Think back to the time when you first decided you wanted to be a professor. What did you imagine it would be like?
Hours in the lab or library finding either new cutting-edge or ancient discoveries?
Drawing new conclusions from apparently tired out data?
Teaching starry-eyed students waiting to hear wisdom pour forth like a refreshing mountain stream from your mouth?
Shaping the careers of future scholars in your research group like fresh clay in the hands of a master potter?
Writing monographs that revolutionize your field, drawing accolades from your academic idols?
Sitting in a richly furnished study talking over deep things with colleagues that have become close friends?
Yeah, me too.
What did you find?
Perfectionist students looking for that one point to give them an A even though they can’t think their way out of a paper bag?
Meetings upon meetings where either no one is satisfied with a decision or no decision is made or both?
The Starbuck’s coffee at seminars has been replaced with Wal-Mart instant due to tight budgets?
Trying to get that grant proposal in by 4:59 so you can have money to buy printer paper?
You walk past your lab one day realizing you haven’t actually darkened the door in a semester because of all of your other duties?
You don’t even know who all is in your department because you haven’t seen them since last year’s
Christmas Holiday party?
Yeah, me too.
It is said that Oxford isn’t even Oxford anymore, in the sense that the romantic picture of the Oxford dons and their scholarly lifestyle has become myth there, too.
A lot of this academic paradise lost is due to outside forces, but we too have played a role. Therefore, we can have a role in regaining this paradise, at least in degrees. We do have choices in how we spend our time on campus. We carve out time for things that are important to us. How we spend our time demonstrates loudly our priorities. But it is so easy to get caught up in busyness. That is why God made the Sabbath one of the Ten Commandments, so that the Jews would be forced to rest and to worship.
Likewise, we can choose to make time to gather as faculty, to build collegiality from the walled-off fiefdoms of modern academe. As Christians, this is even more important, because of the need to mutually encourage each other in a usually hostile environment and to pray. Besides, we do have a Biblical mandate, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
We have more cause to be the ones to take the leadership in regaining some of the academic paradise of our early fancies, and we have the opportunity to take leadership in transforming our departments in this way. As faculty, our time on campus easily consumes us. We have been placed in some of the most strategic positions in the world. It is our mission field. It is where we can find our ‘people of peace’ as described in Luke 10. It is the place where Christ can build His church through us among people who barely go to churches for weddings and funerals.
We just need to choose it as our priority. I truly believe God will bless the rest of the work of our hands if we will but do this, and our productivity will actually increase. As the new semester starts, find one or two believing colleagues and agree to do this for the full academic year—meet regularly to pray, encourage, and challenge each other in thinking differently about how to live as Christ’s ambassadors on campus. You will likely have increased challenges, but also increased and unexpected blessings that cause you to shake your head because it somehow makes up for any of those challenges. God’s spiritual economy is non-Austrian, non-Keynesian, non-Marxist, non-Monetarist, non-Neo-Liberalist, and definitely non-linear, and you will almost certainly find you are better off.
Can paradise be regained on campus? In pockets, at times, if we will be deliberate in how we devote our time with eternity in mind. Try it. Let me know how it transforms your campus this year.