The English Department, the Honors College, the College of Fine Arts, and the College of Sciences and Humanities are co-sponsoring a visit from the Cincinnati Shakespeare Company. They will be performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Wednesday, October 2nd at 7:30pm in Pruis Hall. The peformance is free and open to the public.
When Dr. Riddle asked me to take the lead on putting together the inaugural group of speakers for the Marilyn K. Cory Speakers Series for the 2013-2014 year, I was thrilled. Then freaked out. Then back to thrilled. I asked for input from faculty members and students. I buttonholed people in the hallways and asked them again. Lindsey Vesperry (a graduate student in the department) and I sent roughly 958 emails to potential speakers, to authors’ agents, and to each other trying to figure out what might work.
Well, we figured something out, and I’m really excited to tell you about it. This year’s series is organized around Graphic Narratives and Comic Books, and we’re bringing in speakers from all over the place to talk about them.
In the latest installment of our Recommended Reads series, Dr. Paul Ranieri recommends College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be by Andrew Delbanco.
Andrew Delbanco does not want College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be (Princeton UP, 2012) to be seen as another one of those “jeremiads” about contemporary higher education, liberal education, and the humanities: “I have been reluctant . . . to join the hue and cry that the condition of our colleges is dire” (4), he notes early in his “Introduction.” Writing from the perspective of three decades as a college teacher, most recently at Columbia University, Delbanco draws a sharp historical distinction between the “college” (“about transmitting knowledge of and from the past to undergraduate students so they may draw upon it as a living resource in the future”) and the “university” (“mainly an array of research activities conducted by faculty and graduate students with the aim of creating new knowledge in order to supersede the past”) (2), lamenting the effect of the latter on the former, as one by one colleges have been “bitten by the bug of university aspiration” (81).
Delbanco reviews in three chapters the history of such changes on the traditional colleges and the parallel changes in the student population over the same period. However, his heart clearly lies in his analysis of what college used to and should be for, and his discussion of what the experience of higher education has become and what our response now might be.
His argument centers on this sentence: “”Missing from both tellings [i.e., whether changes from “college” to “university” should be characterized as “modernization” or “disintegration”] is the fact that relatively little of this story has been driven by reflective consideration of what’s best for college students” (85). The contemporary university, he feels, must strive for both “specialized expert training” (102) and the “qualities of mind and heart requisite for reflective citizenship” (3), though American higher education has “struggled to maintain this dialectic” (103).
Delbanco acknowledges that the era of spiritual authority belonging to colleges is long gone, but that does not absolve contemporary higher education from showing students “how to think and how to choose” (15). College should be “an aid to reflection, a place and process whereby young people take stock of their talents and passions and begin to sort out their lives in a way that is true to themselves and responsible to others” (15-16). Such learning, however, now runs counter to the “progressive power of science . . . one of the astonishing achievements of human civilization” (94). Unfortunately, because science values knowledge that is incremental and accretive, it can “demonstrate progress—an ability of inestimable value in a culture that has always been more forward-looking than retrospective” (94). And, demonstrating progress means that it competes better for resources, can show a connection to technological advances, and thus exhibit a “’return’ on public and private investment in higher education” (95). “This way of evaluating the worth of knowledge . . . poses a severe challenge to the humanities—at least to the extent that humanists remain concerned with preserving truth by rearticulating it rather than advancing truth by discarding the old in favor of the new” (94-95).
On a deeper level, Delbanco regrets the unintended effect, what he calls the “dark side,” of meritocracy (139). Contemporary leadership no longer counts “self-doubt and self-criticism among the virtues of a genuinely educated person” (134). That loss of humility and the rise in a sense of their own importance leads educated leaders today to a loss of “sympathy with the people they govern” (134).
These two factors—the expansive power of scientific thinking and the loss of self-doubt and humility among leaders—combined with problems of scale and the “explosion of specialized knowledge’ (89) severely strain any dialectic between the competing demands of the “university” and the “college.”
For Delbanco, “If good things are going to happen to students, faculty must care, not only because this is the precondition of good teaching, but because, with a few minor exceptions such as teaching awards or, occasionally, supplementary pay for teaching certain required courses, the proffered rewards of academic life—promotions, raises, leaves—have nothing to do with demonstrated concern for students” (166).
I wish Delbanco had pursued specifically how this teaching of caring and questioning, of thinking and choosing, runs counter to a “university” culture of accumulating knowledge, science, and demonstrable progress.
For me, such teaching begins with a student’s mind confronting the world, a confrontation teachers cannot “teach,” “lecture,” or “assess” into existence. Teachers can model, mentor, and guide, usually by discussing with, listening to, and reading what their students express, but ultimately such learning can only be known in the way students live their lives. Institutions of higher education do little to support, seek to understand, or even elicit respect for such learning. Delbanco’s “dialectic” can be revived only by acknowledging that sober fact.
This past summer, Ball State undergraduate student Anna Kate Hartwick took her skills to LA for an internship at Rainn Wilson’s production company, SoulPancake, where she worked closely with the company’s employees and with celebrities featured in their videos. In the following post, Anna describes her experiences and how her education as a Telecommunications major and Creative Writing minor helped her while there.
“How would I describe myself? Three words: hard working, alpha male, jackhammer…merciless…insatiable…” –Dwight Schrute
When people ask me how I spent my summer, it’s easy to tell them I moved to Los Angeles and worked for a production company called SoulPancake. They giggle at the name, and ask what I did there. I try to summarize three months of grueling hard (but awesome) work in a few sentences. Then, I quickly wrap up the conversation and move along with my busy day. Sometimes I tell them my boss was Rainn Wilson, and usually they don’t blink an eye. They sip their coffee, tell me they’re happy I made the leap to discover the wonders of Hollywood, congratulate me on all my hard work, and eventually forget we had the conversation. But, if I have a few moments to spare, I’ll speak in a language almost every television-lover in America will understand. “You know Dwight Schrute, from NBC’s The Office? Yeah… um… he was my boss.”
This past July, Midwest Writers Workshop (MWW) gathered for their annual conference at Ball State University. Through the help of a grant from the Discovery Group, many Ball State students had the pleasure of attending this conference as scholarship winners and paid interns. Brittany Means, one of the attending students, received the award for best poetry manuscript, as well as for best overall manuscript and a $200 cash award! Click the link below to read Cathy Day’s post on her involvement and experience with the MWW.
In the latest installment of our Recommended Reads series, Dr. Habich recommends The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt.
Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (W. W. Norton, 2011) may seem an unlikely recommendation from someone whose academic interests place him pretty firmly in an American, nineteenth-century, Transcendental sandbox. A Renaissance scholar most recently noted for Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare (2005), Greenblatt recounts in The Swerve the discovery in 1417 of the lost manuscript of the Roman poet Lucretius’s De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things) and its effects upon Western thinking. Lucretius was no poet alone; he was a revolutionary philosopher and scientist who, in a sweeping subversion of what we would now call “intelligent design,” posited a world of randomly colliding particles (we would now call them atoms) where chance was king, prayer was a waste of time, obedience to higher authority was pointless, and pleasure was legitimized. Suppressed for over a thousand years, first by anti-Epicurean Romans, then by early Christians, and finally by a power-hungry Papacy, De rerum natura was rediscovered in a monastery in southern Germany by a wandering book hunter and former papal insider named Poggio Bracciolini, who had it transcribed and distributed just at the beginning of what we now call the humanistic revolution of the Renaissance. Continue reading
The Department of English Graduate Programs Office will be holding their first on-campus information session on Saturday, September 14, 2013 for those individuals seeking additional information about the graduate programs offered in English. To read previous posts from graduate program alumni, see posts by Alex Wenning and Sarah Smith-Robbins.
Register today at www.bsu.edu/english/graduate.
The Writing Program’s First Friday Series for composition instructors is back. Join us this Friday, September 6, for a presentation by Nicki Litherland Baker about helping students answer their own research questions—using their own data. Along with suggested readings, semester layout, and assignment descriptions, Nicki will show student work as well as preliminary results of a course efficacy study of her own ENG 104 classes. Remember to bring a laptop or a tablet to access files for better viewing. See you this Friday in the Schwartz Digital Complex in Bracken Library at 1 PM.
In a post earlier this year, we announced the Writing Program Contest winners. The Ball State Writing Program hosts a writing contest each semester to promote the best student writing. Any project composed for a Writing Program course (ENG 101/102, ENG 103, ENG 104, or ENG 114) is eligible for the contest. Winning submissions not only receive monetary prizes but also are published in a future edition of BallPoint, Ball State’s writing handbook. Recently, Elisabeth Buck, Writing Program Graduate Assistant Director, interviewed Evan Neace, a Fall 2012 Writing Program Contest Winner. Read below to find out about more Evan and his growth as a writer.