changes in higher education
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Higher Education Reconsidered: Executing Change to Drive Collective Impact
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
edicatopm“[I]f we can shift our way of thinking from isolated interests to collaborative goals and ultimately to collective impact, we can change the world,” writes Jason E. Lane in his introduction to Higher Education Reconsidered (6). Changing the world is an ambitious goal for a book of essays, but the authors and editor are convinced that the systemic economic and social inequality in our society can be addressed through systemic fixes to higher education attainment with practical tools that address the pathway from cradle to career (107).
Read on their own, some of the essays seem to promote the idea that gathering and crunching data is a cornerstone of educational improvement. The book does not offer a direct critique of the present educational trend of data-driven assessment. However, the book may help teachers move beyond the rush to find quick fixes to education. The collective impact strategy it promotes is not easy or quick: bringing together a diverse group of leaders from various sectors to solve a common problem may be difficult and may involve finding unique strategies to address the problems at hand (12-13). The essay on change management by Scott Keller and Carolyn Aiken likewise moves beyond conventional wisdom and provides practical tips for successful organizational change (27-60).
This collection of essays emerged from a conference at the State University of New York. In many ways, it reflects the context of a large public university system. At first blush, this seems rather different from the typical smaller private institutions where many religious and theological studies programs are housed. However, educators and administrators in religious and theological studies face many of the same challenges outlined in the book. They may particularly resonate with the need for systemic change to resolve issues of inequality. Religious and theological studies programs are often plagued by a lack of diversity among those who attain degrees, despite institutional goals that point in more inclusive directions.
Adapting the insights of collective impact may be a helpful strategy for religious and theological education programs as they work toward identifying and promoting effective solutions to thorny educational problems in religious and theological studies. Undergraduate and graduate programs in religion and theology might work together across institutional boundaries to identify common educational strategies that contribute to student success. Faculty from various sub-disciplines of religion and theology might work together to identify ways to build students’ core knowledge.
The book suffers slightly from the uneven quality and topical range of its essays, but that is nothing new for books that are the products of conferences. Readers may need to exercise some patience with examples and parlance drawn from business, healthcare, and large higher education systems. Altogether, it is a helpful book. I recommend it to educators and administrators looking for tools to lead change in religious and theological higher education.
Alternative Solutions to Higher Education’s Challenges: An Appreciative Approach to Reform
Date Reviewed: August 4, 2016
The crisis of the American higher education is no longer news. Rather than prosecuting the state of educational affairs with the dominant approach of “crisis zeitgeist” held among educationalists and analysts (65), Harrison and Mather examine the positive contributions of higher education and analyze problems through positive inquiry, alongside their critique as learners, professors, and administrators in the system. Throughout the eight chapters, the authors show how older and current research in theories, applications, and empirical data can strengthen the interdisciplinary and interconnected industry – both within and outside of itself (ch. 2). While mindful of the current commodification of education or the consumeristic mentality currently involved in reprogramming or (re)structuring education, the authors urge a more holistic evaluation of not just the value of higher education towards vocationalism but also its purpose for cultivating individuals, community life, and public service: to see that education as a means of vocationalism (career development, preparing learners for better paying jobs) is not more important than to embrace the intrinsic value of liberal arts education for nurturing knowledgeable citizens who will in time contribute to the democratic ideals of public society (chs. 3 and 5).
The thrust of Harrison and Mather’s proposal is a hopeful, though realistic, imagination of “what can we create together” (46) not just with educators, but also with community engagement (50). Thus they recommend a shift from a pedagogy of “standardization testing” to cultivating attentiveness to the different “narratives” for “meaningful student learning” (ch. 4), and from a focus of merely cognitive and pragmatic (applicable) knowledge to building a holism of cognitive, affective, and other facets of learning, and developing the whole person (chs. 6 and 7). Accordingly, universities and community colleges need to learn to leverage what each offers best without denigrating one another (denigration happens when leaders wrongly conflate or differentiate vocational and remedial goals of education in both types of institutions). They need to create infrastructures that provide level-playing fields for learners of different economic and ethnic standings in matching institutions, curricula, and related discourses on the recipients and goals of education (59; 83-86).
The volume does not only register theoretical concerns; the authors report positive efforts from select institutions that have redirected discourses and implementation for overcoming crisis. The selection includes well-known and lesser-known institutions, such as Ball State University, Berea College, College of Wooster, Columbia University, Denison University, Duke University, Emory University, Kentucky State University, Ohio University, Santa Clara University, St. Mary’s College, University of California Santa Cruz, University of North Carolina, Wake Forest University, and Western Governors’ University in the United States, and it even provides occasional reviews of institutions outside of North America, such as the Asheshi University in Ghana.
Though discussions in the volume would resonate with colleagues in religious studies programs, the volume did not provide application for religious or theological studies programs. Various efforts by the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) to overhaul religious offerings (curriculum, faculty, student enrollment, and so forth), such as granting reduced M.A. and M.Div. curriculum to requesting member institutions have both helped and added to the challenges of re-envisioning religious studies programs in light of the current educational crisis. The search for better resolutions in the sea of analyses continues with no clear landing in sight.
Academic Freedom at American Universities: Constitutional Rights, Professional Norms, and Contractual Duties
Date Reviewed: September 16, 2015
In Academic Freedom at American Universities,Philip Lee presents a convincing case for transforming higher education with respect to protecting and encouraging true academic freedom of professors – in both public and private university settings. In six chapters, Lee discusses: the crisis of academic freedom in modern universities and the American Association of Universities Professors (chapter 1), the AAUP’s first policy declaration in 1915 and its struggle to defend academic freedom (chapter 2), the AAUP’s seminal 1940 statement and judicially defined academic freedom during the McCarthy era (chapter 3), modern constitutional conceptions of academic freedom (chapter 4), the limitations of constitutionally-based professorial freedom (chapter 5), and contract law as an alternative and better professorial academic freedom (chapter 6), an expounding of the author’s central proposal.
Lee chronicles the shortcomings of constitutionally-based academic freedom and appealing to the First Amendment alone, which he seeks to demonstrate has failed to sufficiently protect public institution professors, while not even applying to private university faculty. Thus, Lee proposes an alternative remedy: “developing a body of contractually based academic freedom case law,” which will “greatly expand the ways that courts protect aggrieved professors when their interests diverge with their employers’” while also allowing for “the proper consideration of the custom and usage of the academic community as either expressed or implied contract terms in resolving disputes between universities and professors” (145-46). The author adds that this contract law approach would also entail the courts giving greater attention to specific campus contexts rather than seeking to create universal remedies that inevitably fall short of fitting certain campus settings.
Professor Lee’s research demonstrates substantial mastery of the subject matter and relevant materials – no less for matters dating from the pre-AAUP period through its founding and early years of development to its expanding influence and most recent iterations. Lee’s work evidences careful scholarship that includes extensive collecting, scrutinizing, and evaluating of various crucial events, court cases and findings, written opinions, and other relevant materials spanning the AAUP’s organizational history. Particularly insightful is the author’s discussion of the 1918 report on academic freedom in wartime and the report’s multiple contradictions to the 1915 declaration’s principles, culminating in actual “retreat from professional self-identification in deference to the government’s claimed needs during wartime” (33). Also instructive is Lee’s examination of the shift in focus and language between the 1925 and 1940 Conference Statements – mainly from a prescriptive list of university “don’ts” to descriptive university teachers’ rights with the latter’s garnering of widespread acceptance (47) and approval within the bounds of most religious schools as well (64). The author’s writing style is consistently clear and engaging – no mean feat considering the rather technical and procedural materials encompassing much of this book.
Philip Lee’s Academic Freedom at American Universities presents an important argument for an alternative – contract law – foundation for professorial freedom in the academy. I recommend the book as a valuable resource for all public and private higher education institutions, particularly their faculty and executive administration.
Class Not Dismissed: Reflections on Undergraduate Education and Teaching the Liberal Arts
Date Reviewed: August 14, 2015
Entering his career as a high-flying yet narrowly trained graduate researcher in astronomy, Aveni’s engagement with students in his discipline and in the interdisciplinary context of liberal arts education has seen his own research flourish -- as indicated by his full title as Russell Colgate Distinguished Professor of Astronomy, Anthropology, and Native American Studies at Colgate University. That this flourishing has been driven by continually seeking ways to entice his students to enjoy and collaborate in learning and research, rather than by dint of solely private endeavor against the grain of his teaching commitments, is marvelously set out in his tales of fieldtrips, flunked comet observations, and explosive co-teaching assignments.
Teachers of religion and theology may find themselves under increasing pressure to justify their place in the liberal arts context. Aveni shows clearly how imagination and good teaching practices can both competitively enhance a discipline’s standing and co-operatively benefit collegial efforts in other areas. My particular interest in the book arises from the challenge of leading general education redesign efforts at an institution where religion and theology are deeply cherished. I have needed to imagine how other disciplines can enrich my teaching of theology as integral to a liberal arts education. Aveni, with a lifetime of experience, has been helpful both practically and philosophically as I approach my local task. For example, where we emphasize interdisciplinary integration with some co-teaching and team teaching, Aveni looks at those arrangements as more beneficial when disintegrative – that is, when conflict between teachers generates a learning opportunity for students.
Those not yet inducted to the professional discourse on general education and the liberal arts will find this text a winsome entry, shorn as it is of the social science research-speak that can clog the fluency of that vital conversation. Aveni is a dedicated practitioner, demonstrating in his own prose the liberal arts skills that should be demanded even of those in STEM.
Aveni questions the commodification of education in his last full chapter: “Education just isn’t a commodity, and I don’t think students in the midst of a classroom experience can fully judge its value” (175). He is, at the same time, also able to take the long view on teaching evaluations to recognize their relative worth. He is not a traditionalist in the sense of insisting on a classical western canon, claiming that its proponents, such as Allan Bloom, are “many whose backgrounds demonstrate a profound lack of inquiry into cultural ideals other than their own” (183). Readers will be rewarded with this kind of punchy delivery that invites learning by agreement or disagreement, but not through over-complication and obfuscation. Aveni writes as a generous peer. He is quick to recognize the importance of senior mentors, alongside mundane realities of budgetary constraints, innovative grant-seeking, and teaching driven by research. Throughout, the author’s wit and humor stand out, but readers will be struck most of all by his care for his students.
Readers, you should close this page right now and not heed another word I say about teaching. The past couple of weeks – despite the fact that one of those weeks was our winter break – I’ve been so utterly preoccupied with a motley collection of issues that I honestly haven’...