Week in Review: Challenges of Higher Education

What are you reading, watching, thinking about this week? As usual, here’s a few which have been on our mind. Let us know your thoughts on any/all of them. If you have items you’d like us to consider for the top five, add them in the comments or send them to Tom or Mike.

1.  How hard can an adjunct push? Would reading a piece such as Six Ways to Make Adjuncting More Effective and Fulfilling (Brian Croxall. Chronicle of Higher Education. 7/15/2010) been helpful for Kenneth Howell, who up until recently had an adjunct position at U. of Illinois where he was teaching about his Roman Catholic faith?  Check out how Teaching or Preaching (Scott Jaschik. Inside Higher Ed. 7/15/2010) and The Politics Of The Classroom: Is It Homophobic To Teach About The Scriptural Basis For Homophobia? (Tenured Radical.  7/13/2010), discuss Howell’s firing.   While reading, don’t miss how our guest blogger Janine Giordano Drake (advanced graduate student in the University of Illinois Department of History) enters the conversation with the Tenured Radical.  Note:  the Alliance Defense Fund has picked up Howell’s cause.

2. The Real Challenge for Higher Education. Do you think higher education receives significant challenge from the wider American culture.  If so, Why?  How would you (do you) seek to address concerns and implement change in your context?

To better understand America’s lack of a pervasive education culture, consider the fact that as a nation we generally don’t greatly value educated people and don’t seem to believe that being educated contributes to quality of life beyond that offered by greater economic success. — Garrison Walters. The Real Challenge for Higher Education. Inside Higher Ed. 7/15/2010.

3.  How Diversity Punishes Asians, Poor Whites and Lots of Others (Russell K. Nieli. Minding the Campus: Reforming the Universities. 7/12/2010). HT:  David.  He comments, “Later down in the particle they talk about how universities actually count points against students who come from farming (i.e. poor white) backgrounds, taking off points for 4H, FFA, etc.”

4. More on Miracles: Over at Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog, regular blogger and university scientist RJS picks up on the same BioLogos’ series on miracles that Tom wrote about.

If miracles are arbitrary acts of imaginative supernatural showmanship the incredulity of Martin is understandable. But they are not.  And this connects with the essay by Pete Enns, looking at the incidents in the ministry of Jesus where he rebuked or calmed the sea. These were not arbitrary acts, magic tricks, or acts of convenience to make life easier. These were miracles with a purpose – where the impact could not be missed.

5. Improv for Change: Evangelical Christians have tried every other strategy for changing culture, so why not improvisational comedy? In the WSJ, Penn law professor David Skeel writes about an unusual training session – Veritas Riff – organized by some pretty big names in the next generation of evangelical leaders: Curtis Chang, Andy Crouch, Michael Lindsey, and Dan Cho of the Veritas Forum, who sponsored the event. Last month in Cambridge, MA, a small group of “evangelical thought-leaders” were trained in media relations, interviewing, and, yes, improv:

Then came our theatrical training, led by Marianne Savell, the director of Actors Co-op Theatre Company in Hollywood. It started tamely enough, with a game called zip-zap-zop. (One fellow pointed to another and said “zip,” the other pointed to a third and said “zap;” those who spoke before pointing or said the wrong word were ousted from the circle).

Sounds like fun! This being the 21st century, you can see a Flickr collection of photos from the Veritas Riff mini-conference.

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Tom Grosh IV

Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the South Central PA Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). The Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine is the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!

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  • Kevin commented on July 19, 2010 Reply

    With regard to adjuncts, they are rarely “fired.” Howell was not fired, but simply not renewed, and there are lots of legitimate reasons for not renewing an adjunct. Adjuncts are temporary labor, and higher education is increasingly reliant on them.

    That said, the Howell case suggests that adjuncts might not be able to exercise academic freedom the way that tenure-track faculty do. But to me, this is not a matter of the unfair treatment of adjuncts, because that begs the question of why adjuncts are teaching these courses as opposed to line faculty.

    As far as I can tell, the religious studies department at the University of Illinois offers courses on Catholicism every semester, including in the forthcoming Fall semester, despite their not renewing Howell. Whatever the reason for not renewing Howell, there remains a broader issue of institutional discrimination, namely, why doesn’t the university hire a tenure-track professor to cover courses and topics that are offered every semester?

    • mikehickerson@gmail.com'
      Micheal Hickerson commented on July 19, 2010 Reply

      Good question, Kevin. Today, Inside Higher Ed has an article about the arrangement between the Newman Center and UofI that raises more questions. It appears that the courses taught by Howell were originally based at the Newman Center with credit offered through UofI, but at some point, the courses became part of UofI’s religious studies department. I’ve heard of Christian Studies Centers with arrangements similar to the original agreement, though the one I’m thinking of specifically – the Christian Studies Center at U of Kentucky – offers credit through Asbury College, not UK.

  • Kevin commented on July 19, 2010 Reply


    This makes it even more interesting. The arrangement between UK and Asbury reminds me of the arrangement between my alma mater, the University of Rochester, and a nearby divinity school. In this arrangement, full-time faculty at the divinity school offered courses in the religious studies department at the U of R (presumably with some kick-back to the divinity school). A Newman Center is not an accredited independent institution, but typically a ministry associated with student life. If that was the case, where was the money coming from to pay an adjunct?

    The Chronicle story makes me think that the Religious Studies department never wanted to take on Howell–at least at my institution, each adjunct creates a ream of paperwork for the department, and departments, in general, hate having teaching personnel thrust upon them.

    Yet, if U of I is committed to teaching Catholicism, then this arrangement was a shady way to accomplish it, and it seems that the RC Church was complicit in this shadiness.

    Because of this shadiness, I don’t think a desirable outcome is Howell’s reinstatement, but a U of I commitment to hiring a full-time specialist in Catholicism, but I fear that the outcry about homophobia has deflected attention away from that need, and also skewed the RC Church’s actual teachings on the subject in relationship to God’s love and redemption.

  • Tom Grosh commented on July 19, 2010 Reply

    Kevin and Micheal, Wow! Thank-you for digging into a story which keeps becoming more interesting. I found the Inside Higher Ed article (and related comments), http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/07/19/illinois quite helpful.

    Note: for those who haven’t read it, the Sunday’s Chicago Tribune article is posted at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/education/ct-met-catholic-professor-20100717,0,5015388.story

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