Academia and humility go hand-in-hand like political science and business. Like department heads and continuing ed. Like tenured faculty and constructive criticism. Ego drives short- and long-term decisions at Elizabethtown College in a most unproductive fashion. Professors are proud of their work, their accomplishments, and sometimes even their department, and the grumbling heads atop Alpha are proud of all they look down upon, often rightfully so.
However, the walkways that connect Steinman and Nicarry are rarely enjoyed by professors of either building. The triumphant whistle of brash creativity keeps the Hooverites out of Zug. Memories of locker room swirlies and long division ensure employees from Masters and Athletics never cross paths. Rumors of haunted hallways, Ph.Ds in English, and religious academics keep everyone else out of Wenger. But overplayed stigmas aside, isn’t there a better way? As we push forward to become a truer liberal arts institution, promoting “Learning Everywhere” in every piece of Strategic Planning literature we print, the College needs to do a better job of engulfing its faculty in this very same principle, ensuring academic cooperation from all departments toward a singular goal of a premier student education.
In the U.S. (and on Etown’s campus) the undergraduate business degree is by far the most popular route for wannabe graduates. According to the Wall Street Journal, business degrees do not focus enough on distinctive traits of a liberal arts education. They do not develop writing or critical thinking skills in their students, and it’s beginning to show.
However, Etown has an answer for this problem: a course entitled “Business and Public Relations Writing,” taught by an English department faculty member, which is “…designed to strengthen each student’s competence and confidence in business communication” according to the most recent college catalog. But this course is not required of business majors of any concentration, and does not even show up on the business department’s website, which instead features “Writing and Analyzing the Short Story” as an example of a writing intensive class students can take.
As staff members of the College’s student newspaper, we are certainly influenced by a bias when we say the majority of Etown’s students simply do not know how to write. However, it is considered one of the most sought-after skills by companies for new recruits, and we have to say, it takes precedence over watching movies in common core classes. Because the real way that things work has a lot less to do with learning rudimentary physics taught by a recorded PBS special, and quite a bit more to do with the ability to communicate the ideas, theories and experiences you have learned while in college — something Etown falls tragically short on teaching.
Look at the zealous double majors who attempt to get the most out of their Etown experience. Students with this mindset have to juggle the core courses that a liberal arts institution requires of them, as well as a faculty adviser from each department creating a four-year plan for the bewildered learner with their own courses at the forefront. However, the advisers in these two departments are never required to exchange as much as an email, let alone meet to discuss the academic future of their student. For us to become a recognized institution, we need to mandate that the student be the primary concern for our faculty and staff. There is no logical reason why an ambitious student should be turned away from pursuing numerous interests because of disparate messages thrown at them from neighboring departments. Let’s require one advising session a semester for these engaged pupils that brings together the student’s advisers from both departments, allowing the faculty members to actively discuss and contribute to the plans set forth, and subscribe to this notion of cooperative learning in academia.
Sadly, there are scores of other examples of how a more interdisciplinary environment and a humble, social faculty would better the overall institution. This includes helping the students connect their social and academic lives (sports medicine classes, perhaps), to improving the College’s standing (the Wall Street Journal recognized small schools simply for requiring other departments’ courses to complete a major), and even saving the school some money (there is currently a corporate communications advertising class that works off the same textbook as another advertising class for marketing concentrations). However, the College needs to recognize that the way to set itself apart is by working together, and to engage its employees in a cooperative learning environment that shifts “Learning Everywhere” from a gaunt campaign to an axiom of which the community can be proud.