October 8, 2015
Nancy Cantor and Christopher Howard —
Beyond the Ivory Tower

When we talk about the relationship between colleges and the world, we tend to focus on economics. But what is the place of institutions of higher education in the communities they inhabit? How can and should they nurture students as citizens and leaders for the emerging 21st century world? Two visionary college presidents of two very different institutions take up these questions with Krista at the American Council on Education's 97th Annual Meeting.

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is a social psychologist and the chancellor of Rutgers University–Newark, one of the most diverse institutions in the U.S. She is widely recognized for helping forge a new understanding of the role of universities in society that re-emphasizes their public mission. She is the former chancellor of Syracuse University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

is the first African-American president of Hampden–Sydney College in Virginia, an historically white all male school in the South. He is one of the youngest college presidents in the U.S., a distinguished graduate of the Air Force Academy, and a former Rhodes Scholar. In February 2016, he will become president of Robert Morris University.

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Students convene at the University of Málaga in Spain.

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Funding provided in part by The Henry Luce Foundation, in support of a new initiative: Public Theology Reimagined.

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some reflections on the current culture of civility at Rutgers by a noted prof. of literature:

I think we need to stop abusing the term "the world." I think it is to abstract, yet, very enact in fundamental movements that we find in both a religious and secular sense. I think collaboration is good but my experience is it opens a door for individuals' constitutional rights to be evaded.

I found the conversation on Beyond the Ivory Tower, very relevant to the work of the community college where I am a faculty member. This college is quite different from the two represented by your speakers. We are a commuter college that serves a diverse group of students: those who will transfer to four year colleges, mature students retraining for a new career, students on occupational paths to careers in health fields, business, education, and the police, and those simply enriching their education. Most of our students live in the local community, and are often personally affected by the problems that their communities face. We began a service learning initiative here in 2007, which is now a graduation requirement. A primary goal of this initiative was to engage students in the local community to impact social problems directly. They serve in non-profit organizations, applying the skills they already have, new knowledge they are learning in class, and gaining new skills and knowledge that will help them solidify class concepts. Most importantly, they become more aware of community need and their own ability and responsibility to have a positive impact on their communities as college graduates. I believe that this experiential education is most helpful in achieving civic responsibility.

Living with. A keeper. Many thanks.
Also. About agency. I attended a smallish northeastern liberal arts college on package of financial aid in the early 80s. Part of that package was scholarships from the university. I found it an amazing place for me to practice having agency in various ways after a childhood and youth in which that was limited for a variety of reasons - not poverty, we were a middle class family with lots of music in the home. It was a combination of other things. Anyway. I was very involved in the music department and once there was going to be a gala concert for important donors at which the chorus was going to sing, but was asked not to come to the post-concert reception in the music building. I forget if it was on the stage, as most post-concert events were, or right outside the hall. Anyway, along with other indignant students, we drafted a letter to the president of the university about this dreadful injustice. I forget the practical upshot of the letter in terms of whether the students in the chorus were allowed to be present or not at the reception. What I didn't realize was that we had erred in not going to the nth degree of battle with our music department faculty letting them know how upset "we the students" were, before going over their heads. In our eyes we were experimenting with using procedure. We didn't realize we had insulted people, or how badly. One of those people was my private violin teacher. He was called on the carpet by the university president over this issue and at my next lesson he told me in no uncertain terms how wrong and ungrateful my actions were, how hard he had fought to get me into the university and that without his efforts, there is no way I would have been there.
I am now a parent and a teacher myself. I have lived the dynamic of "oh, I'll never do that" only to discover that authority and responsibility carry great stresses it is hard to imagine when you are not the grownup in the room. Even so. I hope and pray that while I may never be as good a parent or as good a teacher as I'd like, that I avoid being such a stop-gap to agency and to the hope of agency to one of my offspring or my students. It wouldn't have had such an impact if it hadn't fallen on fertile ground to begin with, but I think what Christopher Howard brings to his students is blessing that will echo down the years of their own lives and the following generations. I thank both President Howard and Chancellor Cantor for giving me hope in my own life as a teacher and as a human being, that a difference can be made.

I think something needs to be said here about the role of universities in society and their relationship to industry and corporations. It is one thing to say that universities need to involve their students in community and social issues - which is very important and a key part of the learning proccess. However, universities often stop there. What about university research in the production of military technology and technology that automates the workplaces and displaces jobs? What about university real estate that either displaces housing or raises rent or both? What about the mistreatment of faculty and the low wages of adjunct faculty? What about the fragmentation of knowledge, where students only exposure to great ideas are in larger lecture halls or in recitations taught by overworked, under-trained graduate students? Service-learning and experiential learning emerged in the late 1960s and its goals were to transform the university - to force the university to take moral and political stands on pressing social issues, both on and off campus. Today, however, it has just become an additional activity on campus. I find Dr. Cantor's language of "third spaces" to be very unfortunate as well as her view that student involvement shouldn't "go against the law." I would counter that what made the 1960s so powerful and transformative was student willingness to stand up against and break laws that they found unjust (from Freedom Rides to student sit-ins). The Campus should be THE space that encourages debate, disobedience, and activism - in which all activities and practices of the university and outward are questioned.

Pretentious, shallow, self-congratulatory--a disappointment, not useful.