Reflection: Higher Education and the Public

by Eric Bain-Selbo

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.

Editors’ Note: This essay is the second in a series of pieces reflecting 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.

First, I certainly felt like everyone agreed that there is a gap between what the public thinks of higher education (for example, a credentialing service that helps to prepare young people to make money) and what academics think of higher education (for example, educating for life-long learning, the production of knowledge, preparation for active citizenship, etc.).

Second, I think there was agreement that the blame for this gap (if, in fact, someone or some group should be considered blameworthy) is not simply the public—that, in fact, both sides are responsible for the gap. For example, one of the reasons that the public might think of higher education as merely a credentialing service for future income is that those of us in higher education have sold what we do in exactly that way: think of the famous and often-cited statistic that college graduates will make a million dollars more over their lifetimes than non-college graduates. There also seemed to be a general recognition that even though higher education is an unusual business, it still is a business of sorts. Academics often fool themselves into thinking that higher education is somehow outside the “real world,” but they could serve themselves well by learning more about the financing and fiscal realities of higher education. A deeper understanding of the “business” of higher education might allow academics to understand better the public’s perspective.

Third, while there certainly was a fair amount of frustration about the gap between the public and academics, I did not sense hopelessness. Participants believed that those of us in higher education could do something to address the gap. In particular, we need to do a better job of providing a more compelling narrative about higher education (including historical perspective and data)—particularly with regard to its public goods and not just its private goods. Participants also recognized that part of their work must be with students—particularly helping them understand and articulate what they are learning beyond the specific content of courses. In many ways, our graduates should become the most effective ambassadors for a more robust public understanding of higher education.

In short, I was heartened by the enthusiasm and commitment of the participants. I also thought that the kind of conversation we had would be one worth continuing at future professional meetings but especially on campuses across the country.

 

 

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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?

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To Break Through the Ivory Tower’s Glass Ceiling, Let’s Monetize Service to the University

by Art Remillard Saint Francis University.

Teaching, scholarship, and service—the “holy trinity” of a professor’s professional life. When it comes time for tenure and promotion, the final decision hinges entirely on these three areas. To be sure, the weight given to each category differs from place to place. Research and teaching institutions respectively prioritize scholarly output and classroom competence. Irrespective of the setting, though, professors have at their disposal tangible artifacts to demonstrate their effectiveness in either domain, from books and articles to student evaluations and classroom observations from their colleagues.

When it comes to service, though, things get hazy—especially when it’s university-related work. This category gets reduced to a mere list of committees, searches, and assorted administrative tasks. Accordingly, much like the Supreme Court’s infamous definition of pornography, those reviewing these lists assume that they know a sufficient service record when they see it. Continue reading