Who Cares about Accreditation?

Roger Olson on accreditation and private, religious universities:

My firsthand experience with accrediting agencies, societies and associations is that they seek to hold out accreditation or renewal of accreditation as the proverbial carrot on a stick to manipulate institutions of higher education to embrace their values.

What do I mean by ‘values?’ One clear, undeniable example is ‘measurable outcomes.’ To put it colloquially, the bean counter mentality has taken over. Every program, every course is now supposed to have measurable outcomes for students. This has created havoc, of course, with the liberal arts and is one reason, I believe, for the struggles colleges and universities in the U.S. are having over sustaining liberal arts education. How, for example, does one measure wisdom, maturity, acumen, insight, and appreciation of beauty (broadly defined) numerically? The value here is instrumentalism—the belief that education is primarily about functionality, skill, productivity, problem solving.

This discussion will continue to be one of importance for private universities in the next few years. In recent decades (perhaps since the GI Bill was created?), Americans have viewed higher education as a means to wealth and higher levels of production and societal status. This has further led us to shift our focus from liberal arts and humanities to degrees that bestow and signify technical skill (computer science, business, education, etc.).

That’s not to say I don’t believe that those areas of education are useless or need not be pursued. The question, really, is what is the purpose of higher education in the first place? Is it to create better workers in a society, to produce more wealth, to move up the chain just a little bit? Or is it to build wisdom and character and virtue? I addressed this a little bit in “The Non-Pragmatic Private University.”

Olson is right to be concerned that accreditation agencies have moved from simply making sure colleges do what they say they do to imposing values (curiously, American “pragmatic” values) upon colleges. Forcing colleges that attempt to teach philosophy (the love of wisdom), theology (the study of God), and the like, while also producing “measurable outcomes” in students necessarily changes both the subject matter and focus of the education in question. How do we confirm that students have gained a “love of wisdom” in a philosophy course? The answer, of course, is that we can’t. All those courses can do is attempt to create an atmosphere that encourages critical thought and engagement in students.

At their best, philosophy courses and degrees cannot give an account of a measurable outcome, and further cannot prove to society that they are somehow “useful” or “pragmatic.” They aren’t meant to be useful or pragmatic. They’re meant to change how people live and think and act. They’re meant to make us ask the question, “What does it mean to be human?” Unfortunately, that doesn’t neatly into the American dream of health, wealth, and prosperity. But it just might help create a more just and beautiful society.

Preserve Your Love for Reading

Preserve your love for reading at all costs. Nobody ends up in a literature program unless they love to read, and nobody loves to read in the soulless industrial manner I am about to describe. Read stuff that has nothing to do with your program. Take time with the assigned texts you enjoy, and do the bare minimum for the assigned texts you hate. Do not internalize the script that this makes you less of a student; it makes you more of one. You’re here to learn, and learning is most sustainable when fueled by excitement, not obligation.

Catherine Addington, on staying sane through and getting what’s important from graduate work.

The Non-Pragmatic Private University

Professors, and the colleges and universities they inhabit, are no longer gatekeepers of knowledge. Information can now be tapped by nearly anyone, anywhere, anytime, at a low cost…

But what if a university is not an information-based organization? What if schools did something more than inform and credential? What if they were constituted by a complex web of practices transcending the exchange of information? Indeed, what if they were animated by an entirely different conception of reality altogether?

These questions invite us to more carefully consider the identity of, and practice within, the faith-based college and university.

“Christian Higher Education in an Exponential Age” – Kevin Brown and Stephen Clements

Working in private, Christian higher education in the contemporary moment provides a unique vantage point from which to assess the necessity, practicality, and inherent ills of the strange endeavor of building and maintaining a university. We live in the kind of moment where universities (and especially education in the realm of the humanities) are being routinely questioned as regards their usefulness. (Remember Rubio’s [in]famous statement on the fact that we should have less philosophers and more welders during the 2016 primary debates? He has since recanted, but the sentiment remains within the GOP.)

When higher education in general is commodified and reduced to the dissemination of information, and its value is judged based on its ability to “contribute to society,” (read: place adults in the workforce) we have reached the point when capitalism as an ideology has subsumed higher education as a common good. What of the university, then? Especially the small, private, Christian university, which has the primary stated purpose of training ministers and preparing people theologically and spiritually. Such a university holds no inherent value for that kind of society. These questions are not lost on those who work in higher education, especially private higher education. I frequently converse with staff at my own university that are concerned about the future of, not only our university, but Christian universities in general. From my perspective, we currently find ourselves at a crossroads — do we double down on our original mission of training ministers and missionaries, with a secondary focus on marketable degrees, or do we brave the path already forged by others, allowing our distinctively Christian purpose to fade into the background?

But what if, as the quote mentions above, the university’s purpose was redefined? What if neither of these two options are appropriate? If we live in an age where information dissemination is no longer necessary because of technological disruption, perhaps the university can regain its purpose as a shaper of individuals, communities, and society. James K.A. Smith spends time writing on this in Desiring the Kingdom:

I’m suggesting that Christian education has, for too long, been concerned with information rather than formation; thus Christian colleges have thought it sufficient to provide a Christian perspective, an intellectual framework, because they see themselves as fostering individual ‘minds in the making.’ (219)

Instead of talking about ‘Christian college’ — which makes it easier to traffic in the abstraction of ‘Christianity’ as an intellectual system — perhaps we should instead speak of ‘ecclesial’ college and ‘ecclesial’ universities. If Christian faith cannot be adequately distilled into the formulas of a Christian worldview, but rather is a social imaginary that is carried in the distinct practices of Christian worship, then any institution that would be meaningfully ‘christian would need to be a liturgical institutions of sorts, animated by the specificity of Christian liturgical practices. If education is always a matter of formation, and the most profound formation happens in various liturgies, then a Christian education must draw deeply from the well of Christian liturgy. (221)

The reality is, many public universities have already accepted Smith’s understanding of what the university is meant to accomplish. Without getting into the dumpster fire that is the liberal-conservative debate, it’s clear that most public universities are havens for left-leaning political ideologies, and they do so not by just information dissemination, but by character formation. Christian universities would do well to follow the lead of other universities. The purpose of the Christian university ought to be character and reason formation first. Information, which is so easily attainable now, ought to only be distributed in classrooms at the service of the task of formation.

Make Goals, Not Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions kind of suck, and I think we all know that. Probably most of us have the experience of making a resolution to “lose weight” or “eat healthier” or “exercise more” or “read more” or “watch less TV” or… (the list could quite literally be infinite). The implication of this repetition every year, however, implies that we find some inherent goodness in the notion of resolving to be better. I find myself around every new year in a pensive mood, dreaming of the person I’d like to be, the things I’d like to do. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I think it can be meaningful for us to decide there is something we’d like to accomplish within a given amount of time.

All of that said, this year, I decided to make some goals for myself for the year 2018 (not resolutions!). These were tangible things that I wanted to be able to look back on in December of this year and say “that’s something that I did.” Resolutions are typically vague or ambiguous, which makes them either difficult to recount or difficult to stick with. My goals for this year are as follows:

  1. Finish my M.A. and ace my thesis (I’ll admit – the finishing the degree is a bit of a “gimme,” but it’ll still be quite the accomplishment).
  2. Complete a 365-picture per day project with Elaine (blog/Instagram and details to follow shortly!).
  3. Keep a daily log.
  4. Build a backyard fence and do a landscaping renovation for the backyard (and the front yard if time/money allow).
  5. Eventually work up by the end of the year to the following weekly exercise routine (with exceptions on tough weeks):
    • Run four times per week
    • Yoga twice per week
    • Bodyweight fitness routine twice per week

While these are all things to “do,” my hope is that each of the goals reflects an aspect of my personhood that I want to either change or grow. I want to do better at remembering, I want to do deep research in topics that interest me, I want to be the kind of person that cares about the things given to me, including my home and my body.

Let’s go, 2018.

 

Gordon-Conwell Acceptance!

I won’t be posting anything controversial today!

Just wanted to let everyone know that I received my acceptance letter (via email) to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary for the fall 2013 semester! Also, they included in the letter that I have received a $4,500 per year scholarship. I may also be receiving other scholarships, which I will find about later.  I’m very excited about the prospect of going to seminary, and especially for being about to continue on in my theological education.

 

For those of you who don’t know about seminary, here’s a little info: I plan on going to seminary to receive an M.Div., which is pretty close to receiving two master’s degrees – one in practical theology (basically ministry) and one in (I suppose you could call it theoretical) theology. The current goal for our family after seminary is to pursue church planting. Also, we plan to plant a church community that looks and practices on a much different plane than most churches do today. That’s something I’ll probably explain at a later time. Many of my thoughts on the subject are still abstract, but suffice it to say it won’t be “church” like people recognize it today.

Also, Gordon-Conwell is really cool because it is a well-respected, theologically-conservative seminary that is in the top tier of divinity schools and seminaries around the country. It is so well-respected, in fact, that it participates in something called the Boston Theological Institute, which allows for cross registration in classes at schools like Harvard Divinity School, Boston College, and other highly respected institutions in the Boston area.

Elaine and I are still in the middle of really deciding about this whole seminary thing, but I know it is a step in the right direction for our family (or will be at some point in the future). We will be in prayer over the next few months about making this decision and weighing the pros and cons for what moving would mean for our family.

As an aside, only 23 days until graduation!