“Plays Well with Others”: Can Games Achieve Learning Outcomes?

By Melanie A. Howard, who is an Assistant Professor of Biblical and Religious Studies at Fresno Pacific University where she teaches New Testament courses. Her doctoral research at Princeton Theological Seminary studied the portrayal of mothers in the Gospel of Mark, and her current research engages questions of how the Gospel texts might be read from feminist and disability-studies perspectives

“Let’s kill Jesus!”

Such words are not often heard from evangelical students at Christian colleges, and such playfulness is not usually associated with the sort of serious academic encounters that are expected in higher education. Yet, I listen to my devoutly religious students utter words like these every semester in the context of “The Jesus Game,” an elaborate role-playing game in which students encounter the familiar story of the Gospel of Matthew in a new light. Continue reading

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Higher Education and the Public

By Eric Bain-Selbo & Katherine Jo

Eric Bain-Selbo is Dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Indiana University-Kokomo. He also is the Executive Director of the Society for Values in Higher Education. His research spans across the disciplines of philosophy and religious studies, focusing primarily on social ethics, political philosophy, comparative religion, cultural criticism, and issues in higher education.

Katherine Jo is a doctoral student specializing in Philosophy of Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research focuses on the ethical dimensions of liberal learning and the roles and responsibilities of teachers in students’ ethical development, particularly in higher education.

Editors’ Note: For the next three weeks, we will be publishing pieces that reflect on a 2017 AACU seminar entitled “An Unbridgeable Gap? Challenges and Opportunities in Restoring Public Trust.” This session engaged some important questions about the perception of Higher Education among various stakeholders. We hope you enjoy the sustained conversation.

For the last several years, the Society for Values in Higher Education has sponsored a seminar session at the annual meeting of the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AACU). We have explored topics such as the role of higher education in the moral development of students, the implications of free college tuition, the pedagogy of “wicked problems,” and many more. At the 2017 AACU meeting, we facilitated a seminar entitled “An Unbridgeable Gap? Challenges and Opportunities in Restoring Public Trust.”

Our proposal (co-authored along with D. Gregory Sapp) described the session this way:

Skyrocketing tuition increases and a soft job market for college graduates have led to increasing public skepticism regarding higher education. Such skepticism has encouraged state legislators to continue to slash financial support for higher education. The loss of financial support leads to further tuition increases. What we have is a vicious cycle of skepticism and economic exigency (both for institutions and for students and their families) that leads to public distrust of higher education. If there is any hope of restoring significant public trust in higher education, academics and the public must have a “meeting of the minds” in regard to the purpose or value of higher education. The facilitators will lead a conversation about what we as academics value in higher education (particularly liberal education) and how to bridge the gap between what we value and what the public expects.

Approximately 25 faculty members, administrators, and even a higher education reporter joined us for an engaging conversation. We decided to structure the conversation around a special issue of The Chronicle Review from November 11, 2016. That special issue was looking at various questions about the central problems facing higher education today. Higher education experts and leaders answered the questions in short responses (no more than a sentence or two). We were particularly interested in two questions that seemed relevant to the perception and/or value gap between higher education and the public: What is the biggest misconception the public has about higher education? What is the biggest misconception that academics have about higher education?

Continue reading

Aftermath

Allen Dunn, Professor of English, University of Tennessee

I live in a Republican state, but the campus of the University of Tennessee where I teach and the surrounding areas in the city of Knoxville are an island of blue in a sea of red. In the recent election, faculty here (like elsewhere in America) seemed to vote overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But the campus was hardly unanimous in its support of Clinton. Although there is no exact data available on the way various segments of the campus community voted, ample anecdotal evidence indicates that the split between Clinton and Trump voters followed familiar demographic lines.

Many of the staff fit the well-publicized profile of the Trump voter: they are predominantly white members of the working class, some with salaries that are barely adequate to their financial needs. In general, their lives have been little affected by the improving economy. In the past, staff jobs were at least a stable and predictable source of employment, but recently the Republican state government has endorsed a plan to outsource many of these jobs. If this plan is implemented, it will likely mean that some will lose their jobs to employees of private companies. Some of those who retain their jobs with the University are likely to have their hours cut, and some might lose health and retirement benefits. The controversy over outsourcing has been in the news, and job security has been a constant topic of conversation among the staff. To complete the profile: most of the staff were born here in Tennessee and embrace some form of Evangelical Christianity; many of these voters will support a candidate only if that candidate opposes legal abortion.

By comparison, the faculty are, not surprisingly, more affluent, making salaries two or three times those made by the staff. In an era when financial exigency can eliminate entire academic departments with the stroke of a pen, not even tenured faculty have the employment security that they once did; however, with the notable exception of lecturers, faculty jobs seem comparatively safe compared to staff jobs. Here, as in most universities, the majority of the faculty is hired from out of state, and their academic community includes those who teach in other universities across the nation and the world. Those faculty members who profess religion are likely to belong to a liberal protestant denomination. To the outsider, at least, they would seem to fit the profile of the liberal cosmopolitan intellectual.

Of course, these profiles are the thinnest of stereotypes: not all faculty were Clinton supporters, and not all staff voted for Trump. Furthermore, it would be insulting and unfair to assume that a particular person’s vote is nothing more than a reflection of her socioeconomic background, to assume, that is, that it does not reflect deliberation shaped by commitments to a system of values. Yet, in the wake of the election, these thin stereotypes came to mark what seemed like an unbridgeable gap. Before the election, faculty and staff worked together as a cohesive community, and these differences seemed trivial and easy to ignore. In the aftermath of the voting, what had been a cohesive community was suddenly divided. Friendships between faculty and staff were shaken; the common purpose that had united us became somehow more abstract and less tangible. The day after the election, a group of demonstrators gathered in front of the library chanting “not my president,” while a small group of Trump supporters chanted “U-S-A.” People in the surrounding office buildings looked on in silence, not wanting to risk a political discussion.

Life on campus is now beginning to return to a pre-election normal, but we have yet to come to terms with what the election revealed. Faculty have been proactive in speaking out against the rise in hate speech that followed the election, and many have volunteered to work in the Campus Pride Center where LGBT students and other minorities can find support. United Campus Workers, the local union, is planning a teach-in against the outsourcing of campus jobs. Meanwhile, former Clinton supporters are scrolling through a diminished list of political options. These are all important steps for those on the left who are navigating the new post-election political landscape, but they don’t address many of the fundamental differences that divide this campus and the nation. At the moment, emotions here are still too raw and civility too precious to risk revisiting the political and social differences that divide us. It is not clear when or if this will change, but any hope for a future political transformation in this country depends upon bridging this gap.