Christian College Struggles

It’s been a bad year for Christian colleges.  Bryan College just had four trustees resign (just the latest development), while Erskine College can’t seem to find a president.  I could name other situations, but you get the point.  Campbellsville University seems to be heading the other direction, as they have decided to stop taking money from the Kentucky Baptist Convention, and they are seeking to put non-Baptists on the Board of Trustees.  All of this is a nice reminder that, like any other college, faith-based institutions are far from monolithic.

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Not My Area At All

I am not known for my fashion sense as a professor (or any other area of my life, for that matter).  Actually, I am known for it, just not in a way that makes people want to emulate it in any way.  Thus, it probably seems odd that I’m linking to an essay by a professor who talks about the difference her clothes made in her teaching.  What interests me about it, more than the fashion angle, is the idea that being comfortable with who we are in the classroom (and, I think, who we are, in general) makes us better professors.

For my first couple of years, I could teach a class well enough, and I got good evaluations, but they were centered largely on my personality (comments about my jokes and my fashion sense, now that I think about it).  Over the years, though, as I’ve figured out who I am and how I am, those comments have shifted toward the substance of the class rather than the surface of me.  As my knowledge of my self deepened, the focus shifted from the persona I felt I had to create to guide the class to the content and structure of the course.  Fashion isn’t the answer for everyone, but knowing one’s self is.  It’s amazing how much of a difference that makes in the classroom, and, if fashion helps, great.  We all have to find our own way there.

Professors’ Fault

When I was in college, I and my friends were a rather conservative bunch.  That’s not surprising, given that I attended a Christian college in Northeast Tennessee.  What is surprising, though, is that our professors were much more liberal.  (How liberal were they?)  They were so liberal that, in 1992, we jokingly referred to the Faculty Office Building as Clinton/Gore headquarters.  I’m sure not all of the faculty members voted Democrat, but enough of them did (and displayed signs accordingly) to make us feel their presence.

Such things lead most people to declare that left-leaning professors are the reason many college students graduate with more more liberal views on almost all major social and political issues.  That just might not be the case, though.  This review of Professors and Their Politics shows that more engagement with faculty actually leads to more moderate views, while involvement in student activities leads students to become more extreme in their views (liberal students become more liberal, while conservatives become more conservative).

The review admits that the study is not perfect, but it certainly doesn’t support the idea that professors are to blame when students become more liberal in their time at college.  I suppose I’ll have to work harder when 2016 rolls around.

I’m Too Busy To Even Write This Post

If you talk to me during the semester, you will probably hear me talk about how busy I am (students are unappreciative of such talk, not surprisingly).  Even in the summer (you know, when we don’t work), I have a list of things I could be doing right now instead of writing this post because, you know, I’m just so busy.

Allison Vaillancourt talks about this problem (talking about being busy, not actually being busy) in her post from last month called “Let’s Banish Busyness.”  She’s not in favor of not doing work, just not complaining about it all the time.  In fact, she and some friends have stopped using the term. Continue reading

Office Hours Obsolete?

A little more than a month ago (I know that’s years in internet time, but I was out of the country for a while, and I’m just now getting caught up on writing), Jonathan Rees posted an essay arguing that office hours are obsolete.  Essentially, he argues that his students don’t come to his office unless he asks them to and that our 24/7 connectivity makes office hours pointless these days.

A few of the commenters point out that they have students coming to their office on a regular basis, and I have to agree.  We actually have had a number of conversations about office hours in the years I’ve been teaching here, as we shifted office hours from 10 to 6, based largely on the argument that Rees makes about email, but then raised back to 8 when others (mainly one, actually) argued that we should be there more often.  Granted, I teach at an institution where professor-student relationships are emphasized, but the same was true when I was a graduate student at a couple of larger public universities.  I do answer a large number of emails, but those of a different sort than the types of conversations I have with students who drop by.  Here are two reasons I would argue office hours are still definitely needed. Continue reading

A bit of background before getting started

I’ve been thinking about writing a blog relating to higher education for a few years, so I gave it a try last year when I wrote regularly for one on my university’s Center for Teaching Excellence blog.  Essentially, I wanted to see if I could stick to a regular schedule, and I did.  Now that I’ve done that, I want to take another step up and try to keep up my own blog and see where that goes.  I’ve written pieces for The Chronicle of Higher Education, InsideHigherEd.com, Academe, and The Teaching Professor from time to time, but there are many things I write that don’t fit in any of those places.  This will be the place for those ideas.  I’ll still submit some of my writing to them when I think it’s appropriate, but most of what I write will end up here.  Here, then, are a few things you should know about me and the blog:

1.  The goal is to have a new post that I write every Monday morning.  I will update with shorter posts throughout the week, but that is when the new material will come out.

2.  I can only write from my limited perspective of the world of higher ed.  As such, you should know that I’m a full professor (tenured) at a primarily undergraduate university of 4500 students.  My focus will be on undergraduate education, and the only time I’ll talk about graduate-level work is when I talk about getting undergraduate students to that point.  Our university is also faith-based, which will probably show up from time to time, though I try to write for an audience that goes beyond that.  We are a teaching institution, so I won’t talk much about research, though I do some when I feel so inclined.  We place a premium on relationships with students, so I know my students fairly well, and they know me.

3.  My purpose here is never to attack students or point out their shortcomings in a mean manner.  I’ll try my best never to talk about students in a condescending manner.  My job as a professor is to try to teach students, and I rely on relationships with them to strengthen that teaching.  Making fun of them in a public setting is not conducive to education as I know it.

4.  The title of the blog comes from the idea that I want to speak honestly.  I don’t want to try to say what I think people want to hear about education, so I’ll try to write honestly about whatever subject it is I’m exploring.

Those are the basics for now.  I hope some of what I write is helpful, and I’m looking forward to writing and thinking about teaching, students, and everything related to higher education.