WSC Becoming an Institution of Higher Thought

(Vital Quality Initiative)

 

Current Facilitators: Sheila Stearns, Todd Young

 

February 15-16, 2001 -- AQIP Retreat
Project identified and prioritized

 

March 14, 2001 -- AQIP Retreat Follow-Up Meeting
Project refined
Council members assigned to project: Sheila Stearns, Todd Young

 

September 21, 2001 -- AQIP Meeting
Status report given: The Presidential Lecture Series begins soon (October 3, 2001) and there will be a reception in the Connell Hall lobby that afternoon for open discussion and conversation. Dr. Stearns reported that for now the plan is for one of these each semester. Council members then discussed the theme idea again. In some colleges, the President chooses a theme for that year that the whole campus sort of focuses on. It has the potential for intellectual invigoration. Having this theme would make Wayne State College stand out as an institution of higher thought. We could use it as a marketing recruitment device. A committee could also be appointed to help choose the theme for the next year.

 

October 3, 2001 -- First Presidential Lecture Series Presentation on Public Affairs
"The Future of U. S. Agriculture in a Greenhouse World," Dr. Alexander McDonald

 

January 9, 2002

Todd and I are facilitators of an objective that came out of the AQIP retreat last year, and ratified by some respondents at the fall meeting. In brief, the thrust of the project is to invigorate WSC's "intellectual climate", a two-word summary of one of the five goals in WSC's 1995-2000 strategic directions. The wording on the AQIP form is "to make WSC more an institution of higher thought" - brainstorming language that needs re-phrasing.

 

Todd and I determined we should have a committee for this objective. A rough draft of the mission of the committee is as follows:
The purpose of this committee will be to invigorate WSC's intellectual climate by promoting discussion and interaction in regard to vital, current ideas, and to involve in this interaction all interested members of the campus and local/regional communities.

 

Possible titles of the committee (Todd and I didn't really discuss this in depth; I'm throwing out some possibilities for a larger group to consider - other suggestions most welcome):
Learning Community committee
Zeitgeist Initiative
Big Ideas Group (as in What's the Big Idea....)
Intellectual Climate committee

 

Todd and I propose that the committee would implement the mission described above in several possible ways:

 

First and foremost, identify a theme in spring semester that will be the center and catalyst of discussion, reading, and of a major symposium the following year. With the help of the library, a bibliography would be developed, faculty would include aspects of the theme in their classes during fall semester; matriculating students would receive materials during the summer; discussion sessions on various readings would lead up to the symposium in spring semester, perhaps late March. A whole day would be devoted to the symposium; it would appear on all faculty syllabi - no other classes held that day, and there would be perhaps keynote speaker(s)/ plenary session in Ramsey or Rice, panels, discussion sections around campus - a major logistical effort for a major intellectual challenge. We would intend that the symposium would not die at the end of the day, but rather that it would be followed by the writing of an article(s) or publishing of some of the proceedings, etc. In other words, as an institution we would fund and produce an annual record of a challenging campus-wide intellectual conversation each year.

 

Todd and I think as follows: If major, difficult, even controversial ideas are not addressed actively, civilly, and intelligently on a college campus, where else would this happen outside of a few elite urban self-appointed intelligentsia? In most communities, nowhere.

 

The committee would generate possible themes and seek suggestions. A few modest topics that Todd and I brainstormed:

 

Science and Religion: Congruent or Conflicting Worldviews?

 

Individualism and Community: Conflicting Values? (See Theobald's Teaching the Commons for a compelling monograph on this subject.)

 

21st Century Gender Roles: Growing Threats to Families and Communities?

 

Shortly after our meeting, I re-read an essay from Atlantic Monthly that I have saved for a couple years: three quotes from "The Great Disruption" by Francis Fukuyama illustrate how any of the above topics could generate much reading and discussion among students, staff, faculty, and community members:

 

".....Rather than seeking authoritative values in a church that once shaped society's culture, people are picking and choosing their values on an individual basis, in ways that link them with smaller communities of like-minded folk."

 

".....Contemporary Americans, and contemporary Europeans as well, seek contradictory goals. They are increasingly distrustful of any authority, political or moral, that would constrain their freedom of choice, but they also want a sense of community and the good things that flow from community, such as mutual recognition, participation, belonging, and identify."

 

".....On the other hand, these sweeping changes in gender roles have not been the unambiguously good thing that some feminists pretend....The widening of the gap among men between rich and poor had its counterpart among women: educated, ambitious, and talented women broke down barriers, proved they could succeed at male occupations, and saw their incomes rise; but many of their less-educated, less-ambitious, and less-talented sisters saw the floor collapse under them, as they tried to raise children by themselves while in low-paying, dead-end jobs or on welfare. Our consciousness of this process has been distorted by the fact that the women who talk and write and shape the public debate about gender issues come almost exclusively from the former category....."

 

In addition to preparation for a major symposium, for an on-going conversation that would embrace most students, faculty, and staff and many community members, the committee might also

 

--promote discussion before and after the President's Public Affairs lectureship each semester, and

 

--encourage and publicize reading/discussion groups, book clubs, etc. where they exist and where additional members are welcome, or encourage formation of new groups with heterogeneous membership. Book clubs can be an intellectual lifeboat in communities large and small, but especially in small rural towns. Why not create a culture in which most students get involved in the joys of voluntary reading and conversation, who will export that skill to the communities where they eventually settle.

 

--promote access to and discussion of current essays and articles on major ideas of the day, through more availability of an excellent newspaper, reference to and discussion of editorials from that newspaper in classes as they relate to the curriculum; or widespread subscription to a publication such as Atlantic Monthly, with wider availability in the bookstore of the journal of opinion selected, or of a weekly national newspaper, (we could choose one along the spectrum between Wall Street Journal and Washington Post's weekly editions - and negotiate price and delivery to Wayne.)

 

On our committee we think we should have about five faculty members, ensuring that each school is represented, plus representatives from the library, professional staff, support staff, diversity council, and the community, about 10-12 members in all.

 

Respectfully submitted,
Committee co-chair, Sheila Stearns

 

Links

Contact Info

Michael Anderson
Vice President for Academic Affairs
402-375-7208
miander1@wsc.edu

Sue Sydow
Director of Assessment/
Accreditation Liaison Officer (ALO) AQIP
402-375-7197
susydow1@wsc.edu


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