By Melanie Howard, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Biblical & Religious Studies, Fresno Pacific University
“Do you wear your hair like that for religious reasons?” a student asked me, after she had seen me with my hair styled in low bun for the first several weeks of class.
“No,” I replied with a smile, “I just don’t like having hair fall in my face.”
This unusual exchange led me to wonder whether and how a professor’s own religious commitments should overtly enter the classroom. As an Assistant Professor of Biblical and Religious Studies, I cannot escape questions about religious identity in my classes. On the first day of class, I assure students that I do not grade on the basis of what they personally believe. Rather, I am interested in their ability to evaluate religious traditions critically and to consider the place of those traditions within contemporary culture.
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By John Raby
Last November 15, in The New York Times, Ross Douthat bemoaned what he sees as the moral and intellectual collapse of the American university.1 This is more than a right-wing rant on his part. From the political left, William Deresiewicz has written extensively about the same thing. In an article that appeared in last September’s Harper’s Magazine, Deresiewicz notes that the majority of current undergraduates major in vocational and commercial fields such as business and computer science, while enrollment in the physical sciences, math, humanities, and social sciences is plummeting.2 To underscore the point, Deresiewicz describes Governor Scott Walker’s attempt to rewrite the University of Wisconsin’s mission statement, in which he omitted any reference to public service or improving the human condition, along with the phrase, “Basic to every purpose of the system is the search for truth.” Instead, Walker proposed that the university’s mission should be “to meet the state’s workforce needs.”3 If Douthat and Deresiewicz are right, colleges and universities have traded in the search for truth and love of learning for the art of the deal. They have given in to the pathologies of neoliberalism that afflict the nation as a whole: a blind faith in technology; the worship of wealth and prestige; a turn away from programs of social uplift; and the assignment of worth to education, work, knowledge, and skill based solely on the profit motive.4
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In the current landscape of higher education, partnerships between various educational institutions and corporations are proliferating. A few examples of corporate partnerships will serve to illustrate how commonplace this phenomenon has become. Northrup Grumman has funded a cybersecurity program at the University of Maryland, and, in this program, Northrup Grumman plays a primary role in curriculum design. IBM has partnered with the Ohio State University to train employees in data analytics. As in the Northrup Grumman-University of Maryland partnership, IBM has influence over the direction of the curriculum at Ohio State. Furthermore, many similar corporate-academic partnerships have been established at community colleges. Several four-year private institutions of higher education use these corporate partnerships extensively. For example, Strayer University has tuition reduction deals with over 250 corporations. Strayer contends that these partnerships benefit students through cheaper tuition and “targeted training.”
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