Monday, November 23, 2015

When Teachers Don't Matter

In "When Teachers Don't Matter," Mark Bauerlein discussed two changes in academia: the new role of the professor, and the lack of relationships between professors and students.

Bauerlein regrets that a professor is no longer a presence, the seat of knowledge, an authority, or a moral exemplar. As a professor in an engineering school, I see the same trend happening, more slowly perhaps, but I do not mourn. Because more effective channels exist, the professor should not be the source who transmits knowledge or use that position as the basis for authority. Bauerlein claims that professors are now mere functionaries, accreditors, and graders, but this overlooks the fact that a professor designs the course in which the students learn. Students take courses to learn how to do something (such as how to analyze a poem, design a bridge, or live a good life), and professors must design courses in which students learn. A course is not a chance to admire a professor, it is an activity in which a professor helps students learn. The role of the professor has changed, but it is not diminished. Indeed, it may have increased. The public admires designers of video games, computers, and other technology products; as the importance of course design attracts more attention, students will admire the professors who design and lead the most effective courses (whether or not there are lectures from the front of the classroom).

Bauerlein also laments the lack of relationships between professors and students. This is an important insight, and students who fail to talk with the professors who teach their courses are losing an important opportunity. In general, this reflects a lack of community, which can occur when a school becomes too concerned with its output and productivity, and professors consequently become too concerned with writing proposals and papers. There are examples, however, of communities today. In A Whole New Engineer, David Goldberg and Mark Somerville described the communities formed at Olin and Illinois, and I have had the pleasure of belonging to (and teaching courses for) a learning community here at Maryland. In these communities professors can become mentors.

Good student-professor relationships can help students learn and alter their lives. Even as instructional strategies change, forming such relationships is still possible.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Joy of the Gospel

The Apostolic Exhortation EVANGELII GAUDIUM (The Joy of the Gospel), by Pope Francis, can be found online here and as a PDF document.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Function of the University

In his article about universities, Roger Scruton paraphrases Cardinal Newman:
This, Newman implied, is the true social function of the university. Within college walls the adolescent is granted a vision of the ends of life; and he takes from the university the one thing that the world does not provide, which is a conception of intrinsic value. And that is why the university is so important in an age of commerce and industry, when the utilitarian temptation besieges us on every side, and when we are in danger of making every purpose a material one—in other words, as Newman saw it, in danger of allowing the means to swallow the ends.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Politics of Architecture

This 1996 post by Peter Kreeft mentioned four American political types:
John Courtney Murray’s fourfold classification was based on four different attitudes toward the organized Church and the organized American State: the conservative affirmed both; the traditionalist affirmed the Church but mistrusted the current State; the liberal affirmed the State but mistrusted the Church; and the radical said “A plague on both your houses.” There is much truth here, but much missing too—something certainly less important than religion but possibly more important than politics, and, as I found in my drive through Cambridge, it has something to do with architecture.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Academic Freedom

As described in the post by Robert P. George, Princeton University formally adopted the principles of the University of Chicago report on academic freedom, which includes the following principles:
The ideas of different members of the University community will often and quite naturally conflict. But it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although the University greatly values civility, and although all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.