InterVarsity Christian Fellowship‘s Emerging Scholars NetworkÂ (ESN) interrupts their regularly scheduled programmingÂ to bring youÂ the transcript (with minor edits) of a presentationÂ given by Bob Trube, Senior Area Director, IVCF/USA, at the IFES World AssemblyÂ (Oaxtepec, Mexico, 7/22/2015). In consideringÂ The University Today,Â Bob addresses four “change” forces in the university that offer both challenges to and opportunities for mission in the university.Â After presenting, heÂ received a number of requests for the transcript, in particular to discuss the questions he posed regarding the implications of these “change” forces.Â Thank-you to Bob for sharing The University Today: Challenges and OpportunitiesÂ with ESN. We considerÂ it a privilege toÂ prayerfully and more deeply engage with IFESÂ in the whole campus mission. To God be the glory! ~ Thomas B. Grosh IV, Associate Director, Emerging Scholars Network
The University Today: Challenges and Opportunities
Bob Trube, Senior Area Director, IVCF/USA
It is both humbling and challenging to be asked to talk about â€œthe university todayâ€ and the challenges andÂ opportunities our mission field presents us on a global basis — in 20 minutes! It feels a bit like the classic collegeÂ essay question:
Define the universe in 500 words or less. Give three examples!
I should take a moment to acknowledge the social context from which I speak. I have served for the past 18Â years as the staff worker for the IVCF/USA graduate student fellowship at The Ohio State University, one of theÂ largest public research universities in the United States. In the U.S., Ohio State is most known for its nationalÂ championship American football teams. Yet it is a world class research university attracting graduate studentsÂ from throughout the world. It represents the American tradition of land grant universities, reflected in itsÂ motto, â€˜disciplina in civitatemâ€ or â€œeducation for citizenship.â€ From its beginnings, Ohio State has seen its task asÂ one of educating graduates to advance the civic and industrial interests of the State of Ohio.
In the early years of the 21st century, Ohio State wrestles with its own form of the issues that face universitiesÂ across the world. While serving the students and economic interests of our state, we have recruiting offices inÂ Shanghai, Mumbai, and Sao Paolo. We have a global internet presence and field researchers on every continentÂ of the world including Antarctica. Our state legislature has reduced its funding of the university while demandingÂ that our curriculum and graduates help fuel our stateâ€™s efforts to transition from heavy manufacturing to highÂ technology. We reflect the political, ideological and lifestyle diversity of our time. You can walk across campusÂ and witness competing Israeli and Palestinian demonstrations, see Muslim students gather for prayers at severalÂ locations on campus, Jews observing Shabbat, and sign up for any of over 1000 student organizationsÂ representing every affinity group and cause on campus. Both Muslim and Christian groups have engaged theÂ university over non-discrimination policies advancing agendas of inclusion dictating leadership positions be openÂ to all students, even those not sharing our faith and moral convictions.
While the forms and cultural expressions vary, I would propose there are four forces for change shaping higherÂ education around the world, that present challenges and opportunities for each of our movements. I would alsoÂ propose that these underscore the urgency of our conference theme: â€œTogether. In Christ. In Mission. In theÂ University.â€ These forces are:
- the international character of higher education,
- the impact of technologyÂ both in teaching and as a focus of the universityâ€™s mission,
- the economics of higher education and how theseÂ are re-shaping the campus, and
- secularization, its effects and the militant reaction it sparks.
Increasingly, students are traveling from every nation to every nation. Current UNESCO estimates are that 3.7Â million students study abroad each year, and this number is growing. Over 690,000 are in the US, but overÂ 235,000 are in China. Increasingly, this is being funded by governments. Brazil has launched an initiative toÂ provide 75,000 scholarships for students to study abroad in science and technology. Studies show thatÂ international study has great advantages in an enlarged perspective, language learning, international contactsÂ and career development. The U.S is encouraging students to include study abroad in their educationalÂ experience. What studies do not show is the increasing opportunity study abroad provides for gospel witnessÂ and partnerships in the universities of the world!
The global nature of higher education does not simply reflect the flow of people but also the flow of ideas. TheÂ necessity of collaboration across cultures was underscored by the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa whereÂ understanding of epidemiology had to walk hand in hand with understanding the cultural practices of howÂ families care for their sick and bury their dead and those on the ground had to overcome both westernÂ ignorance and African suspicion. Whether it is a matter of dealing with contagious disease or climate change orÂ global business, it is increasingly common for students and faculty to work alongside co-investigators half wayÂ around the world, whether virtually, at academic conferences or in the field.
Universities themselves are crossing international borders, whether through online courses or though â€œbranchâ€Â campuses. The University of Nottingham has a campus in Malaysia, Cornell University is in Qatar, the SorbonneÂ in Abu Dhabi and Leeds Metropolitan University has a campus in India. New York University is contending withÂ the Chinese government about academic freedom issues on its campus in Shanghai. Indigeneity has long beenÂ a value in IFES and might it be important to listen to each other with regard to this trend and then seek toÂ influence institutional policies in our own countries.
1. What will it mean for our movements to practice relational and intellectual hospitality with the guests on ourÂ campuses? What might we learn from our sister movements about extending welcome? And how, in each of ourÂ countries, will we work to prepare our students to be culturally sensitive witnesses, and not just tourists, as theyÂ study abroad?
2. How might we help each other in grace and truth and humility to recognize the cultural blinders and culturalÂ captivities that hinder effective cross-cultural collaboration in mission and in research?
The explosion of technology is shaping what is taught and funded at many of our institutions. Pressures fromÂ parents, students, governments, and businesses are compelling changes in how higher educationâ€™s ends areÂ being conceived. Academic degrees in fields related to science, technology, engineering, and math (or STEM) areÂ being emphasized while programs in the humanities, languages, the arts, and social sciences are struggling toÂ secure funding, enrollments, and to reconceive their role as an adjunct to STEM. In many settings, education isÂ being treated as a commodity rather than a formative experience and engagement with lifeâ€™s big questions.Â Students are the customers, faculty and university staff the vendors, and productivity is measured in terms ofÂ job placement rates. As Iâ€™ve already observed, the decision of many governments to subsidize internationalÂ study reflects the fact that STEM enjoys an international consensus.
Technology is also shaping the way we learn, and the way education is delivered. A student may now access on aÂ smartphone information that might have taken hours to find in a university library. Increasingly, the classroom isÂ not the location of lectures but a place to discuss and apply content viewed online and to collaborate in learningÂ with other students, a shift being referred to as the â€œflippedâ€ classroom. Increasingly educators are required toÂ display expertise not merely in their academic discipline but also in the use of various online technologies andÂ social media. We have also seen a vast increase in online courses as either an alternative to or adjunct toÂ education on a physical campus. Technology also means instant communication of everything from revolutionsÂ to complaints about the campus administration. One university leader I know utilizes social media constantlyÂ not only to promote the accomplishments of his institution but also to maintain contact with current andÂ prospective students, and other constituents of the university.
1. How might Christians contribute to the discussion of educationâ€™s purpose in the institutions where they work?Â What are the opportunities for our mission if the spiritual hunger and aspirations of students are notÂ acknowledged and the â€œbig questionsâ€ are not explored in their education?
2. How should the transformation in the delivery of education influence our ministry approaches on campus?Â What will it mean for us to incarnate the gospel in an increasingly virtual world?
Universities in most of our countries are facing economic pressures. In many of our settings state subsidies ofÂ higher education has been significantly cut. Part of this reflects the massive debt loads many of our countries areÂ facing. This also is reflected in changes in global research funding trends. The U.S. accounted for 37 % ofÂ research funding in 2001, but only 30% in 2011. EU funding dropped from 26 to 22 % in the same period whileÂ East and Southeast Asia research funding increased from 25 to 34 %.
What these economic pressures have led to is the increasing corporatization of the university. AcademicÂ departments are being treated as â€œprofit centersâ€ and expansions or cuts in programs are determined almostÂ solely on the basis of revenues generated. There has been a spate of articles in American media about theÂ growth of the administrative class while growth in tenured faculty positions has been far slower, and universitiesÂ increasingly rely upon lecturers or adjunct faculty to control costs.
One of the factors that drive international student enrollments is that many are subsidized by their governmentsÂ or represent the economic elites of their countries and can afford to pay premium tuitions.
The other economic issue is that students and their families are bearing increasing financial burdens forÂ education, and this may lead to a new elitism in education. Student debt in the U.S. is currentlyÂ estimated at $1.3 trillion dollars. In countries where the cost of education is increasingly shifted to students,Â there is a danger of accentuating class divisions and opportunity inequities.
1. How might we advocate for shalom and justice in the university as it struggles with issues of cost?
2. What ought to be our response if we find ourselves in the elite, or ministering to the cultural elites on ourÂ campuses?
At Ohio State, we have a statue of William Oxley Thompson, the longest sitting president of Ohio State fromÂ 1899 to 1925. What few acknowledge is that Thompson was a Presbyterian minister who on one occasion duringÂ his tenure commented, â€œI am essentially and always a preacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Incidentally I amÂ president of the universityâ€¦.â€ Many of the institutions, even state institutions where we work, have ChristianÂ origins and influences, and yet the prevailing ideology is a secularist one that confines matters of faith toÂ personal and private spheres of life. Often, our ministries are tolerated to the extent that they conform to thisÂ prevailing ideology.
Issues around human sexuality reflect the emphasis on personal expressiveness that arises from secularization.Â And here I feel I must apologize for many leaders of the church, even evangelicals, in the west, who have movedÂ from teaching a redeemed sexuality to affirm pretty much whatever our culture affirms. This has been doneÂ without consultation with the church in the Majority World. Those in the West have not considered theÂ consequences of affirming what would be considered decadent by some of the enemies of Christianity.
At the same time, we have often said and done that which is hurtful to those Jesus might have considered asÂ â€œharassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.â€ A friend who is a university leader in my country andÂ deeply committed Christians says, â€œThese are young people, trying to figure out their lives.â€ We may rememberÂ our own awakening awareness of our sexuality and our struggles to live with this. Imagine that awakening withÂ the awareness that oneâ€™s physical anatomy and mental perceptions of attraction or gender are in conflict withÂ each other. I wonder what might have happened in my own country if we had devoted ourselves to caring forÂ those facing these struggles, loving them, and as God gave opportunities, leading them to Christ rather thanÂ trying to win a â€œculture war.â€
We also see the rise of militant, clashing narratives: political, sexual, and religious. Secularism in part serves toÂ mitigate the clash of narratives in our settings and sometimes affords the opportunity for those of differentÂ views to engage each other with civility. And yet both we and others realize this secularism is not a neutralÂ meeting ground but an ideology in its own right. Secularism values certain narratives above others, such asÂ vague gnostic spirituality or outright atheism, and certain value systems such as materialism.
The truth is that secularism lacks substance and the result is the assertion of vigorous competing ideologies fromÂ an evangelistic atheism to militant Islam. On U.S. campuses, this takes the form of competing demonstrations. InÂ places like Garissa and northern Nigeria, it means the death of brothers and sisters. Might it be that ourÂ opportunity is to witness to a third way between the hollowness of secularism and the militancy of clashingÂ ideologies, one that holds together and extends the grace and truth of the Lord Jesus to an alternately truthlessÂ and graceless world.
1. How are we equipping our students to understand and engage with courage and grace the reigning paradigmÂ of secularism?
2. How might we function as a â€œthird wayâ€ people providing an alternative to pervasive and empty secularismÂ and militant ideologies?
As Iâ€™ve worked on this message, Iâ€™ve been profoundly struck with the relevance of the theme of this WorldÂ Assembly. Given the trends of internationalization, technology that is changing the focus and delivery ofÂ learning, the economic challenges facing universities around the world, and the secularization we must engage,Â it seems to me that like never before, we are faced with fresh questions of what does it mean for us as memberÂ movements of the IFES family to be together in Christ in mission in the university. All of our movements haveÂ prized our indigenous character. Without losing that, is this the time where we might learn more of what itÂ means to be interdependent as well as indigenous? How might we work more closely to welcome theÂ unprecedented flow of students between our countries? How might we learn from each other about engagingÂ technological change and the questions it raises about the character of a university without being reactionaries?Â What might we learn from each other about doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God in theÂ economics of our universities as they touch the students, researchers and faculty with whom we minister? AndÂ how might we stand together and support each other in proclaiming Christ in the midst of vigorous ideologiesÂ that oppose our faith?
These are questions I face as I walk on campus at Ohio State. With contextual differences, the questions areÂ similar in Kinshasa and Cambridge, in Singapore and Sao Paolo, in Seoul and Sydney, in Mumbai and Mexico City.Â The Lord has given us in His Word, His Spirit, and one another what we need in this World Assembly to meet theÂ challenges set before us.
I want to close by inviting us to listen to Jesusâ€™s prayer for us in John 17:20-23:
20Â â€œMy prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through theirÂ message,Â 21Â that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they alsoÂ be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.Â 22Â I have given them the glory that youÂ gave me, that they may be one as we are oneâ€”Â 23Â I in them and you in meâ€”so that they may beÂ brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as youÂ have loved me.
- Edited transcript of presentation at 2015 IFES World Assembly on July 22, 2015. Also available in PDF.Â â†©
- http://oia.osu.edu/global-gateways.html (last accessed 7/27/2015).Â â†©
- http://www.bbc.com/travel/story/20120926-the-statistics-of-studying-abroad (last accessed 7/27/2015).Â â†©
- http://studyabroad.ucmerced.edu/study-abroad-statistics/statistics-study-abroad (last accessed 7/27/2015).Â â†©
- http://www.topuniversities.com/student-info/choosing-university/university-branch-campuses (last accessed 7/27/2015).Â â†©
- https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/06/26/officials-us-universities-china-tell-congress-they-have-protected-academic-freedom (last accessed 7/27/2015).Â â†©
- http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind14/index.cfm/chapter-4/c4s2.htm (last accessed 7/27/2015).Â â†©
- http://www.cnbc.com/2015/03/10/student-loan-initiatives-could-benefit-40m-borrowers.html (last accessed 7/27/2015).Â â†©
- James E. Pollard, William Oxley Thompson: Evangel of Education (Columbus: The Ohio State University, 1955),Â 226. I quoted this in the address from memory which was accurate in sense but not wording. This is the quote as itÂ appears in Pollardâ€™s book.Â â†©
- Holy Bible, New International VersionÂ®, NIVÂ® Copyright Â©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.Â®Used by permission. AllÂ rights reserved worldwide.Â â†©
Â©Robert C. Trube, 2015. Permission is granted to reproduce this material with acknowledgment of theÂ author and inclusion of this copyright notice.
About the author:
Bob Trube is Associate Director of Faculty Ministry and Director of the Emerging Scholars Network. He blogs on books regularly at bobonbooks.com. He resides in Columbus, Ohio, with Marilyn and enjoys reading, gardening, choral singing, and plein air painting.