Educational oddities

  1. In defense of the Commuter College
  2. Piling original contributions high and deep
  3. Post-Vatican II theology follies

1

When I saw the title 30 More Years of Rootless Professors, I thought “rootless” would be a metaphor for lack of grounding in the Great Books and other despised, but precious nonetheless, influences of Dead White Males. But it turns out to be, as I should have anticipated from Front Porch Republic, more geographic than ideological rootlessness:

Rooted, and especially native professors, continue to face the most naked forms of discrimination. In academe, the term “national search” is taken as a point of perverse pride, a measure of ultimate, discernment, and a litmus test of serious-minded dedication to quality. If the tenure-track search is important, you can bet it will be “national,” which is to say international in a world of transglobal scholars and scholarship. The assumption here is an especially pernicious one, as it implies the necessity of going outside the university’s home region to find an applicant worthy of the job. And yet strangely, the same members of the search committee who sanctimoniously preferred the national or transnational scholar over the local one can predictably be found at the community farmers’ market on Saturday morning, where they consider procurement of the local or regional as the gold standard and a byproduct of both benevolent liberal education and conscientious consumerism.

It’s a valid point, from my perspective and from that of my religious tradition, that our professional geographic mobility would distort the soul. I just had not thought about the extension of that into the university context.

2

I am reminded again, before I leave the topic of education, how utterly pernicious it is in the area of theology to require for a doctorate some original contribution to the discipline.

Could anyone devise a better way of multiplying heresies, and of heavily investing our clerisy in their respective heresies, than requiring invention (nobody’s going to discover anything about God in a sense of “discover” that will pass academic muster) of a theological novelty followed by a few years intensely devoted to defending the thesis?

Do we expect our pastors and seminary teachers after that to say “I was just joshin'”? If we think it is “just joshin’,” and we require it merely to limit the supply of accredited theologians, why don’t we shorten the process by just devising some weekend or month-long physical ordeal as the price of admission? Dare I say we’d be better served by bravery than sustained, disingenuous cleverness?

3

Pope Francis called for dialog in his Encyclical Laudato Si. (Remember that? It was the phenom before Obergefel.) R.R. Reno writes what for my money is one of the best popular (i.e., accessible by people who aren’t busy joshin’ in the theology departments) and respectful critiques, one paragraph of which extends my thread today:

After Vatican II, the intellectual life of the Church was profoundly affected by the Great Disruption. The old scholastic systems were superseded by a wide variety of experimental theologies. I don’t gainsay the need for and value of some of those experiments. But we can’t deny the debilitating consequences. The theological formation of church leaders became eclectic at best, incoherent at worst. This has especially been true in the area of social justice. In that domain, which came to the fore after the council, the urgent need to advocate has often overwhelmed the need for patient, disciplined reflection. We see exactly this dynamic in Laudato Si.

(Underlining added)

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“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.