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Well-Being and Higher Education: A Strategy for Change and the Realization of Education's Greater Purposes
Date Reviewed: October 18, 2017
“Well-being” is a complicated construct with at least two referents: the hedonic tradition considering well-being as feelings, and the eudaimonic tradition which sees well-being as a relational activity, the practice of being well, or living life well. This volume explores the various implications and connections existing between well-being (by either definition) and higher education (5). In so doing, the contributions in this volume argue that higher education must change its focus to give “priority to and support for those experiences that make learning and well-being connected objectives” (11). In other words, the authors of this volume suggest that well-being is at the core of higher education, and therefore, institutions of higher learning ought to prioritize experiences that contribute to a student’s well-being.
For those involved in higher education, the context for this volume is readily apparent. The landscape of education, as Laurie Schreiner describes it, is a perfect storm wherein,
The most diverse group of students enters higher education from schools that have ill-prepared them for college at the same time that postsecondary institutions have shifted their focus to credentialism and financial sustainability. The promise of higher education, to empower students and broaden their capacity to engage the world as global citizens and whole persons, has narrowed to the point that is now perceived as simply a steppingstone to a better job. (136)
It is within this context, and against this background that the present volume should be read. Well-being is not a silver bullet, and a focus on well-being in education will not solve all of these problems. But, as the diverse contributions in this volume illustrate, a focus on well-being either at the level of the individual instructor, in programmatic directions, or as an essential direction of whole institutions, goes a long way towards revitalizing the significance of higher education and towards ensuring that students benefit from the time they spend in college.
The book is made up of thirty-four essays, which are organized into four parts. The first section is entitled “Analysis and Meaning” and deals with the task of defining well-being and describing it fully, with particular attention to the way in which the concept relates to higher education. The essays in this section are highly critical of the job skills or certification centered model of education and often shift into a defense of the liberal arts. By and large, their point is clear – college education has larger impacts on a student’s life than appear in the classroom, or on assessments of various types. These impacts include the practical factors of a student’s physical and psychological well-being both while they are in school and after graduation. There are also more abstract implications including the development of virtue, community, and citizenship. At the heart of all of these essays are the larger questions about the essential mission of higher education, and the equally difficult question of identifying the defining characteristics of educated students.
The second section, “Manifestations and Implementation,” treats various issues brought about by re-focusing higher education onto the development of well-being. Key concepts articulated in this section are those of flourishing, self-authorship, and identity development, and there is also a sustained argument across several essays for the institutional re-definition of student success along with the concomitant implications for assessing success in a well-being paradigm.
The third section, “Facilitation: Curricular, Pedagogic and Across Boundaries,” takes on some programmatic consequences of the preceding discussions of well-being. These essays take pre-existing institutional initiatives as something of a case study exploring larger questions of what shape institutions or initiatives focused on well-being would take. Well-being initiatives at Georgetown, George Mason, and Morehouse are analyzed, as are implications of campus carry legislation, and the impact of national goals related to degree completion on community college students and their well-being.
The final section, “The Logic of Change: Why, What, and How?” postulates several different theoretical treatments of why institutions of higher education should take on the hard work of change and should reorganize their efforts and re-center their initiatives around well-being. Comparisons are drawn between institutional change in health care and that in higher education. Authors articulate the social/historical context that makes the time ripe for the reinvention of higher education. Also, the benefit of problem-based capstone courses, and particularly the reorganization of curriculum around such courses, are identified.
Well-being is a tremendously important concept for the future of higher education, and this volume presents a variety of approaches to the application of well-being onto various aspects of the higher educational institution. Instructors can use this volume to consider ways of adapting their teaching towards the beneficial education of the whole student. Administrators would benefit from thinking through the implications that curriculum and institutional structures and approaches have on student well-being (and that of university staff and faculty). The individual essays are organized well and present cogent arguments. This volume is a great resource for anyone interested in the development of well-being in higher education.
Most theological school deans enter the office from an academic field of study---religious, theological, or ministry--distant from the field in which they now hold responsibilities: academic administration. Scholarly research soon takes a back seat to less esoteric and more pragmatic research. Spreadsheets, reports, budgets, and schedules become the daily tools ...
Dancing in the Rain: Leading with Compassion, Vitality, and Mindfulness in Education
Date Reviewed: June 23, 2017
Former dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Jerome Murphy writes as a seasoned educator about how to best care for yourself as a teacher in the midst of daily stress. This book applies to the stress of academia as well as ministry. It is a book I would recommend to students preparing to teach and to serve in ministerial vocations. Murphy highlights the source of stress that afflicts educators: our own responses to stress. When difficult situations arise, we tend to respond in one of three self-defeating ways: ruminating on the negative, rebuking ourselves, or resisting our emotions. Murphy draws from the literature on mindfulness to point out the health benefits of becoming aware of our emotions in the moment and accepting our shortcomings.
As an alternative to the cycles of rumination, rebuke, and resistance, Murphy offers a list of instructions that help educators focus on their own values, summarized by the acronym “MY DANCE.” Each letter represents a phrase discussed in the following chapters. “Minding your values” advocates understanding our own life goals and naming our best version of ourselves. Knowing who we want to be helps us evaluate whether our actions are in line with our values. The next chapter, “Yield to now,” captures the importance of in-the-moment mindfulness, trying to stay present to ourselves and others, and includes exercises for practicing mindfulness. “Disentangle from upsets” also highlights the role of mindfulness in preventing us from being consumed by our stress. The chapter titled “Allow unease” instructs readers to attend to the discomfort of negative feelings. “Nourish yourself” emphasizes intentional self-care and practices of gratitude, while “Cherish self-compassion” takes self-care to a deeper level. The last element of the acronym is “Express Feelings Wisely.”
In each of these chapters, Murphy brings in personal anecdotes from years of administration and leading workshops for teachers and school principals. He intersperses these lessons with some of his own personal struggles, such as his wife’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease. In these glimpses of personal sharing, the reader gets a sense of how these practices of self-care have been imperative for someone who has transitioned from being a dean of a Harvard graduate school to a full-time caregiver for his wife of nearly fifty years as she slowly loses her ability to recognize him.
This book draws our attention to the humanity of all educators: we are not simply vessels of information or mediums of higher learning. Each person has his or her own struggles in living daily life, on top of the demands of our teaching vocations. Attending lovingly to our limitations and caring for ourselves in the midst of these struggles is crucial if we are to be effective as teachers and healthy individuals. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn how to better care for themselves in the midst of life’s demands.
One of the most critical skills theological school deans need, arguably now more than ever before, is that of problem-solving. The challenges facing theological schools continue to become more technologically complex, socially entangled, costly, and multi-faceted. It is evident that most deans are not just dealing with programmatic, administrative, and ...
Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
Jon Krakauer’s book on the epidemic of sexual assaults on American college campuses is hard to put down, both because it is incredibly well-written and engaging, but also because it is so alarming. For the faculty member who is already aware of the problem (either from a statistical vantage point or from hearing the experiences of survivors on her or his own campus), some of the information presented is not surprising. The scope of the issue is quite shocking, however: Missoula, home of the University of Montana, is the focus of Krakauer’s case study and one gets the sense that this college town is especially unsafe. Towards the end of the book, however, Krakauer demonstrate that Missoula’s rape statistics are actually typical – perhaps even lower than the national average. Even though the problem presented is horrifying, Missoula is not even the worse case scenario.
Through interviews and legal testimony, Krakauer narrates the stories of several college-aged women who were sexually assaulted while they were students. Most of the accused rapists were members of the football team, so part of the story concerns the untouchable status of campus athletic teams (or, at least, certain high-profile athletic teams). But sports are not the only unjust system implicated here: Krakauer looks unflinchingly at the ways that administrators protect colleges from litigation, often at the expense of victims. He similarly criticizes the legal system for re-traumatizing victims and for consistently doubting women’s testimony when they come forward.
Krakauer’s accessible explanations of technical matters are very helpful: for example, he explains the different burdens of proof that apply on- and off-campus. A college or university is required by the U.S. Department of Education to use a “preponderance of evidence” standard as its burden of proof when adjudicating sexual assault accusations, while the criminal justice system uses the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard (179). Thus, a rapist may be found guilty in an on-campus case and expelled, even while the same evidence might not have resulted in a guilty verdict or prison time in the state’s criminal justice system. As another example, Krakauer uses psychiatrist Judith Herman’s foundational work to explain that traumatized people often act in bewildering ways that do not make sense to the outside world (perhaps by contacting the perpetrator or by continuing to attend class after experiencing violent trauma; moreover, the memories of a traumatic experience can be confusing and non-linear). Although these behaviors seem to indicate to others that “nothing happened” or “the experience must not have been that bad,” Krakauer (via Herman) shows that these are utterly typical behaviors of a traumatized person. Trauma so reorients a person that the behaviors a person displays in the aftermath can be counterintuitive to what non-traumatized people expect.
This book should be required reading for faculty and especially for administrators who adjudicate sexual assault cases on college campuses; it would probably be useful for those in law enforcement, too. Missoula would also be excellent for campuses that have required first-year or campus-wide reading programs, as it forces us to consider the realities that victims face on campus and to realize that judicial systems, both on- and off-campus, can and must do better.