African continent as a whole.

    The problem can go both ways, though, as you and Peter astutely point out. Schools like Bethel, with their heavy emphasis on Western Civilization need to broaden their horizons beyond ‘study abroad’ programs and token references to other cultures.

    The debate, I think, hinges in large part on the concept of tenure. Should professors be able to receive lifetime employment? Does tenure negatively affect a professor’s attention to students and/or classroom presentation? Would there be a better system that would give ‘tenure’ for 10-15 years and then require a re-evaluation? Would that improve educations?

    The other thing that I think is left unsaid in the article (and I’m sure in the book) is that learning requires both universities and the students who inhabit them. If students are uninterested in learning and simply go to college for alchohol, free love, and drugs, then no amount of institutional transformation will really change the academic culture in the US.

    Whew…that was long.

  3. Jeez, Kyle, your comment is better than my post. Ouch. Yes indeed, a lot of that article does not apply to Bethel, and your thought on the motivation of students going to school is something I hadn’t considered. I also understand your point about tenure affecting programs, but given that I’m going to teach soon (Lord willing), I think tenure ought to stay… Have I sold out?


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