Thursday, June 29, 2006

Boundaries in Academia: Personal, Professional, Political, Spiritual? [with <1 minute of audio]

What are the ideal “boundaries” that should exist between “the professional,” “the personal,” “the political,” and "the spiritual"?
How can academics best integrate [or separate] their professional, personal, political, and spiritual lives?
In particular, is it possible for faculty who teach in ANY discipline to engage with their students beyond the narrowest definition of the purpose and content of a single course? Should they? Can they avoid doing so?
Is it only those who teach in the humanities who should expect to influence students’ lives beyond the classroom?
How does the changing role of information technology make any difference?

In the attached MP3 audio clip, Paul Lacey, Emeritus of Earlham College, responds briefly to the first questions.

For more info, questions for discussion, etc., from our beginning exploration of these boundaries see:

The most specific question emerging from my work in this area with Whitman College is:
“Can we establish a policy that students who send email to faculty between midnight and 6AM may not expect responses during that period?”
Email can easily pierce the veil between home and office. At Whitman and other colleges/universities where there is a longstanding commitment to encouraging frequent and significant communication between students and faculty, this can be a very mixed blessing.

From Earlham College Website <>: "It is worth acknowledging, in all humility, that, though there are many great, beautiful, noble callings for human beings — ministry, healing, protecting the powerless through the law, making art, music and literature, the most wonderful things that human beings are privileged to do — none of them is more valuable to the human race, to the future of the planet, or to our own souls, than the work of teaching."— Dr. Paul Lacey, Professor Emeritus of English, Earlham College

1 comment:

  1. I believe the success or failure of any such policy hinges on the expectations of the student, the teacher, and the institution. We make a lot of assumptions about communication on a daily basis, and I strongly believe that people either need to get thicker skin or you have to clearly draw up the boundaries so that everyone is on the same page. Frankly, having been an Earlham student myself, I favor the former; creating detailed guidelines about how teachers and students are to interact may avoid some conflict, may prevent some annoying emails at 3AM, but I believe such regulation would stifle what I would call the creative process of education. The experience shared between teacher and student is a dynamic one, and I think that the more rules you establish the more you hinder the organic relationship building that in my mind predicates all good teaching. I can't tell you the number of times as a student (not so much at Earlham) where I tuned out my instructors because there was no connection there for me.

    Of course, I'm not a total anarchist either. People agreeing on the nature of their interactions is a necessary part of how we relate to one antoher. Again, I think establishing expectations is the key. Perhaps the classroom might not be the place to discuss personal politics, but perhaps the class blog would be, or the Thursday night coffee shop get together. This isn't that different from most work places; you wouldn't break into a song about last night's episode of American Idol in the middle of a business meeting, but perhaps at the company lunch get together thing it would be appropriate for you to embarrass yourself in front of your peers.

    I would also mention again that both the teacher and the student are involved in this interaction, but also the institution that brought the two together. Earlham, for example, is a place founded on educating people on being people, not on subjects. To take away the dialogue, the open communication, the opportunity for abrasion, would defeat the vary core that makes Earlham such a special place, in my opinion. You can't hand a teacher a book explaining to them what they can and can not say and expect that not to affect their classroom. Instead, Earlham asks all students and faculty to agree to the Community Code, to agree to treat each other with respect. What a novel idea, eh? People who come to Earlham have to accept this essential precept and the culture of Earlham (at least when I was there) educates and evolves with each passing class what respect means and how students and faculty can interact meaningfully and caringly.

    No, maybe it doesn't always work out that way, but contention breeds discussion and discussion nourishes thought.

    I'm probably wandering at this point, so I'll try to wind up. Separating out the pieces that make us human and asking teachers to navigate the quagmire of political and spiritual correctness is in my opinion damaging to the overall education of the student as a person.

    I had the honor of having Paul Lacey for Poetry at Earlham, and while I never wrote him emails at 4AM demanding an immediate response, if I had I would have fully expected to receive the equivalent of a literary kick in the ass... probably in iambic pentameter.


What do you think?