Was up on the Quad around 11 am this morning. Happily, it is a sunny day, but it is also pretty cold, low 40s. Most of the students were bundled up in jackets and scarves and boots. In weather like this, people walk quickly to their destinations, whereas in spring or fall when the temperature is more moderate, it is a lot easier to linger, to stop and chat with a friend, etc.
Lots going on this week. This afternoon President Hatch sent a message to the campus community about the executive order about refugee travel. You can read it here. Many events to consider this week, too. The Events calendar is a fantastic resource for your students if they are looking for things to do in their [non-existent] spare time. There are artistic options and lectures and service opportunities and so much more. I hope your Deacs take advantage of all there is to offer.
I’m in a class right now where we are talking about the history of higher ed and what college has been (and should be for the future). It is a subject upon which many well-intentioned people may disagree. One of the texts we are reading is Andrew Delbanco’s College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be (highly recommend – the introduction is available here as a PDF). He lays out his thoughts on the goals and aims of college:
“But what, exactly, is at stake in college, and why should it matter how much or little goes on there? At its core, a college should be a place where young people find help for navigating the territory between adolescence and adulthood. It should provide guidance, but not coercion, for students trying to cross that treacherous terrain on their way toward self-knowledge. It should help them develop certain qualities of mind and heart requisite for reflective citizenship. Here is my own attempt at reducing these qualities to a list, in no particular order of priority, since they are inseparable from one another:
1. A skeptical discontent with the present, informed by a sense of the past.
2. The ability to make connections among seemingly disparate phenomena.
3. Appreciation of the natural world, enhanced by knowledge of science and the arts.
4. A willingness to imagine experience from perspectives other than one’s own.
5. A sense of ethical responsibility.”
I wonder what your students would think about the above? Would they agree? Or are they thinking of college as “the credential I have to have in order to get a job?” “Or it is a place to learn and grow (and have fun) before the responsibilities of adulthood sets in?” Maybe Delbanco’s opinion is the kind that you can form if you have been (as he has) a longtime professor and observer of higher ed, so maturity plays a part?
It is easy to think of college as the facts and figures you learn in class, the work you do, the papers you turn in, the grades and diploma you get. But a lot of what happens in college, Delbanco argues, is what he calls “lateral learning” – the learning that comes from living in community with fellow students, talking about differences in opinion/background/beliefs. Chewing on the big questions together. Agreeing and disagreeing. Revising opinions. Digging deep into topics that interest you.
Interestingly, he thinks one of the downsides of modern colleges is the arms race for fancy residence halls with private rooms, private bathrooms, or suites. Though students say that they want that kind of privacy, does it come at the expense of lateral learning? If you are in a suite with just your best friends, do you lose opportunities for the lateral learning that comes from sharing a hall bathroom with people unlike you? I don’t know.
One of these days – not now, not via text or Skype – would this be a conversation to have with your Deac? What does he or she see as the goal of college? Where has he or she made the most meaningful growth towards adulthood? Does he or she see a personal connection to items 1-5 above? And if not, why not? What might be done differently to start moving in those directions, if your Deac feels it is important?