It occurs to me people will stop talking to me if I do this too often, but I am fairly certain John will not mind.
Dr. John Schommer, recent past President of the UTM Faculty Senate, erstwhile UT Board of Trustee member and a host of other things, in addition to his teaching and research duties in the math department, and I; had a wonderful and spontaneous conversation today at lunch, during which we solved most of the problems not only with academia; but in the world at large. John and I did Voice Lessons (for those of you who do not know, it is a marvelous faculty community-building exercise that happens each summer, disguised as a darn-good writing workshop) together a few years back, so it’s as if we start way into any conversation we have, without needing to set it up; plus, we both tend to wax philosophical at the slightest urging; so we got on to such subjects as: the most important things our students learn; with him saying it goes back to the Greek virtues of temperance, prudence, courage and justice and college graduates somehow winding up being “better” than others, in terms of these virtues and not only in terms of “competing in the marketplace”.
As we were walking out of the UC, I mentioned that my favorite times on campus were when I happened on a conversation among students that had to do with (for example) the relationship between Plato’s Cave Allegory and the University or students talking about a volunteer experience they just shared at Betty Baker’s We Care and how it helped them better understand Thoreau’s phrase: “The masses of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
It also occurred to me during our conversation that perhaps the Faculty Senate should seek to foster conversations about the values of higher education. Perhaps we should seek to identify the values we cherish and then find out which four or five senators are most interested in each; have them talk about them and report back to the full senate on their ruminations; thus edifying all of us and perhaps suggesting new directions for our curriculum, our colleges and so on. We have standing committees and some of these things can and should come up there, but perhaps even there subgroups should be formed.
We have numerous sources of input from the “world” into what we do, accrediting bodies, the board of trustees, the legislature, and indirectly, the alumni, current students and families, among others; but how often do we consult one another, or visit our own hearts and minds on the important issues confronting not only UTM but academia at large.
John suggested there is too little sense of “we” in our society today, so, I will just throw out the rather vague question: what role should universities play in promoting a stronger sense of “we” in our communities and perhaps especially among diverse ethnicities and nations?
The essence of what John I discussed seems to come down to: how can we raise the level of value of our educational product, beyond just the sum of the various classes students take? We did not find final answers, but at least I certainly enjoyed the effort.
Thanks for reading and have a great day!