Monday, July 11, 2011

New President Interview -- Part 8

Creating a Community*

Q>; Jonathan Sacks in his book, The home we build together said, “ Society is the home we build together when we bring our several gifts to the common good.” Previously you said that Sacks’ theory of society has influenced your theory of management. Would you elaborate?

A> Sacks talks about how we live in a diverse society and need to build a community. His lessons work for the classroom as well as the administrative
Visiting scholar, Asher Lopatin, giving a lecture

aspects of the College. In the classrooms when I was in elementary school, the teacher was the authority and the students were the sponges to absorb knowledge and the soldiers to follow orders. Many college classes were large lectures where the teacher gave a lecture on the model of the “sage on the stage.” These classrooms did not consider diversity. Students who didn’t comply were either disciplined or made to leave.

Now I tell faculty that most courses should be on the model of respecting the knowledge and gifts of each student. If the teacher wants to pour in knowledge, the lecture hall is an inefficient venue. Students do not retain enough form lectures. In the “common good” model, students are given assignment to prepare them for the classroom. In the classroom the teachers guide the students to understanding the materials and learning to be critical thinkers. Part of the class time is lecture but a bigger part is the exchange of ideas. Assignments are given to enable students to learn on their own and explore the subject in depth. The balance between the learning activities will vary with the subject being taught. For example the humanities lend themselves to more discussion than the lab sciences.

There is a passage we say in the Jewish prayer book based on the Talmud Berakhot 64a. “Students increase peace in the world ... great shall be the peace of your children. Read here not your children, but your builders.” The words in Hebrew for “children” and “builders” vary only by the sound of the first vowel. This is a profound lesson for both teachers and managers. First, we have to teach our students and staff the basics or groundwork. By turning them into people who can create we increase peace. For American society that means we working toward a nation of learners who can live together in peace. On the institutional level it means we create a College that is creative in solving our challenges as members of a community. The goal of the College is education, but along the way we are community members with family and personal lives. The College community is not built for us, but with us as contributing, creative members.

Sometimes the “sweat equity” of students is the hard work of studying and learning so that they master a subject. They earn their role in the College community and the larger community with their actions outside of the classrooms.

Q> Is the College a society, a community or both?

A community is a group of people who build something together. At a meeting (administrative or classroom) the encounter is face-to-face. Meetings can be times to complain, report on previous actions, exchange ideas, or build. For the organization to be effective the meeting has to give people tasks for working together toward a goal. They have to walk away from the face-to-face meeting with something to work on side-by-side. Side-by-side activities accomplish more for community building than talking to people. The ideal administrative meeting would have a common goal and at the end a clear procedure for the next step. For example everyone would have a task to perform before the next meeting.

We just celebrated Independence Day. The United States, unlike most countries, was based on a dream. The Declaration of Independence was the codification of that dream. It was a covenant for a community to be united for a common good. It had no force of law. Rejoicing in the memory of the event that created this county is not a religious event. A college is not a state, but we have some of the aspects of a community based on a covenant.

The covenant is written in our mission and in the idea of what education is for the city, state and country. Education’s goal is to create informed citizens for our multiple intertwined communities. The College’s mission is to provide the resources for education. The resources consist of the physical (buildings, grounds and equipment), the human, and the intellectual. The College does provide a large range of services to help students and faculty do their job of education. However, the College is but one agency within the city and large community.

As a community, the College seeks to provide its members with a co--responsibility for justice, kindness, and compassion. We are not all equal. There is a hierarchy in the organization and students have different role in the organization that faculty and staff.

We are not a society. A society is a self-perpetuating home. Our goals include insuring students graduate. They have a limited time on campus and then must move on to the next step in their lives.

As a community we do have to recognize the diversity of individual gifts. Rule is not by fiat. Consensus building is an important part of leadership.

Q> On an everyday practical level what is being done for community building?

For students any club, sport, or student group is an opportunity to make a community. I learned a great deal about cooperation and team work from participating in a team sport and from playing in musical groups. The star player or performer can go only so far without support from a team.

For faculty and staff I will encourage them to participate in committees and groups that share in the governance and planning for the college. I will encourage groups to implement decisions so that we can move forward in a way that works rather than stumbles.

While the mission is to graduate students, we hope to have a lifetime connection to the students through alumni associations. We offer several kinds of services for graduates and hope they will support us with many kinds of support. We office library privileges and placement help for members of the alumni association. We offer networking opportunities for connecting graduates for business, professional, and social opportunities.

Q> How has the concept of peer reviewed journal articles evolved?

A> The standard in academia especially in the sciences is for professors and researchers to seek peer review of research. The manuscripts submitted for publication are reviewed by experts. Usually the process is blind review with neither party knowing the identity of the other. A prestigious publication will receive many more manuscripts than they can use. For example the New English Journal of Medicine publishes about 5% of the articles submitted. Replication of results of experiments is an important part of scientific process. This reminds me of the reasons God didn’t get tenure. 1) His only written work did not have any citations and was written in ancient Hebrew; 2) His only experiment, creation of the world, can not be replicated; and 3) He refuses to meet face-to-face with any students or colleagues.

In the social sciences and humanities blind peer review is less important. Experiments cannot be replicated like recipes. In the era of blogs, web pages and Wikipedia peer review can be almost instantaneous. For example: earlier this week, a professor in Brooklyn and a librarian in Frankfurt read my blog article. They sent comments and I was immediately able to verify the comments and make changes to my article. If this were a print publication changes would take months and the reader of the unchanged article would probably not know about the changes. I am doing a better service to my readers by making immediate changes. While I did not make a mistake, the added information clarified two points I made. Sometimes letting people read or hear preliminary results enables me to make corrections before publication.

While academics like peer-reviewed and scholarly journals, we have to look at additional types of publications. Professors who publish blogs and web sites that are connected to their teaching and research interests should get the same recognition and credit as those who publish in the more traditional venues. However, a short 500 word blog entry is not the same as a 5,000 word article 50,000 word book. A 500 word carefully researched and documented article is not the same as 500 word opinion piece written in a half hour. A stream of conscience or opinion blog entry is not the same as an academic entry. A blog can be less formal than a journal article, but still needs evidence and citations to be taken seriously. We have to judge the publications on their own merits not on artificial designations.

*Part eight of an imaginary interview with the newly appointed president of the College. Note this is just for your information and amusement. Any connection to a real college president is strictly coincidental.

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