They say the smell of citrus makes you feel cheerful. Today in Princeton, the sun came out from hibernation and children played in the formerly lonely park behind our office. It is a perfect time to savor the sun, and if you can’t get outside, to savor an orange. Bid winter doldrums adieu and rouse yourself for spring.
Going Green (for St. Patrick’s Day)
Oranges are lovely, but we have a different color on our mind today. NAS Board Chairman Steve Balch has been reading Irish history this year and noted that Ireland’s literacy and religious sincerity enabled Western culture to survive the post-Rome Dark Ages.
St. Patrick was not actually Irish but Roman, and was kidnapped as a boy and brought to Ireland to be a slave. After six years, he escaped slavery but later returned to Ireland as a missionary of Christianity. Through his influence on the island, Ireland became a Christian nation with a zeal for reproducing the illuminated manuscripts that helped to sustain the Western tradition.
Recommended reading: How the Irish Saved Civilization, by Thomas Cahill
A review by the New Yorker declares, "When Cahill shows the splendid results of St. Patrick's mission in Ireland—among them, the preservation and transmission of classical literature and the evangelization of Europe—he isn't exaggerating. He's rejoicing."
How to Leapfrog the Competition
At Critical Mass, Erin O’Connor has a great post on res life. She spotted an article on Collegiate Way, which describes itself as “the leading resource on the worldwide residential college movement.” The article offers advice for jactitating college presidents: “Every college or university president in the United States who wants to leapfrog the competition can do this right now: Fill every open residence life position in your institution with someone who has a Ph.D.”
R.J. O’Hara, the author of this article (“How to Sharply Improve the Quality of Residence Life Now”), goes on:
Top-ranking universities put experienced academics with Ph.D.’s in these residential positions. If you’re a smart university president and want to improve the standing and the educational quality of your institution, do what the top-ranking institutions do.
This is, as Erin O’Connor aptly labels it, a curious thought experiment. Now that jobs are scarce, universities have a rare chance to hire over-credentialed student affairs officers. O’Connor, who has experience in res life at the University of Pennsylvania, recalled that for the most part, having Ph.D.’s did not enhance the quality of residence life:
There were absentee faculty who liked the free housing but didn't do much to enrich the life of the house. There were also Ph.D.'s who found their inner bureaucrats working in the Res Life system—and got overinvolved in petty political crap-mongering of the sort you can well imagine without my enumerating specifics. And there was a nauseating amount of often unearned internal self-congratulation among Res Lifers for doing what they felt was such wonderful work.
Last summer, we published a statement, “Rebuilding Campus Community: The Wrong Imperative,” where we assert that “the common life of our campuses should be consistent with the goals of liberal education and, accordingly, guided principally by faculty.” The Chronicle of Higher Education took this as their headline; an online torrent ensued of about 100 comments by readers, many of whom were offended by our charge to faculty members to engage the dorms.
Perhaps O’Connor is right that faculty involvement does not necessarily improve the quality of residence life. We had more in mind faculty members assuming broad authority for residence life buy setting the governing policies and keeping ay bay the grandiose schemes for turning dorms into engines of social justice. No one needs a Ph.D. or any other kind of doctorate to run a residence hall. Experience with the night shift at local Marriott is more than enough. O’Hara’s notion that colleges should flood the zone with doctors-of-busybody-ology seems ridiculous.
O’Hara’s recommendation, however, broadly fits with the trend to recast student affairs staff as “educators.” At an ACPA conference last year, a student affairs administrator declared, “We are educators, and we do not need permission [from faculty] to educate, and we certainly do not need to apologize for it.” Educators? If the dorm staff are educators, what are they teaching? At the University of Delaware, the answer was a ragbag collection of political attitudes, fashionable nonsense, and radical postures. Delaware’s Director of Residence Life, Kathleen Kerr, summarized these as a “sustainability” program, but we’ve heard other catchphrases too, such as “educating the whole person,” and “social justice.”
Of course, this isn’t really education. At best it is social advocacy—and it often deteriorates into outright indoctrination. Maybe the best argument for hiring Ph.D.s to do the work is that a good many would too embarrassed by the intellectual vacuity of the res life programs to put up with them. On the other hand, the programs could become magnets for (to coin a phrase) thousands of little Churchills who hope to inhabit the sterile sanctuary of the ivory tower.
Jay Bergman, president of the Connecticut Association of Scholars and professor of history at Central Connecticut State University, has published an op-ed in the Hartford Courant arguing for intellectual freedom. He cites the case of a CCSU student, John Wahlberg, who, in a classroom presentation, expressed his belief that it should be legal to bear arms on the college campus. After the class, the teacher called the police, who commanded Wahlberg to explain “why he should not be considered a potential assassin.” Dr. Bergman concludes:
The free and open exchange of ideas is the lifeblood of universities. Without it they become mere instruments of indoctrination, like those in countries such as North Korea where a reigning orthodoxy is ruthlessly enforced and everyone is expected to think the same things. Surely that is not the kind of university Connecticut taxpayers should have to subsidize, especially in times of economic distress.
Lifeblood...we couldn’t agree more.