Thursday, May 31, 2018

Joint Statement on the Value of Liberal Education by AAC&U and AAUP

Joint Statement on the Value of Liberal Education by AAC&U and AAUP

It is a curious time in when we must regularly re-articulate and defend the core principles of liberal education, which are both the bedrock of American higher education and the Republic itself.

In his introduction to the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton wrote:

An over-scrupulous jealousy of danger to the rights of the people, which is more commonly the fault of the head than of the heart, will be represented as mere pretense and artifice, the stale bait for popularity at the expense of the public good. It will be forgotten, on the one hand, that jealousy is the usual concomitant of love, and that the noble enthusiasm of liberty is apt to be infected with a spirit of narrow and illiberal distrust. On the other hand, it will be equally forgotten that the vigor of government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well-informed judgment, their interest can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidden appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people; commencing demagogues, and ending tyrants.

Hamilton acknowledged that well-informed judgement was the very heart of effective governance and a functional democratic society, and this capacity is the aim of liberal education.

The Association of American Colleges & Universities, our principal national organization advancing liberal education, and the American Association of University Professors, the national organization dedicated to the preservation of academic freedom and best practices for the professoriate, issued a joint statement on the value of liberal education that clearly articulates the value and importance of the work that we do at Susquehanna and our sister institutions across the nation.
Association of American Colleges & Universities
A Voice and a Force for Liberal Education

Joint Statement on the Value of Liberal Education by AAC&U and AAUP
In recent years, the disciplines of the liberal arts, once universally regarded as central to the intellectual life of the university, have been steadily moved to the periphery and increasingly threatened—by some administrators, elected officials, journalists, and parents of college-age children. The study of the history of human societies and forms of human expression is now too often construed as frivolous, and several colleges and universities have recently announced the wholesale elimination of liberal arts departments. Politicians have proposed linking tuition to the alleged market value of given majors. Students majoring in literature, art, philosophy, and history are routinely considered unemployable in the technology and information economy, despite the fact that employers in that economy strenuously argue that liberal arts majors make great tech-sector workers precisely because they are trained to think critically and creatively, and to adapt to unforeseen circumstances.
The American Association of University Professors and the Association of American Colleges and Universities are not disciplinary organizations, but we believe that institutions of higher education, if they are truly to serve as institutions of higher education, should provide more than narrow vocational training and should seek to enhance students’ capacities for lifelong learning. This is as true of open-access institutions as it is of highly selective elite colleges and universities. The disciplines of the liberal arts—and the overall benefit of a liberal education--are exemplary in this regard, for they foster intellectual curiosity about questions that will never be definitively settled—questions about justice, about community, about politics and culture, about difference in every sense of the word. All college students and not solely a privileged few should have opportunities to address such questions as a critical part of their educational experience. And the disciplines of the liberal arts are central to the ideal of academic freedom, as well, because the liberal arts, by their nature, require free rein to pursue truth wherever it may lead. As a result, they provide an intellectual bulwark for academic freedom.
Almost eighty years ago, in their joint 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, the AAUP and AAC&U emphasized that “institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good” and that “the common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.” The free search for truth and its free exposition in the liberal arts are essential components of a functioning democracy. Higher education’s contributions to the common good and to the functioning of our democracy are severely compromised when universities eliminate and diminish the liberal arts.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Commencement Remarks

Commencement Remarks

Members of the class of 2018. We are gathered here to celebrate your graduation, but we are also here to celebrate and recognize the accomplishment of the many people who made this day possible.

First, I would like to ask the faculty and staff present to stand so our graduates can express their gratitude. These are the people who have sustained, frustrated, and inspired you in your journeys at Susquehanna. You can best honor them by applying what you have learned from them in your careers and as you become leaders in your communities.

Next, would the families and friends of our graduates stand to be recognized and thanked. These are the people that encouraged you, loved you, and made significant sacrifices so you could be here. They will continue to be with you as you undertake the next steps in your respective odysseys.

Lastly, we should take a moment to think about those whose gifts have made it possible for all of us to be here. Susquehanna began as a gift of land and funds from the leaders of Selinsgrove to create the Missionary Institute and a collegiate home for the daughters and sons of local families who were not called to religious service. Since then, every Susquehanna student has benefitted in significant ways from the support of alumni and friends of the university, many of whom provided gifts to support generations of students they would never see. It is a remarkable and inspiring legacy.

Members of the class of 2018, we mark the close of your academic careers at Susquehanna University with this celebration of commencement. Commencement refers to the beginning.

Ours is a business of beginnings, beginnings that unfold in myriad directions, the measure of which is seen in the span of the lives of those who call this place alma mater. Please remember that Susquehanna will always be your alma mater, and you are always welcome home.

We are here to celebrate the seeds that have been planted in you, which we anticipate will emerge in glorious splendor as each of you makes your mark on the world. This is your time to exercise the leadership for which you have been preparing.

As W.E.B. Du Bois wrote:

“Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime.”[1]  (endquote)

Ours is a business of beginnings. We gather today to send you forth to engage your future with reckless abandon and your world with wonder and tenderness. We are here to wish for you, the life Mary Oliver wished for herself when she wrote:

“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom taking the world into my arms.”[2]

Ours is a business of beginnings. Each year we welcome a new class to begin their academic journeys, and every year we bid bon voyage to a class whom we have challenged, cajoled, and supported during their matriculation. This is the life cycle of the university.

Although today marks my first commencement at Susquehanna and the first at which I have the honor of conferring degrees, this is the 32nd year as a professor or administrator that I will watch a class graduate. Every year I am more excited to be a part of the ceremony, because with each new year, I have an ever-richer knowledge of what lies before you, what you can accomplish, and how your experiences here will help make it possible.

When I was a first-year university student, I read the following poem for the first time, but being fresh to the academy, I could not adequately appreciate Walt Whitman’s sentiment in his poem for the inauguration of a public school. Now that appreciation grows with each passing year.

AN old man's thought of school,
An old man gathering youthful memories and blooms that youth itself cannot.

Now only do I know you,
O fair auroral skies - O morning dew upon the grass!

And these I see, these sparkling eyes,
These stores of mystic meaning, these young lives,
Building, equipping like a fleet of ships, immortal ships,
Soon to sail out over the measureless seas,
On the soul's voyage.[3]  (endquote)

One of the great rewards of university life is that we enjoy a state of perpetual renewal. Each day we have the opportunity to chart a new course in Whitman’s proverbial soul’s voyage. Each year we are renewed as we send forth a class of students we have come to know and love, whom we have provoked and nurtured, and from whom we too have learned much.

Thank you for that, and congratulations to you all as you commence to “sail out over the measureless seas, On your souls’ voyages.”

[1] W.E.B. Du Bois: Prayers for Dark People.
[2] Mary Oliver: “When Death Comes” from New and Selected Poems (1992).
[3] Walt Whitman: “For the Inauguration of a Public School, Camden, New Jersey,
1874,” in
Leaves of Grass, 1891.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Service Learning

Service Learning

Faculty members often quip that T. S. Eliot was clearly revealing his academic inclinations when he wrote that “April is the cruelest month[1].” As a present-day professor, he would likely add that it is the longest month, stretching from 1 April through commencement sometime in mid-May. Each April brings a free-fall sensibility to our campuses as yearlong projects come together, valedictory presentations are made, awards are earned and received, concerts and plays are presented, and athletic playoffs join the mix. On top of that, many seniors are furiously engaged in interviews and negotiations connected to their first “grown-up” jobs.

I often joke that we squeeze half a year into six weeks. It is an incredibly stressful time and a heartwarming confirmation of much of what we do right, as we see students connecting the dots of their academic careers into a meaningful holism.

At Susquehanna a remarkable thing happens in the very middle of the academic maelstrom that is April: we celebrate SU Serve. Each April, Susquehanna alumni undertake tens of thousands of hours of service work in support of hundreds of community organizations across the nation and around the world, and hundreds of our current students press the pause button during the busiest time in their academic careers to spend a day in service to others.

This year, I visited a handful of the many sites where our students were serving our neighbors in a variety of meaningful ways. Education students were at the Priestly-Forsyth Library in Northumberland distributing free books as part of PA Reads and leading children and their families through a variety of activities connected to the book; students from Gamma Sigma Rho and Phi Mu Alpha were mulching the campus garden and making signs for the new raised beds; other students were weeding garden plots at the East Snyder Community Garden; and another group was doing work at the REC (Regional Engagement Center). Dozens of other organizations throughout the region were also being served by our students.

When I first arrived at Susquehanna, I thought April seemed to be a curious choice for this event, but I have come to recognize the importance of the timing. Our creed is “Achieve, Lead, Serve.” Students undertake their first SU service project during orientation, and that work continues throughout their four years on campus. Last year, our students logged over 50,000 service hours. SU Serves in April reminds us that service to others never stops being our calling. When we are busiest is when others need us most.

Of the many Susquehanna traditions, the sustained legacy of service is the most important. “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required[2],” and we have been much indeed. One of April’s greatest rewards is the opportunity to see hundreds of young men and women embrace their blessings and give to others.

[1] The Wasteland
[2] Luke 12:48


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