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Faculty Mindset

In the current issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education is an article entitled, “The 2011 Mind-Set of Faculty (Born Before 1980).” The author, Professor Bruce Krajewski is playing off of an annual list published by Benoit College describing the current mindset of entering freshmen for the benefit of faculty and administrators. Krajewski responds by describing twenty-two aspects of the academic worldview of current faculty. Most of them apply, as the title indicates, to the generations of faculty born before 1980, though some apply to generations pre-1970.

My first response upon reading it was “A-MEN.” I said so in replying to the friend who forwarded the article to me. Krajewski  accurately describes many of my thoughts on education and the role of faculty and their interactions and expectations of students. I found myself wishing that students (and administrators) understood that better and that the administrators would support and back us in these things better.

Then I started thinking, rather than reacting emotionally.

While he is largely accurate in his description and it is useful to explicitly come out and define these things, so that we can deal with them accurately, and while I would prefer it if that were more widely recognized, I began to realize why there was such a big disconnect between what he listed and the mindsets of our students.

The (sad) truth is that the world changes by nature and we as faculty must adapt to that. What is hard is the speed at which the world is currently changing. It is surprising to say this, but I think most faculty by their nature tend to be conservative in the sense that while they may talk about transforming culture and genuinely want it at some level, they themselves have nested in the ivory tower because they perceive it as largely unchanging. The university is to be a constant agent of change yet remain insulated from those changes.

Sitting and contemplating ideas is by nature a slow process, but the change the professoriate has sought to create in culture over the last 50-100 years has happened and today's freshmen are products of that change, as are their parents, and thus we must eat our own fruit from our labors, and maybe some are finding it less sweet on their lips.

Also, we, in a sense, are in a service industry--people come to us to learn. Frankly, no one really cares what a servant's mindset is, only that the servant serve.

We have spent the last 15 years cultivating the university as a corporation, deliberately implementing various business models, and, the moment we do that, we start talking in terms of product, consumer, provider, customer service, and so on. We have surrendered our authority in running the institution to a mantra of ‘the customer is always right,’ and the inmates have taken over the asylum.

There are positives and negatives with this. One of the realities is that we no longer have the freedom and luxury to force students to learn in a mold of our choosing. A customer-first business model requires we deliver the product (knowledge) in as individualized a manner as possible in accordance with individual learning styles. In the process of this, we have created an egalitarian atmosphere where the student is equal in authority with us. We even talk about being 'co-learners' with them.

Is it any wonder we aren't treated with the respect we used to enjoy? Is it any wonder that in our informal society we are treated as peers by literal sophomores who don't yet know what they don't know?

The author said, "Are faculty members' mind-sets less important than students'? If you prick our mind-sets, do they not bleed?" I'm sorry. I think we brought it on ourselves. Our mindsets ARE less important than our students. The ivory tower believed in making all of society equal except itself, then complains when the brave new world we've created resents our hypocrisy.

We’ve made our bed. If we don’t like it, then perhaps we need to rethink the changes we’re programming into the leaders of the next generation. This is going to be very difficult, not the leastwise because the faculty born after 1980 are products of the social engineering we’ve created, and thus they embrace it. And, they will be around a lot longer than we will be who belong to the older generations.


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