Dec 26 2013

Some mid-year thoughts on college graduation

Category: college,education,higher educationamuzikman @ 2:33 pm

For those of you who have recently run the gauntlet and graduated from college, first of all my most sincere congratulations. it is a milestone in your young lives and something for which you can look back upon and always feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. It is no small thing to invest so much time and (in some cases) so much money to achieve a goal. And like the many who have gone before you, you discovered that the closer you came to the finish line the more obstacles were thrown in your way. But you did it. you navigated the maze of requirements, you jumped through all the hoops, you endured the red tape, you completed the journey successfully.

Anyone who has completed a college degree program knows the feeling of frustration and annoyance at the seemingly endless last-minute minutiae that crops up and seems to want to cling to you and pull you down like swimming through seaweed.  It seems as if only half the battle was completing the course work and the other half was going 12 rounds with the academic bureaucracy in a bare-knuckled fight.  But that also lends to the feeling of victory and relief when you do finally have your diploma in hand.  You fought the man and won!

But there is a percentage of grads who seem to be annoyance-driven.  Every road block, every late fee, every form to fill out, are all a personal affront to them and they cannot wait to wreak social media revenge by airing each and every complaint as loudly as possible to as many on the web as possible.  Our virtual culture certainly provides for ample opportunity for that very thing.  But those words do carry a certain amount of weight and do affect the reputation/perception of the institution and those who work there.

I’d like you to consider something from another perspective.  There are a few of us, known as faculty and staff, who have walked that journey with you.  We have invested in you and we have gone the extra mile for you, sometimes in ways you cannot know and without your knowledge.  We do it because it is our job.  But more that that we do it because we want you to succeed.  We want you to like amazing, wonderful, happy and fruitful lives.  We do it because we care about you, plain and simple.

So in the midst of your electronic “taggings” of annoyance, pause a moment, perhaps take a moment and consider this.  it is likely your entire tenure at the college of choice was not 4 (or more) years of endless irritation and frustration.  (If it was, then one must call into question your judgment and why it is that you stayed and spent all that money…)  I’ll bet anyone reading this can remember a kindness shown to them, some individual attention given to them, some wise counsel, a word of encouragement, a pat on the back in the hallway or a listening ear over a cup of hot coffee.  For those who extended such kindnesses it is somewhat painful to read your frequent posts, made up almost exclusively of contempt and disregard, as you walk out the door.  It isn’t that we want your posts to instantly become filled with thanks and appreciation, trumpeted all over social media, frankly most of us would be roundly embarrassed by such a thing.  But we do want you to remember the good with the bad, and to hold onto a little appreciation of what you have been given by those who have only your best interest a heart.  Remember that long after your frustrations have become distant memories, we’ll still be there, and it is encouraging to us to know that we do not labor in vain.


Feb 08 2011

“Prosperity gospel” for Christian institutions? Part 2

The previous post in this series is here, and will help provide background for what follows.

There are many instances of people and groups who take risks for the gospel, do the unpopular thing, and God does bless them.But obvious worldly blessing is not a given.God has His own agenda and ways of doing things, and we cannot assume that our worldly success is due to God’s blessing, nor our difficulties evidence of our failure to seek God’s will and do it.Some missionaries are murdered, and martyrdom in Christ’s service did not end with the fall of the Roman Empire.Lesser difficulties also occur with some regularity, even in the modern world.

Yet how many boards and leaders of churches and para-church organizations proceed with the assumption that apparent worldly or financial success equals God’s blessing, with such a rigid conflation of the two that any policy which carries some attendant risk of worldly disapproval is assumed to be the wrong one? Consider the logic: if we are doing good, God will bless us in worldly ways. Therefore, we should not consider doing something that risks getting worldly disapproval, since if the world disapproves, by our benighted definition, God is not blessing us.

So how can we decide if we are making our decisions according to God’s plan, from a fully Christian worldview, or if we are simply doing what seems best to us, within our human expertise (and afflicted with human pride and desire for power), as we try to strengthen our organization or institution in a worldly sense?There is no way to know for sure, of course.

But one thing seems indicative.

If we find we are mostly making decisions from the point of view of what the world will think of us (not from the point of view of God’s will, God’s commands, God’s moral precepts, and Christ within and among us), even if we have great institutional and public success, even if we are doing some good, we are not doing what God desires of us. Christ’s way is one of sacrifice and risk-taking for the sake of the gospel, most particularly the risk of being misunderstood and vilified by those who do not know Him. This is true whether we are explaining His way to the world, or standing for the principles He taught.

I’ll be developing this idea further in subsequent posts.

The next post in this series is here.

Feb 07 2011

“Properity gospel” for Christian institutions?

Much is made of the centrality of sacrifice in the Christian life, and justifiably so. Christ’s own life on earth was one of individual sacrifice and service, and not only on the cross, though that is the preeminent example. Simply being incarnated was a sacrifice (Philippians 2:5-9), and his very manner of living was sacrificial, in that he never married and had a family but instead lived for others, took risks of many kinds at various times for the sake of doing his Father’s will and speaking the truth, and so on.

As individuals, we are all called to sacrifice in one way or another for the sake of Christ and the gospel, though it’s a mistake to assume that everyone should live sacrificially in the same ways. One may choose to live simply and have greater financial freedom to give more (though all should give some), another may choose to give greatly of time and service (though all should do this some), and another may choose a lifestyle of great self-denial of one kind or another (though all of us must deny ourselves in some ways), all for the sake of doing God’s will. Few are called to sacrifice all. What seems fairly clear is that a person who has sacrificed nothing, not time, not finances, not manner of living, is likely to be a person who is not listening to God’s whispers, and probably a person who has not closely read the scriptures.

Yet some churches and para-church organizations seem to operate as if it is God’s will for them never to suffer or risk suffering, and never to choose a path that is hard and uncertain, or one that is likely to earn some degree of disapproval from the world, especially the secular world. Some para-church organizations operate as if their leadership believes in a sort of “prosperity gospel” for their organization (even when they deny that as a proper perspective for individuals), assuming that their role is to manage their organization with the same professional risk management as they would apply for any secular organization. And this risk management is fine, up to a point.

The “prosperity gospel” approach to a church or para-church organization is that somehow it can just get bigger and bigger, more and more popular, and it will all be because of God’s blessing. This may work for a time. And God may indeed be blessing certain efforts of the institution, while at the same time some of the institution’s apparent success may be coming from “playing it safe,” maintaining “good public relations,” even innovative business practices and good luck with market demographics or placement. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for people in an organization, including its leadership, to really know what measure of an organization’s apparent success is due to God’s blessing of its efforts, and what proportion is due to good business practices, smooth marketing, or just plain good luck. The temptation, of course, is to ascribe all success to God’s blessing, especially in public pronouncements.

Of course, it doesn’t always work that way. The assumption that God will increase the institutional strength and vigor of any organization that is doing His will is itself evidence of “prosperity gospel” thinking, not scripturally sound thinking about the nature of sacrifice for Christians, and Christian organizations. Even a cursory reading of the New Testament and church history reveals many instances of people and groups (institutions) who appear to be following God’s commands, but who suffer in various ways, sometimes almost in a “no good deed goes unpunished” sort of way, which is of course, the intention of Satan. The point is that apparent prosperity in the world is not proof of God’s blessing. Indeed, it is a sort of heresy to assume so.

I will develop this line of thinking further in future posts.

The next post in this series is here.

Jun 21 2010

A Bubble in Higher Education?

Category: college,economy,education,higher education,universityharmonicminer @ 8:36 am

Glenn Reynolds: Higher education’s bubble is about to burst

It’s a story of an industry that may sound familiar.

The buyers think what they’re buying will appreciate in value, making them rich in the future. The product grows more and more elaborate, and more and more expensive, but the expense is offset by cheap credit provided by sellers eager to encourage buyers to buy.

Buyers see that everyone else is taking on mounds of debt, and so are more comfortable when they do so themselves; besides, for a generation, the value of what they’re buying has gone up steadily. What could go wrong? Everything continues smoothly until, at some point, it doesn’t.

Yes, this sounds like the housing bubble, but I’m afraid it’s also sounding a lot like a still-inflating higher education bubble. And despite (or because of) the fact that my day job involves higher education, I think it’s better for us to face up to what’s going on before the bubble bursts messily.

College has gotten a lot more expensive. A recent Money magazine report notes: “After adjusting for financial aid, the amount families pay for college has skyrocketed 439 percent since 1982. … Normal supply and demand can’t begin to explain cost increases of this magnitude.”

Consumers would balk, except for two things.

First — as with the housing bubble — cheap and readily available credit has let people borrow to finance education. They’re willing to do so because of (1) consumer ignorance, as students (and, often, their parents) don’t fully grasp just how harsh the impact of student loan payments will be after graduation; and (2) a belief that, whatever the cost, a college education is a necessary ticket to future prosperity.

Bubbles burst when there are no longer enough excessively optimistic and ignorant folks to fuel them. And there are signs that this is beginning to happen already.

A New York Times profile last week described Courtney Munna, a 26-year-old graduate of New York University with nearly $100,000 in student loan debt — debt that her degree in Religious and Women’s Studies did not equip her to repay. Payments on the debt are about $700 per month, equivalent to a respectable house payment, and a major bite on her monthly income of $2,300 as a photographer’s assistant earning an hourly wage.

And, unlike a bad mortgage on an underwater house, Munna can’t simply walk away from her student loans, which cannot be expunged in a bankruptcy. She’s stuck in a financial trap.

Some might say that she deserves it — who borrows $100,000 to finance a degree in women’s and religious studies that won’t make you any money? She should have wised up, and others should learn from her mistake, instead of learning too late, as she did: “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life slaving away to pay for an education I got for four years and would happily give back.”

But bubbles burst when people catch on, and there’s some evidence that people are beginning to catch on. Student loan demand, according to a recent report in the Washington Post, is going soft, and students are expressing a willingness to go to a cheaper school rather than run up debt. Things haven’t collapsed yet, but they’re looking shakier — kind of like the housing market looked in 2007.

So what happens if the bubble collapses? Will it be a tragedy, with millions of Americans losing their path to higher-paying jobs?

Maybe not. College is often described as a path to prosperity, but is it? A college education can help people make more money in three different ways.

First, it may actually make them more economically productive by teaching them skills valued in the workplace: Computer programming, nursing or engineering, say. (Religious and women’s studies, not so much.)

Second, it may provide a credential that employers want, not because it represents actual skills, but because it’s a weeding tool that doesn’t produce civil-rights suits as, say, IQ tests might. A four-year college degree, even if its holder acquired no actual skills, at least indicates some ability to show up on time and perform as instructed.

And, third, a college degree — at least an elite one — may hook its holder up with a useful social network that can provide jobs and opportunities in the future. (This is more true if it’s a degree from Yale than if it’s one from Eastern Kentucky, but it’s true everywhere to some degree).

While an individual might rationally pursue all three of these, only the first one — actual added skills — produces a net benefit for society. The other two are just distributional — about who gets the goodies, not about making more of them.

Yet today’s college education system seems to be in the business of selling parts two and three to a much greater degree than part one, along with selling the even-harder-to-quantify “college experience,” which as often as not boils down to four (or more) years of partying.

Post-bubble, perhaps students — and employers, not to mention parents and lenders — will focus instead on education that fosters economic value. And that is likely to press colleges to focus more on providing useful majors. (That doesn’t necessarily rule out traditional liberal-arts majors, so long as they are rigorous and require a real general education, rather than trendy and easy subjects, but the key word here is “rigorous.”)

My question is whether traditional academic institutions will be able to keep up with the times, or whether — as Anya Kamenetz suggests in her new book, “DIY U” — the real pioneering will be in online education and the work of “edupunks” who are more interested in finding new ways of teaching and learning than in protecting existing interests.

I’m betting on the latter. Industries seldom reform themselves, and real competition usually comes from the outside. Keep your eyes open — and, if you’re planning on applying to college, watch out for those student loans.

Apr 25 2010

African-Americans against abortion-on-demand

Category: abortion,church,college,higher education,societyharmonicminer @ 8:35 am

African American Advancing the Culture of Life

Dr. Johnny Hunter, founder of Life Education and Resource Network (LEARN). He and his wife Pat Hunter are pioneers in the pro-life movement and provide instrumental leadership, coalition building, networking and research for the Movement.

Elder Dr. Levon Yuille, National Director of the National Black Pro-Life Congress, and pastor of The Bible Church, Ypsilanti, MI A pioneer in the pro-life movement and the most visionary speaker in the nation today. Highly anointed.

Rev. Dr. Clenard Childress, Founder & Director of LEARN Northeast, Assistant National Director of LEARN, Inc. and pastor of New Calvary Baptist Deliverance, Montclair, NJ -The prophetic voice in the pro-life movement who is used by God from coast to coast.

Stephen Broden, Pastor of Fair Park Bible Fellowship, Dallas, TX. Chief strategist of the black pro-life movement. Appeared on TV and challenges the argument of moral equivalence used as excuse by some clergy to avoid confronting womb-lynching.

Day Gardner, founder of National Black Pro-Life Union. Day is a news anchor woman, commentator, columnist and researcher on issues impacting marriage, life, family, education and community.

Bill and Deborah Owens, founders of Coalition of American Pastors and Education for All. Bill and Deborah are seasoned educators and policy makers who provide significant solutions for educational issues of the day.

Dr. Alveda King, Founder of King for America, and an associate of Priest for Life, Atlanta, GA Her father was Dr. MLK’s brother and she walks in the legacy of the true leaders of the civil rights movement.

Jenny Hodges, President of Pro-Life Unity – literally a vanilla chocolate sister who is determined to recruit Georgia state legislators to support life agenda.

Dean Nelson, Director of NPAC – Network of Politically Active Christians, Washington, DC. Keeps organizations informed of national legislation which affects life, family and the church.

Walter Hoye, a minister in Oakland, California, hauled into court and convicted for holding a sign offering help to pregnant moms going into a “clinic” to get an abortion.

Jesse Lee Peterson, Founder of BOND, Brotherhood of a New Destiny, Appeared on national TV networks when he boldly intervened in the Los Angeles riots. Has boldly challenged other national leaders including Jesse Jackson to return to the pro-life position.

Star Parker, Founder of CURE, Coalition of Urban Renewal and Education, author of Uncle Sam’s Plantation and syndicated columnist. Previously based in Los Angeles, now in Washington, DC uses her testimony to bring black women from making a bad choice and encouraging people to escape the bonds of the welfare state. Expertise includes knowledge of public policy.

Arnold Culbreath, Director of Protecting Black Life, Brought attention to and helped individual cases of injustices while working to get more pastors involved. Excellent musician on the saxophone, too.

Dr. Ron Myers, MD, Founder of the National Juneteenth Festival Memorial service. “Maafa” is a Swahili word which refers to the black holocaust which includes the middle passage, the plantation beatings, lynching, gang violence. He calls abortion the present day maafa!

Dr. Haywood Robinson, MD, and/or his wife Dr. Noreen Johnson, MD, medical doctors who took a strong <stand> for life after Christ came into their lives.

Dr. John Diggs, MD, a medical doctor who developed much of the abstinence material you see. Testified in formal state legislative committee hearings. Addresses abstinence and other issues from biblical and medical viewpoints.

Sylinthia Stewart, NC LEARN Office Administrator and a confidential counselor for post abortion healing ministry.

Catherine Davis, Director of African American Outreach for Georgia Right to Life. Post Abortive civil rights advocate speaks to general and youth audiences.

Angela Stanton, mother, author, motivational speaker. Author of Life Beyond These Walls. Ministers on life after abuse, prison and other life issues.

Sonya Howard, author, post abortive motivational speaker.

Richard Lane, Catholic Evangelist, founder of Qorban Ministries whose mission is to” REVIVE your Parish and YOUR FAITH by bringing back the power and courage of the HOLY SPIRIT!”

There are many African-American Christians who are very strongly pro-life.  I would invite ANY church or Çhristian institution to consider having one or more of these people as speakers and workshop leaders. 

Feb 20 2010

Gun free zone failure number 60?

Category: college,education,guns,higher education,societyharmonicminer @ 9:07 am

The other kind of IED (intermittent explosive disorder)
Much more at the link.

The New York Times says that a faculty member at the University of Alabama killed 3 and wounded 6 others after being denied tenure at the biology department. Circumstantial evidence suggested that she was upset at what she believed was unfair treatment. The suspect apparently “had told acquaintances recently that she was worried about getting tenure”, and the NYT quoted one source as saying “she began to talk about her problems getting tenure in a very forceful and animated way, saying it was unfair.”

I’ve been to some tense faculty meetings. Meetings with outcomes that had the potential to really change people’s lives who were involved, in one way or another.

So far I haven’t had to duck and cover because somebody started shooting.  But it is starting to seem that the only people who respect the “gun-free zones” on campus are the victims.

Maybe I should start ordering my hoodies to be Kevlar-lined.

Just in case a deranged post-modern prof who gives feminist readings to medieval French poetry happens to go postal.

Sep 23 2009

Obama and Academia – a Fascinating Comparison: BUMPED

Category: college,education,Obamaamuzikman @ 7:00 pm

The author of this article makes some very interesting comparisons and poignant observations about the Obama presidency and academic life.  It is worth reading every word.

May 26 2009

E for Effort?

Category: character,college,education,higher education,musicamuzikman @ 9:30 am

I spend most of my occupational time teaching these days.  It is the most recent step in a career evolution that has spanned 33 years and counting.  I was fortunate enough to have figured out ways of making my passion my vocation and thus have enjoyed a professional career in the music virtually all my adult life. There was a brief detour for a couple years in real estate investing or what is now called “house-flipping”.  The one good thing I can say about that is…I survived (just barely).

The full-time teaching chapter of my story has so far occupied about ten years, though I have taught in some capacity pretty much since I got out of college.  I suppose that means I’ve been around long enough to have formed some opinions and perspectives on the subject of learning, particularly in the area of music.  I freely admit the following observations are purely anecdotal, based on nothing more than my own life experiences and would not stand the challenge of academic rigor.

To put it bluntly, many college students with whom I come in contact on a daily basis display a disturbing lack of passion, curiosity, self-motivation or determination. There are very few young people I encounter with any real fire in their belly! Continue reading “E for Effort?”

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Jun 30 2008

New Book Coming out on “Diversity”

Category: college,diversity,education,higher education,universityharmonicminer @ 8:01 am

This looks like it will be a fine complement to Peter Wood’s book, discussed here. As chapters of Purdy’s book are released, I’ll link to them here.

New Book on Diversity to be serialized on line

Today, Larry Purdy—one of the three lawyers from the Minneapolis law firm Maslon Edelman Borman & Brand who represented Jennifer Gratz and Barbara Grutter in the U.S. Supreme Court cases Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger—presents a picture of the upside down house in which we live. His book, Getting Under the Skin of “Diversity”, shows how racial preferences have engendered an upside down view of race, racism, affirmative action, diversity, and justice.

The National Association of Scholars is privileged to present, beginning today, an advanced look at Purdy’s book. A printed version of Getting Under the Skin of “Diversity” will be available later this year. In the days and weeks to come, however, we will serialize this important book on our website. Each chapter will go up in PDF form until the whole book is present. We do this with the author’s permission. Mr. Purdy retains the copyright to Getting Under the Skin of “Diversity” and all legal claims to his intellectual property.

In the preface, Purdy names the three purposes of his book: First, he sets out to refute another book, The Shape of the River (1998) by William Bowen and Derek Bok, former presidents of Princeton and Harvard. Bowen and Bok’s book strenuously argued that racial preferences in elite colleges work as advertised: the minority students who receive the preferences thrive; the colleges benefit; and society is better off. In her majority opinion, Justice O’Connor relied heavily on the arguments put forth by Bowen and Bok in The Shape of the River, and yet, until now, no one has systematically examined their arguments and so-called “evidence.”

Second, Purdy critiques Justice O’Connor’s opinion in Grutter. Purdy is certainly not the first to do this. Grutter is notorious for its loose reasoning and selective use of evidence, but there is probably no one better equipped than Purdy to demonstrate the waywardness of O’Connor’s judgment in this case.

Purdy’s third object in this book is to discuss the continued use of racial preferences in higher education and the injustices those preferences propagate. Ultimately, Purdy writes, both the “beneficiaries” and the “victims” are harmed—by condescension and by discrimination.

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