The Forgotten Virtue of Gratitude

Thanks

Our annual Thanksgiving tradition here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.   I wrote this Inside Higher Ed piece on gratitude in November 2008.  –JF

It was a typical 1970s weekday evening. The sky was growing dark and I, an elementary school student, was sitting at the kitchen table of a modest North Jersey cape cod putting the finishing touches on the day’s homework. The back door opened — a telltale sign that my father was home from work. As he did every day, Dad stopped in the laundry room to take off his muddied work boots. As usual, he was tired. He could have been covered with any number of substances, from dirt to paint to dried spackle. His hands were rough and gnarled. I kissed him hello, he went to the bathroom to “wash up,” and my family sat down to eat dinner.

I always knew how hard my father worked each day in his job as a general contractor. When I got older I spent summers working with him. I learned the virtues of this kind of working class life, but I also experienced the drudgery that came with laying concrete footings or loading a dumpster with refuse. I worked enough with my father to know that I did not want to do this for the rest of my life. Though he never told me so, I am sure that Dad probably didn’t want that for me, either.

I eventually became only the second person in my extended family to receive a college degree. I went on to earn a Ph.D. (a “post-hole digger” to my relatives) in history and settled into an academic life. As I enter my post-tenure years, I am grateful for what I learned from my upbringing and for the academic vocation I now pursue. My gratitude inevitably stems from my life story. The lives that my parents and brothers (one is a general contractor and the other is a plumber) lead are daily reminders of my roots.

It is not easy being a college professor from a working-class family. Over the years I have had to explain the geographic mobility that comes with an academic life. I have had to invent creative ways to make my research understandable to aunts and uncles. My parents read my scholarly articles, but rarely finish them. My father is amazed that some semesters I go into the office only three days a week. As I write this I am coming off of my first sabbatical from teaching. My family never quite fathomed what I possibly did with so much time off. (My father made sense of it all by offering to help me remodel my home office, for which I am thankful!) “You have the life,” my brother tells me. How can I disagree with him?

Gratitude is a virtue that is hard to find in the modern academy, even at Thanksgiving time. In my field of American history, Thanksgiving provides an opportunity to set the record straight, usually in op-ed pieces, about what really happened in autumn 1621. (I know because I have done it myself!). Granted, as public intellectuals we do have a responsibility to debunk the popular myths that often pass for history, but I wonder why we can’t also use the holiday, as contrived and invented and nostalgic and misunderstood as it is, to stop and be grateful for the academic lives we get to lead.

Thanksgiving is as good a time as any to do this. We get a Thursday off from work to take a few moments to reflect on our lives. And since so many academics despise the shopping orgy known as “Black Friday,” the day following Thanksgiving presents a wonderful opportunity to not only reject consumer self-gratification, but practice a virtue that requires us to forget ourselves.

I am not sure why we are such an unthankful bunch. When we stop and think about it we enjoy a very good life. I can reference the usual perks of the job — summer vacation, the freedom to make one’s own schedule, a relatively small amount of teaching (even those with the dreaded 4-4 load are in the classroom less than the normal high school teacher). Though we complain about students, we often fail to remember that our teaching, when we do it well, makes a contribution to society that usually extends far beyond the dozens of people who have read our recent monograph. And speaking of scholarship, academics get paid to spend a good portion of their time devoted to the world of ideas. No gnarled hands here.

Inside Higher Ed recently reported that seventy-eight percent of all American professors express “overall job satisfaction.” Yet we remain cranky. As Immanuel Kant put it, “ingratitude is the essence of vileness.” I cannot tell you how many times I have wandered into a colleague’s office to whine about all the work my college expects of me.

Most college and university professors live in a constant state of discontentment, looking for the fast track to a better job and making excuses as to why they have not landed one yet. Academia can be a cutthroat and shallow place to spend one’s life. We are too often judged by what is written on our conference name badges. We say things about people behind their backs that we would never say to their faces. We become masters of self-promotion. To exhibit gratefulness in this kind of a world is countercultural.

The practice of gratitude may not change our professional guilds, but it will certainly relieve us of our narcissism long enough to realize that all of us are dependent people. Our scholarship rests upon the work of those scholars that we hope to expand upon or dismantle. Our careers are made by the generosity of article and book referees, grant reviewers, search committees, and tenure committees. We can all name teachers and mentors who took the time to encourage us, offer advice, and write us letters. Gratitude may even do wonders for our mental health. Studies have shown that grateful people are usually less stressed, anxious, and depressed.

This Thanksgiving take some time to express gratitude. In a recent study the Harvard University sociologist Neil Gross concluded that more college and university professors believe in God than most academics ever realized. If this is true, then for some of us gratitude might come in the form of a prayer. For others it may be a handwritten note of appreciation to a senior scholar whom we normally contact only when we need a letter of recommendation. Or, as the semester closes, it might be a kind word to a student whose academic performance and earnest pursuit of the subject at hand has enriched our classroom or our intellectual life. Or perhaps a word of thanks to the secretary or assistant who makes our academic life a whole lot easier.

As the German theologian and Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer explained, “gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.”

The Forgotten Virtue of Gratitude

Turkey Hill Road

I grew up in this North Jersey house.  My parents will move out today after 50 years

Our annual Thanksgiving tradition here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.   I wrote this Inside Higher Ed piece on gratitude in November 2008.  Hard to believe that was ten years ago. Today I republish it on the same day that my parents move out of the house in which they have lived for the past fifty years.  –JF

It was a typical 1970s weekday evening. The sky was growing dark and I, an elementary school student, was sitting at the kitchen table of a modest North Jersey cape cod putting the finishing touches on the day’s homework. The back door opened — a telltale sign that my father was home from work. As he did every day, Dad stopped in the laundry room to take off his muddied work boots. As usual, he was tired. He could have been covered with any number of substances, from dirt to paint to dried spackle. His hands were rough and gnarled. I kissed him hello, he went to the bathroom to “wash up,” and my family sat down to eat dinner.

I always knew how hard my father worked each day in his job as a general contractor. When I got older I spent summers working with him. I learned the virtues of this kind of working class life, but I also experienced the drudgery that came with laying concrete footings or loading a dumpster with refuse. I worked enough with my father to know that I did not want to do this for the rest of my life. Though he never told me so, I am sure that Dad probably didn’t want that for me, either.

I eventually became only the second person in my extended family to receive a college degree. I went on to earn a Ph.D. (a “post-hole digger” to my relatives) in history and settled into an academic life. As I enter my post-tenure years, I am grateful for what I learned from my upbringing and for the academic vocation I now pursue. My gratitude inevitably stems from my life story. The lives that my parents and brothers (one is a general contractor and the other is a plumber) lead are daily reminders of my roots.

It is not easy being a college professor from a working-class family. Over the years I have had to explain the geographic mobility that comes with an academic life. I have had to invent creative ways to make my research understandable to aunts and uncles. My parents read my scholarly articles, but rarely finish them. My father is amazed that some semesters I go into the office only three days a week. As I write this I am coming off of my first sabbatical from teaching. My family never quite fathomed what I possibly did with so much time off. (My father made sense of it all by offering to help me remodel my home office, for which I am thankful!) “You have the life,” my brother tells me. How can I disagree with him?

Gratitude is a virtue that is hard to find in the modern academy, even at Thanksgiving time. In my field of American history, Thanksgiving provides an opportunity to set the record straight, usually in op-ed pieces, about what really happened in autumn 1621. (I know because I have done it myself!). Granted, as public intellectuals we do have a responsibility to debunk the popular myths that often pass for history, but I wonder why we can’t also use the holiday, as contrived and invented and nostalgic and misunderstood as it is, to stop and be grateful for the academic lives we get to lead.

Thanksgiving is as good a time as any to do this. We get a Thursday off from work to take a few moments to reflect on our lives. And since so many academics despise the shopping orgy known as “Black Friday,” the day following Thanksgiving presents a wonderful opportunity to not only reject consumer self-gratification, but practice a virtue that requires us to forget ourselves.

I am not sure why we are such an unthankful bunch. When we stop and think about it we enjoy a very good life. I can reference the usual perks of the job — summer vacation, the freedom to make one’s own schedule, a relatively small amount of teaching (even those with the dreaded 4-4 load are in the classroom less than the normal high school teacher). Though we complain about students, we often fail to remember that our teaching, when we do it well, makes a contribution to society that usually extends far beyond the dozens of people who have read our recent monograph. And speaking of scholarship, academics get paid to spend a good portion of their time devoted to the world of ideas. No gnarled hands here.

Inside Higher Ed recently reported that seventy-eight percent of all American professors express “overall job satisfaction.” Yet we remain cranky. As Immanuel Kant put it, “ingratitude is the essence of vileness.” I cannot tell you how many times I have wandered into a colleague’s office to whine about all the work my college expects of me.

Most college and university professors live in a constant state of discontentment, looking for the fast track to a better job and making excuses as to why they have not landed one yet. Academia can be a cutthroat and shallow place to spend one’s life. We are too often judged by what is written on our conference name badges. We say things about people behind their backs that we would never say to their faces. We become masters of self-promotion. To exhibit gratefulness in this kind of a world is countercultural.

The practice of gratitude may not change our professional guilds, but it will certainly relieve us of our narcissism long enough to realize that all of us are dependent people. Our scholarship rests upon the work of those scholars that we hope to expand upon or dismantle. Our careers are made by the generosity of article and book referees, grant reviewers, search committees, and tenure committees. We can all name teachers and mentors who took the time to encourage us, offer advice, and write us letters. Gratitude may even do wonders for our mental health. Studies have shown that grateful people are usually less stressed, anxious, and depressed.

This Thanksgiving take some time to express gratitude. In a recent study the Harvard University sociologist Neil Gross concluded that more college and university professors believe in God than most academics ever realized. If this is true, then for some of us gratitude might come in the form of a prayer. For others it may be a handwritten note of appreciation to a senior scholar whom we normally contact only when we need a letter of recommendation. Or, as the semester closes, it might be a kind word to a student whose academic performance and earnest pursuit of the subject at hand has enriched our classroom or our intellectual life. Or perhaps a word of thanks to the secretary or assistant who makes our academic life a whole lot easier.

As the German theologian and Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer explained, “gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.”

 

The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod’s Historically Black College Will Close

Concordia_AD-3-web-622x350I had no idea that the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod operated a historical black college in Selma until I notice Concordia College when visiting Selma last summer on a civil rights bus tour.  Here is a taste a piece on the closing from Inside Higher Ed:

Concordia College in Alabama has announced that it will end operations at the end of this academic year.

Concordia is a historically black institution, and the only such institution to be Lutheran. The announcement of the closure came from the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, which noted “great sadness” over the decision.

A statement from the synod said in part: “[S]ince July 2006, of the total subsidy (not including scholarships) given to the 10 campuses of the Concordia University System, CCA [the Alabama college] alone has received more than 44 percent of that amount. But in spite of this assistance and funds from other sources, CCA — whose own efforts to stay viable have been robust — was not able to achieve acceptable and sustainable financial performance.”

The statement added: “The synod must continually evaluate how it allocates its limited resources in the face of so many worthy mission-and-ministry opportunities both at home and abroad. This often requires the synod’s Board of Directors to make difficult decisions in following the principles of wise and faithful, Scripture-mandated stewardship.

Concordia was founded — as the Alabama Lutheran Academy — in Selma in 1922. Rosa J. Young, known as “the mother of black Lutheranism in America,” started the college.

Read the entire piece here.

The Forgotten Virtue of Gratitude

GratitudeOur annual Thanksgiving tradition here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.   I wrote this Inside Higher Ed piece on gratitude in November 2008–JF


It was a typical 1970s weekday evening. The sky was growing dark and I, an elementary school student, was sitting at the kitchen table of a modest North Jersey cape cod putting the finishing touches on the day’s homework. The back door opened — a telltale sign that my father was home from work. As he did every day, Dad stopped in the laundry room to take off his muddied work boots. As usual, he was tired. He could have been covered with any number of substances, from dirt to paint to dried spackle. His hands were rough and gnarled. I kissed him hello, he went to the bathroom to “wash up,” and my family sat down to eat dinner.

I always knew how hard my father worked each day in his job as a general contractor. When I got older I spent summers working with him. I learned the virtues of this kind of working class life, but I also experienced the drudgery that came with laying concrete footings or loading a dumpster with refuse. I worked enough with my father to know that I did not want to do this for the rest of my life. Though he never told me so, I am sure that Dad probably didn’t want that for me, either.

I eventually became only the second person in my extended family to receive a college degree. I went on to earn a Ph.D. (a “post-hole digger” to my relatives) in history and settled into an academic life. As I enter my post-tenure years, I am grateful for what I learned from my upbringing and for the academic vocation I now pursue. My gratitude inevitably stems from my life story. The lives that my parents and brothers (one is a general contract and the other is a plumber) lead are daily reminders of my roots.

It is not easy being a college professor from a working-class family. Over the years I have had to explain the geographic mobility that comes with an academic life. I have had to invent creative ways to make my research understandable to aunts and uncles. My parents read my scholarly articles, but rarely finish them. My father is amazed that some semesters I go into the office only three days a week. As I write this I am coming off of my first sabbatical from teaching. My family never quite fathomed what I possibly did with so much time off. (My father made sense of it all by offering to help me remodel my home office, for which I am thankful!) “You have the life,” my brother tells me. How can I disagree with him?

Gratitude is a virtue that is hard to find in the modern academy, even at Thanksgiving time. In my field of American history, Thanksgiving provides an opportunity to set the record straight, usually in op-ed pieces, about what really happened in autumn 1621. (I know because I have done it myself!). Granted, as public intellectuals we do have a responsibility to debunk the popular myths that often pass for history, but I wonder why we can’t also use the holiday, as contrived and invented and nostalgic and misunderstood as it is, to stop and be grateful for the academic lives we get to lead.

Thanksgiving is as good a time as any to do this. We get a Thursday off from work to take a few moments to reflect on our lives. And since so many academics despise the shopping orgy known as “Black Friday,” the day following Thanksgiving presents a wonderful opportunity to not only reject consumer self-gratification, but practice a virtue that requires us to forget ourselves.

I am not sure why we are such an unthankful bunch. When we stop and think about it we enjoy a very good life. I can reference the usual perks of the job — summer vacation, the freedom to make one’s own schedule, a relatively small amount of teaching (even those with the dreaded 4-4 load are in the classroom less than the normal high school teacher). Though we complain about students, we often fail to remember that our teaching, when we do it well, makes a contribution to society that usually extends far beyond the dozens of people who have read our recent monograph. And speaking of scholarship, academics get paid to spend a good portion of their time devoted to the world of ideas. No gnarled hands here.

Inside Higher Ed recently reported that seventy-eight percent of all American professors express “overall job satisfaction.” Yet we remain cranky. As Immanuel Kant put it, “ingratitude is the essence of vileness.” I cannot tell you how many times I have wandered into a colleague’s office to whine about all the work my college expects of me.

Most college and university professors live in a constant state of discontentment, looking for the fast track to a better job and making excuses as to why they have not landed one yet. Academia can be a cutthroat and shallow place to spend one’s life. We are too often judged by what is written on our conference name badges. We say things about people behind their backs that we would never say to their faces. We become masters of self-promotion. To exhibit gratefulness in this kind of a world is countercultural.

The practice of gratitude may not change our professional guilds, but it will certainly relieve us of our narcissism long enough to realize that all of us are dependent people. Our scholarship rests upon the work of those scholars that we hope to expand upon or dismantle. Our careers are made by the generosity of article and book referees, grant reviewers, search committees, and tenure committees. We can all name teachers and mentors who took the time to encourage us, offer advice, and write us letters. Gratitude may even do wonders for our mental health. Studies have shown that grateful people are usually less stressed, anxious, and depressed.

This Thanksgiving take some time to express gratitude. In a recent study the Harvard University sociologist Neil Gross concluded that more college and university professors believe in God than most academics ever realized. If this is true, then for some of us gratitude might come in the form of a prayer. For others it may be a handwritten note of appreciation to a senior scholar whom we normally contact only when we need a letter of recommendation. Or, as the semester closes, it might be a kind word to a student whose academic performance and earnest pursuit of the subject at hand has enriched our classroom or our intellectual life. Or perhaps a word of thanks to the secretary or assistant who makes our academic life a whole lot easier.

As the German theologian and Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer explained, “gratitude changes the pangs of memory into a tranquil joy.”

Liberty University: The “Fox News of Academia”

File Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. at a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Education journalist Rick Seltzer has an extensive piece at Inside Higher Ed on Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr.  Read it here.

A few highlights:

  • Falwell Jr. once told the Liberty University students that he is a “redneck at heart.”  (He said this while introducing comedian Jeff Foxworthy).
  • When Falwell Jr. took over in 2007, Liberty University had 27,000 students.  Today it enrolls 110,000.  Only 15,000 study on the university’s Lynchburg. Virginia campus.  The rest study online.
  • Falwell Jr. dreads public speaking.  Seltzer says that he speaks with a “resonant, wandering, mumble.”
  • The Green family of Hobby Lobby and Museum of the Bible fame have an academic building named after them on the Liberty campus
  • During the interview with Seltzer, Falwell Jr. took a call from Don McGahn, the White House counsel. #courtevangelical
  • Falwell Jr.  thinks that Liberty University needs a “Trump Tower.”
  • Many Liberty administrators thought Falwell would endorse Ted Cruz, not Donald Trump
  • When Falwell Jr.  spoke at the Republican National convention in 2016 he was instructed by a speech coach.
  • Falwell Jr.  has a habit of dismissing criticism as “grandstanding” or “publicity stunts.  He did this the other day in the Jonathan Martin incident.  In the IHE article he said that the Liberty alumni who wanted to return their diplomas to protest Falwell Jr’s support for Trump are a “joke.”
  • Kenneth Carren, the president of Lynchburg College, often consults with Falwell Jr. on local issues.  Carren said that Falwell Jr. “has always been helpful and supportive” and is “a really nice guy.”
  • Falwell Jr. claims that his support of Trump has led to a “whole lot of money” in donations.  He also says that Liberty’s student body is now “bursting at the seams” because of his support of the POTUS.
  • Falwell Jr. talks regularly with Trump.
  • Since Liberty does not have tenure, they can easily fire professors if their online programs stop bringing in revenue.  Falwell Jr. says that because Liberty does not have tenure it attracts professors who are “risk-takers.”  He claims that his “risk-taking” faculty is “one of the reasons we’ve been so successful.”  I would be interested in knowing if the faculty see this the same way.
  • The faculty understand that the “rule” at Liberty University is to “keep your head down and teach.”
  • Falwell Jr. said he would be happy to host comedian Bill Maher at Liberty.
  • When asked if Liberty would invite Colin Kaepernick to campus to speak, Falwell  Jr. claimed he did not know who Kaepernick was.
  • Falwell Jr. believes that for every student who did not come to Liberty because of his politics, “I think there’s probably two that did.”
  • Falwell Jr. says Liberty is the “Fox News” of academia.
  • Falwell Jr. gets bored a lot.  When this happens he sends out a controversial tweet.

 

Court Evangelical Falwell Jr. Will NOT Be Leading a Task Force on Higher Education

File Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump shakes hands with Jerry Falwell Jr. at a campaign rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Here is a taste of Andrew Kreighbaum’s piece at Inside Higher Ed:

In the months since Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. said in January that he would be leading a presidential task force on higher education, the announcement went unacknowledged by the White House and the Department of Education, and few details have been forthcoming.

Now it appears that a Falwell-led task force won’t be materializing at all. Politico reported Thursday that multiple sources said there is no task force and no plan to launch one.

Falwell, one of President Trump’s earliest supporters, had promised that the task force would deal with federal regulation of colleges and universities as well as accreditors. He said he announced the enterprise after getting the green light from Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist. Many higher education leaders, including some who are critical of the Trump administration and not particularly close to Falwell, have praised the idea of simplifying or eliminating some regulations of the sector.

In a statement through the university, Falwell indicated that he would still be involved in a White House task force dealing with education.

“The White House contacted me last week and asked me to be a part of a group of 15 college presidents to address education issues,” he said. “This is a White House task force and not a Department of Education task force.”

Trump last month gave the commencement address at the Liberty campus in Lynchburg, Va. But his speech notably left out any mention of a task force.

Read the rest here.  It looks like Falwell will not be joining fellow court evangelical Betsy DeVos in the shaping of American education policy.

“Inside Higher Ed” on the Duke Divinity School Controversy

0cc3c-duke

Colleen Flaherty of Inside Higher Ed reports on the controversy at Duke Divinity School surrounding professor Paul Griffith’s opposition to diversity training and the subsequent backlash.  Get up to speed here.

Here is a taste of Flaherty’s article:

Griffiths’s offenses, according to the letter, included refusing to meet with the dean to “discuss expectations for professional behavior as a faculty member and to abide by the agenda of the meeting which I have set.” Griffiths and Heath reportedly did not agree on terms of for such a meeting, and it never happened. Heath threatened further consequences for continuing not to meet with her, including loss of travel and research funds.

Heath also cited “your inappropriate behavior in faculty meetings over the past two years.” It’s unclear exactly what that means, but Griffiths in an email to colleagues referred to his past public comments about “the vocation and purpose of our school; the importance of the intellectual virtues to our common life; the place that seeking diversity among our faculty should have in that common life,” and — perhaps crucially — “the nature of racial, ethnic and gender identities, and whether there’s speech about certain topics forbidden to some among those identities.”

Portier-Young, who originally invited Griffiths to the training, allegedly brought a separate complaint to Duke’s Office for Institutional Equity, based on her interactions with him over the course of a year. Saying that he stood by his conversations with his colleagues but that he refused to defend himself against Portier-Young’s complaint, Griffiths in an email called it “illiberal, anti-intellectual and shameful” and an “attempt to constrain speech by blunt force rather than by free exchange.”

The American Conservative reported secondhand that Griffiths has resigned, effective in 2018. Griffiths did not respond to a request for comment, and Duke said he was still employed, and that it was immediately unaware of a resignation but otherwise unable to comment on a specific personnel case.

“Duke Divinity School is committed to scholarly excellence and academic freedom, which includes a commitment to diversity and inclusion,” Audrey Ward, a spokesperson, said via email. “We seek to foster an environment where diversity of opinions is respected and members of the community feel free to engage in a robust exchange of ideas on a range of issues and topics. We believe that all faculty have a right to speak out as members of a civil academic community, and if all voices are to be heard, diverse perspectives must be valued and protected.”

As part of an ongoing effort to foster and support such a community, she added, “we will continue to offer voluntary opportunities for faculty, staff and students to participate in diversity training.”

Pfau, who supported Griffiths, told Inside Higher Ed that the main problem has been his colleague’s “sometimes strident tone,” rather than his objection to the training. And Griffiths’s opposition to the training, Pfau said, was “strictly to the means chosen,” not the expressed goal of equity or diversity. Pfau also said that Griffiths is resigning — a decision arrived at “without any administrative pressure being brought to bear on him.”

Portier-Young did not respond to a request for comment.

Read the entire article here.

In Search of the Humanities

Calvin-College-450x300Today Inside Higher Ed is running a piece I wrote about my daughter’s college visits and her search for a school with a liberal arts and humanities ethos.

Here is a taste:

For the last several years, I have been arguing (along with a lot of other people) that humanities departments need to do a better job of showing students how the skills they learn in our courses are transferable in the marketplace. As part of their college experience, humanities and liberal arts students should know how to articulate those skills to potential employers. We want our students to get jobs in the business and nonprofit sectors not in spite of the fact that they majored in a humanities discipline, but because they did.  I have made these arguments in my book Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past and at my blog “The Way of Improvement Leads Home” through an ongoing series of posts that I call “So What CAN You Do With a History Major.”

As a history department chairperson, when I speak to potential history majors, or even curious students in my general education courses whom I am trying to “convert” to the history major, I emphasize not only the content that they will learn in history courses but also the transferable skills. I would encourage professors in liberal arts colleges to work with admissions officers about making sure students know that humanities majors can make a decent living in a variety of different professions and careers. If trained well, they should know how to think clearly, write well, communicate effectively, tell stories, empathize with others and take small bits of information and make meaning out of them.

A move in that direction may also require curriculum changes or additions. For example, at the college where I teach, we added a one-year “Introduction to History” course that contains a substantial unit devoted to careers. The students read the pertinent chapters of Why Study History? and hear from career-center staff about how to sell themselves as history majors to potential employees. Our department even added an “administrative studies” concentration to our curriculum. Students in that concentration take the full history major, but they use some of their non-history electives to take courses in business, leadership, economics and politics. 

I have worked hard at trying to transform my department along these lines, but sometimes I wonder if I have gone too far in this direction. Instead of championing transferable skills and all the things students in history can “do” with their majors, maybe I should have spent more time challenging this market-oriented approach by defending humanities learning for learning’s sake. We don’t spend as much time anymore talking about the non-marketable values of the humanities or the benefit of humanistic learning to make us better people or citizens. I know that my faculty colleagues care about this, but I’m not so sure about the majority of the students whom I encounter. I worry that the success of a particular humanities discipline is now being measured by utilitarian ends such as career outcomes.

Read the entire piece here.

Texas Wins the Academic NCAA Tournament

Every year Inside Higher Ed predicts the winner of the NCAA basketball tournament based on academic performance of each school in the field of 64.  The formula is explained here.

The 2016 men’s final four includes Texas, Arizona, Indiana, and Seton Hall.  Texas and Indiana meet in the final game and Texas comes out on top.

In case your wondering, Yale beat Baylor in the first round, but lost to Duke in the second round.

Here is the bracket:

mens2016bracket

The Brendan Pietsch “Acknowledgments” Post Goes Viral

PietschEven Inside Higher Ed is talking about the acknowledgments section in Brendan Pietsch’s Dispensational Modernism.  The website has devoted an entire article to our post.  Here is a taste of Scott Jaschik’s report:

John Fea, chair of history at Messiah College, was browsing in the book exhibit at the American Historical Association’s annual meeting this weekend when he happened upon an acknowledgments section that he had to share. We thank him for the tip because it certainly is different from the acknowledgments we have typically skimmed over.

You can see the acknowledgments in full in the illustration above.

Inside Higher Ed reached out to Brendan Pietsch, the author of the acknowledgments and of the book where they appear,Dispensational Modernism, published in July by Oxford University Press.

Via email, he said that Fea’s blog post has turned out to be good publicity for the book. “I’m a bit surprised anyone noticed, and the recent attention to a book that has previously had about nine readers has been a little crazy.”

So why did he write the acknowledgments in his book?

Read the rest here.

Do Graduate Admission Committees Discriminate Against Candidates From Religious Colleges?

harvard

I have always believed that the  members of department admissions committees at elite graduate schools who choose potential students for history Ph.D programs honor good work and intelligence.  I tell my students who want to pursue graduate school that they will be judged on their test scores, college work, and letters of recommendation, and not on the fact that they attended a religious-oriented institution.

When my top students get  rejected from a graduate program I often wonder–I will admit it–if they were turned down because they attended Messiah College, a Christian college in the Anabaptist, Pietist, and Wesleyan tradition.  I have never been able to prove this and have never really had any interest in doing so.  I continue with my idealistic belief that Ph.D programs choose students based on test scores, college work, and letters of recommendation.  Such idealism is also based on the fact that I have had many students get accepted to first-rate graduate programs.

But very few, if any, of my students get accepted to the kinds of schools that Julie Posselt writes about in her new book Inside Graduate Admissions: Merit, Diversity and Faculty Gatekeeping (Harvard University Press, 2016).  In my idealism I have always just assumed that entrance into these schools was extremely competitive.  And I continue to believe that the competitive nature of these universities is the best explanation for why my students have not been accepted over the years.

But Posselt also suggests that some of my hunches may be  correct. Here is a taste of Scott Jaschik’s Inside Higher Ed article on Posselt’s book:

In most cases Posselt observed, the committee members used banter and “friendly debate” when they disagreed with one another. They didn’t attack one another or get too pointed in criticizing colleagues. She describes one discussion she observed — in which committee members kept to this approach — that left her wondering about issues of fairness.

The applicant, to a linguistics Ph.D. program, was a student at a small religious college unknown to some committee members but whose values were questioned by others.

“Right-wing religious fundamentalists,” one committee member said of the college, while another said, to much laughter, that the college was “supported by the Koch brothers.”

The committee then spent more time discussing details of the applicant’s GRE scores and background — high GRE scores, homeschooled — than it did with some other candidates. The chair of the committee said, “I would like to beat that college out of her,” and, to laughter from committee members asked, “You don’t think she’s a nutcase?”

Other committee members defended her, but didn’t challenge the assumptions made by skeptics. One noted that the college had a good reputation in the humanities. And another said that her personal statement indicated intellectual independence from her college and good critical thinking.

At the end of this discussion, the committee moved the applicant ahead to the next round but rejected her there.

Posselt portrays the members of graduate admission committees at the universities where she drew her samples as insecure, concerned with ratings (does this mean U.S. News and World Report-style ratings?), obsessed with prestige, lacking diversity (both in terms of gender, race, and ideology), engaged in the worst forms of elitism, and discriminatory (in a bad way).

I imagine that Posselt’s book will receive some strong push back from elite universities.  Those who have served on graduate admissions committees will say that what Posselt describes in her book looks nothing like the way these committees are actually run.  Fair enough.  It does seem like Posselt has a small sampling.

But there seems to be enough here–at least from Jaschik’s summary (I have not read the book)–to confirm some of those unproven hunches.

How to Interview for a Job at a Church-Related College or University

Chapel of the Resurrection (exterior), Valparaiso University

Chapel of the Resurrection (exterior), Valparaiso University

On Saturday, I wrote a post about interviewing for jobs in history departments at teaching colleges.  Today I offer some tips about interviewing for a teaching job at a church-related college or university. These also come from an Inside Higher Education piece I published in December 2012.

Here is a taste:

If you get an interview at the American Historical Association or another meeting with a church-related college, you need to do your homework. What kind of church-related college is it? A good place to start is Robert Benne’s Quality With Soul. Benne identifies four different types of church-related colleges. I have charted my own course in this post, but have relied on some of Benne’s classifications.

There are many schools that have historic connections with Protestant denominations. This, of course, does not mean that those connections will have any bearing on the hiring process or the AHA interview. For example, Duke University has a historic connection to the United Methodist Church, but this connection will play no factor in the search process. The same might be true of a place like Gettysburg College, a school with connections to the Lutheran Church. If you have an AHA interview with this kind of church-related school, there is no need to treat it any differently than you would an interview at a nonsectarian school or public university. You may not even realize that you are interviewing with a church-related school!

Other church-related schools take their church-relatedness a bit more seriously. Catholic schools, for example, might ask you if you have any problems with the Catholic mission of the university. In most cases, however, this issue will not be raised during the AHA interview. (It might be raised by an administrator during an on-campus visit). The only exception to this rule is the small number of Catholic colleges who only hire Catholic faculty. If these schools interview at the AHA (most will not), the committee will not only ask you if you are Catholic, but will want to know if you are a practicing Catholic. (Yes, a private school can ask such a question).

Read the rest here.

How to Interview for a Job in a History Department at a Teaching College

Messiah ImageA few years ago I wrote this piece at Inside Higher Ed. Perhaps some of my thoughts here might prove useful to graduate students and others preparing for interviews at the upcoming American Historical Association meeting in Atlanta.

Here is a taste:

This piece is about interviewing at colleges and universities that stress teaching over research. This, I might add, is the overwhelming majority of colleges and universities. It is important to remember that the phrase “teaching college” can be applied to a host of different kinds of institutions. Elite and not-so-elite liberal arts colleges, private comprehensive colleges, and non-flagship state universities, for example, would all find a comfortable home in the “teaching college” tent.

This may be stating the obvious, but it is still worth mentioning that committees from these colleges are looking for an excellent teacher. Some may want to hire a “teacher-scholar,” or a person who sees their vocation in terms of blending traditional scholarship and teaching. Others may want someone who is a teacher first and a researcher/writer second. Still others may not give a lick about your research or how many books and articles you hope to churn out over the course of your career. Whatever the case, all of the colleges in this category want a person who not only works well with students, but actually has a desire to do so.

As you might imagine, your “research” is not going to be as important to the search committee at a teaching college as it might be if you were interviewing with a research university. This does not mean that the search committee will not care about your dissertation or book manuscript. In most cases committee members will ask you about your research and, in some cases, may find it quite interesting. You may even find that many of these colleges have incentives in place, such as summer research stipends or course reductions, to help you achieve your research and publication goals. But always remember that teaching comes first.

Read the rest here.

Baptists, Beer Cans, and Budget Cuts or What Small Christian Colleges Need to Do to Survive

Paul Roof was fired for appearing in this ad.

The June 2, 2014 issue of Inside Higher Ed includes three stories about controversy at Christian colleges.  I always cringe when I see articles about Christian colleges appearing in periodicals such as Inside Higher EdThe New York Times, or the Chronicle of Higher Education.  When this happens it usually means that a particular Christian college is in trouble.

(I should add here that Inside Higher Ed does a much better job than the Chronicle of Higher Education in covering Christian colleges and universities. I appreciate their effort of its editorial leadership to take seriously the place of Christian colleges on the landscape of American higher education. What follows has nothing to do with Inside Higher Ed’s coverage and everything to do with the issues facing these colleges and universities).

First up is Erskine College in Due West, SC.  Erskine is affiliated with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.  Some of the school’s constituency would like to have a president who is a Presbyterian (though not necessarily a Presbyterian affiliated with the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church) and others don’t seem to care as long as the president is an evangelical.  From what I have been able to tell, the college has, in recent years, sought to reclaim its evangelical identity. (This has caused a great deal of controversy).

The Board of Trustees at Erskine recently offered the presidency to a candidate who was a Baptist.  This did not go over very well with those who want the college to remain true to a distinctly Presbyterian brand of evangelicalism.  They protested and the candidate eventually took his name out of consideration for the job. Scott Jaschik covers it all here.

I know that the bylaws at some church-related colleges and universities require the board to choose a president who represents the institution’s denominational identity. For example, Baptist colleges and universities often limit their pool of potential presidential candidates to Baptists.  The same is true for many Catholic universities.  Recently Davidson College, an elite liberal arts college in North Carolina, decided not to change a college by-law that says the president must be a Presbyterian.

I have no problem with Erskine wanting to stay true to its ecclesiastical roots on this front.  But it does seem that the leadership of the college has to make some serious decisions about whether they want to maintain a distinctly Presbyterian identity. If they appeal to a larger evangelical constituency (and hire a non-Presbyterian president who might help them make that appeal) they might attract more students or a larger donor pool.  (More on this below).

Next up is Charleston Southern University and what I am calling “BeerCanGate.”  This Southern Baptist college, which also seems to be working hard at reclaiming (or perhaps sustaining) its Baptist evangelical heritage, recently fired a very popular sociology professor named Paul Roof because he allowed his image, complete with a wildly groomed mustache and beard (see above), to appear on a beer can as part of a charity to raise money for ovarian cancer.  The administration claims that Roof violated a university policy that does not allow faculty to participate in business enterprises or use their image in advertising that sheds bad light on the college.  Of course beer and Baptists don’t mix.

As a private university, Charleston Southern has every right to have rules about faculty with crazy mustaches allowing their images on beer cans.  Roof apparently violated a rule here. But does what he did really merit his firing?  How about just a slap on the wrist?  My hunch is that there is more to the story here.  Perhaps someone who knows Charleston Southern University can enlighten us a bit in the comments section below.

Finally, there is the ongoing case of Bryan College.  Last month we did a post on student dissent at the college.  At the time several people told me that these debates over creation science and strong-armed leadership should be understood in light of the fact that Bryan is facing serious enrollment declines.  Now we learn that Bryan just cut 20 positions, stopped contributing to employee retirement, and reduced the salaries of administrators.

What is happening to Bryan is not unusual among Christian colleges today.  I won’t name names, but I know of many colleges who have been forced to make cuts of this nature.  (Some have cut even more than 20 positions). The larger and wealthier Christian colleges will survive these cuts (or have survived them) and will continue to offer first-rate Christian liberal arts education.  Other Christian colleges, in order to keep the doors open, will be forced to refashion themselves into institutions focused on online education or continuing education.  Some will simply go out of business.

I am guessing that the problems at Erskine and Charleston Southern are also related to enrollment. Both schools are trying to appeal to a larger pool of prospective students.  Some folks at Erskine think they can do it by hiring a charismatic president, regardless of his connection to the school’s tradition, who might attract students.  The administration at Charleston Southern wants to make sure they don’t lose the conservative constituency who would frown upon a faculty member’s image on a beer can.

I am afraid we will read more about these schools and other Christian institutions of higher education in a forthcoming issue of Inside Higher Ed.  Stay tuned.  These problems are not going away.  The higher education marketplace is changing rapidly and it appears, sadly, that only the strong will survive.