Posted Monday January 26, 2015 by AACU In liberal education nation
On the last day of AAC&U's Centennial Meeting, one of my colleagues on the ACAD board (American Conference of Academic Deans) told me that someone was joking about creating an AAC&U Bingo game. You know how these things work. Every time someone says a certain phrase printed on your bingo card, you mark the card until you get to yell "bingo!" Our students could (and certainly do) organize similar games around professors’ pet phrases, only theirs are more likely to involve tequila shots. The evening plenary version for AAC&U would involve, perhaps, sips of wine.
Imagine that every time a speaker said “transformative” or “learning outcomes” or “student-centered” or “global citizens,” the players in the room marked their cards and nipped their wine. If you get bingo, you win a bottle.
While the innovative (bingo!) AAC&U Bingo proposal was no doubt a harmless joke, its lightheartedness veils a cynical yet accurate observation. I will admit that few things could be as much fun or as engaging (bingo!) as a room full of tipsy academic leaders (bingo!), but what does it say about our beloved organization that its rhetoric is so predictable, so repetitive? Does it suggest just the opposite of what AAC&U preaches about good teaching practices (bingo!) and avoiding lecturing and rote memorization? Repetition saps words of their impact (bingo!), even their very meaning. They become cant phrases and jargon, and their deployment suggests a failure of creativity (bingo!) and imagination, or worse, a mindless insincerity.
But let's step back a bit for a fuller and more generous assessment (bingo!). Frankly, the only reason we can all play the game is because we are such dedicated attendees of AAC&U meetings. We are voracious consumers of AAC&U publications. We are indefatigable participants in AAC&U workshops. In short, the words and phrases we hear at AAC&U are familiar because they are woven into the principles (bingo!) that guide AAC&U and that guide many, even most of us, to be more reflexive (bingo!) and intentional (bingo!) educators. The very fact that you are reading this blog suggests that you are a devotee of AAC&U or are, at the least, profoundly AAC&U-curious.
And, therein lies the positive outcome (bingo!) of AAC&U Bingo. The phrases that form the basis of the game also form our common language, a language we hope to induce the academic and wider world to respect, a language we hope will inform the practice (bingo!) of liberal learning (bingo!) well into the future.
At the closing plenary, Brian Murphy of De Anza College (one of the four excellent speakers tapped to fill in for the ailing Freeman Hrabowski) stated that the goal of his ad hoc panel was to have the very large audience leave the packed room and return to our campuses to convey and commend AAC&U’s agenda to our colleagues. While he earned a chuckle for his humorous delivery of the line, he was quite sincere. Many of us, maybe most, could easily fill our AAC&U Bingo cards again and again, and that is a good thing—maybe even a wonderful thing.
We know the principles (bingo!) and agenda of AAC&U, and we have pretty good ideas for implementing (bingo!) them. That is our imperative: to move words into action. Bingo!
Posted Wednesday January 22, 2015 by AACU In liberal education nation
The opening sessions of the AAC&U Centennial Symposium ranged across topics, but one theme that emerged Wednesday morning had to do with the impact and importance of mentoring to student learning. One of the most cogent comments was in the form of an audience question. During the second session, someone (and I apologize that I did not catch his name or his institution), pushing against some panel commentaries about making students career ready, asked whether higher education should be about subversion rather than about training students to conform to corporate structures. In a later session, Michael Roth, president of Wesleyan, had some choice comments in a similar vein. (To read some of those, check the #aacu15 hashtag on Twitter, where his remarks were liberally documented.)
One of the panelists in the second session, Mark Lindsay, suggested that the choice the questioner framed was not so mutually exclusive, that the well-educated employee would be the one who could push against the general “flow” when it is headed in the wrong direction.
All this discussion got me thinking about my own experience with mentoring. Let me start with a confession. Jim Citrin, on the first panel, made the point that mentoring relationships are “a two-way street.” He spoke of how students need to seek and cultivate mentoring relationships.
So, my confession? I am a lousy mentee. I have never successfully cultivated a long-term, meaningful, positive relationship with a mentor at any point in my life or career. Perhaps because of this personal shortcoming, I am probably a mediocre mentor--although I have prolifically mentored students and colleagues, I am not sure how valuable many of those efforts have been. One big exception, though, is a student I started mentoring nearly five years ago. At Stevenson University, my institution, both the student population and the full-time faculty are about one-third first generation. In light of this, we started a program tin which faculty who were themselves first-generation college students mentor first-generation freshmen whom we identified as “underprepared” and “at risk” of attrition.
The student assigned to me (I will call him “Steve”) was and is hungry to learn and grow. The fact that I have been mentoring him for five years while he earns his four-year degree may suggest failure, but time-to-completion is a poor measure of impact and value. Or so I tell myself. He started as a biology major with an eye toward medical school, but he is (another confession) the one and only student I have ever advised to become a business administration major--a subject for which he has a real passion and interest.
At first, Steve talked incessantly about how he would be a huge success on Wall Street. He used to joke about naming me to his first board of directors. I am not one to discourage a young man’s ambitions, but Steve’s required some careful, uh, subversion. Despite my alarm, I needed to guide him gently toward a more critical view of the “flow.” Sometimes, such as when I gave him a book on financial scammers who ended up in the slammer, I was not so subtle. I am happy and proud to report that now, in his last semester, he no longer talks about earning an MBA in order to facilitate his ruthless takeover of Wall Street. Instead--and I must add, with no prompting from me--he plans to pursue a degree in school counseling so that he can guide high school students in a way that he feels was lacking in his own experience. He wants to “give back” to a system that did not give much to him at all. That’s called altruism.
In other words, over five years, he and I collaborated on the subversion of his dreams in order to redirect his career trajectory. Who knows where he will find himself in the future? Careers are rarely, likely never, straight lines. What I do know is that, whatever he does, Steve will stand against and even try to redirect the “flow” when he perceives it moving the wrong way. Steve is becoming one of those well-rounded and responsible citizens we tout as the ideal outcome of liberal learning.
So I share the implied concern of the questioner from the audience. The goal of liberal learning needs to involve a healthy dose of subversion rather than conformity. But I also agree with Mark Lindsay that we can, through education, help graduates become successful in their careers while nurturing in them the wherewithal to stand agains the misdirected “flow.” Critical thinking, ethical reasoning, etc., constitute the stuff of liberal learning and are at the core of purposeful citizenship. Yes, my relationship with Steve involves more intensity than anyone can broadly apply, and Steve is an extraordinary young man by several measures. But his development is a good example of what we heard Wednesday morning: the importance of intentional mentoring in preparing students to be thoughtful and successful citizens.
Now, as everyone has been pondering, how do we scale that up?