The Life of a Wannabe Academic

Detail of the life a new academic. The progress from graduate training to professor. Includes reflections on the job hunting process, research in technology and education, and what it is like to be a new college professor.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

What are we here for?

In our school's student paper "The Dakota Student" there is an interesting op/ed piece (but aren't they usually with student newspapers!). This piece, however, struck me at a more personal level than most. This student was writing about the now allowed school policy to enforce and grade on attendance (before this semester we could not grade on attendance). This student felt that this was unfair and that it would hurt students because now they will be forced to waste time attending classes when they could be using this time for other more important things. One argument that the student gives is that students will not be able to take as high of course loads because now the time available will be sucked up be sitting in a class.

This student also goes on to say that the instructors here at UND are antiquated in the way that they view a college education. He states that most students go to college, not for an education but for a degree. Unfortunately, I do believe that this might be true. Many students, I feel, are focused on getting through the requirements to get a degree and then get a good job to get money. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but for me it doesn't use the time in college wisely.

For me the college experience should be more than just getting a degree. It should be about expanding one's mind, understanding, and horizons. This is why many institutions have a general requirement program. A liberal arts program that basically forces students to receive an education about fields that are deemed important (English, writing, history, social science, physical science, foreign language). If done well a liberal arts program will be able to have instructors who integrate these fields and show the student why they are important for them to know even if they are an accounting major. Unfortunately, I feel that this mission is not completed because instructors focus more on their individual field, than attempting to show how this information might be useful to the students, not just for their career, but for life in general.

Colleges and universities are increasingly being based on more of a business model and less on the idealistic vision of what a university stands for. I understand that this idealism may not be able to be seen through in real life, but I do believe that we need to avoid viewing universities just as places that hand out pieces of paper if you give the right amount of time and money. The end product should be more than that.

This is why I gravitate toward institutions that have student bodies that have this same viewpoint. I'm not sure that UND would like to admit that it promotes this view, but it does not seem (in my experience anyway) to really encourage students to do more than enroll in some classes and get a degree. Many students do not live on campus, and it does not seem that many students are engaged in the different students organizations (beyond Greek societies). I notice less of a community feeling here than when I attended my Alma matre St. Thomas. Students at this smaller private school appeared to have more of a stake in their school beyond just the sporting teams. There were active organizations and the classes that I took were designed to educate, not just to pass on information about a field.

So this goes back to my question, what are we here for? Are the days of the college/university as an institution of learning, education, and growth becoming just a place to get a degree? Or are we here for more than that? To help develop adults into lifelong learners, critical thinkers, and people who will work to serve the world and not just themselves. Obviously you will be able to tell from my words here where I fall...perhaps I am just an antique myself. I hope not!


  • At 9:42 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I don't believe students grasp the true value of education until they have left it behind. I know that in grade school I didn't appreciate my teachers or the things I was learning, but somehow in high school I started developing an appreciation for the experience. This somewhat followed through college. I remember being in college and and having an anxiety about being done and moving to the next thing in life, only to find that I wish I had enjoyed the my teachers better; to have taken it more slow, to enjoy the true value of being pushed to think deeper and more critically.

    "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
    -Mark Twain

  • At 9:17 PM , Blogger kmc21 said...

    I agree that as students we often did not appreciate what we were being forced to do. I just hope that the wills of students of this sort do not begin to grossly affect administration within higher education. I'd like to see the institution remain a place of ideas and growth, and not as simply a place to gain a piece of paper.


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