Welcome to the New Year

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The fall semester has started or perhaps exploded. All year students and families have been hesitant to commit to the year, traditional aged and adult students.  They have visited us more times than in past years, asked more questions, and presented more problems that needed solutions (often financial) before they could make the commitment to begin and in some cases to return.  We have had a blizzard of applications–in all of our programs and program levels in the last six or seven weeks.  The last ones are registering for courses now.  Never have we seen it all come together so late in the year, with so many hurdles for students, and with such fear and anxiety.

We are finishing the first week; we’ve had our opening class sessions, and president’s convocation. Students are finalizing their financial aid arrangements, makings sure their schedules are leading them toward graduation.  Books have been acquired and some papers have already been written (I will grade some this weekend!).

All of this has reminded me of the necessity of keeping the process and requirements (the bureaucracy) simple and practical, and of the need to translate sometimes technical “educationese” into common sense, everyday speech. We have been working hard at this.

The same goes for teaching.  Like my faculty colleagues, I am back in the classroom, and learning again that the art of teaching is really about communicating, one person and mind to another.  Today we might emphasize the whole person, and their multiple forms of intelligence, and rightly so. But this week I was reminded of how difficult thinking and learning is, how much energy it takes, and how often we try to avoid it.

In teaching we have to translate the technical language of a subject into the common sense language the student brings with them, then initiate them into the technical language and the purpose it serves and into the process of re-translation back into everyday experience and speech. In my ethics class I found myself illustrating “consequences” of actions, whether “intentional” or “unintentional,” and whether with full knowledge or in ignorance.  Then we had to consider fairness or justice in practical and abstract senses, and how a person might or might not develop in ethical awareness given those consequences.  This can be hard going, but with the help of  practical common sense examples and cases students made the jump from one to the other, and we are off on the exploration of ethics as it applies to business (and yes, for the skeptics, it does apply).

As we at Fresno Pacific rise up out of the chaos that our economy had blasted into all of our work this year, as the wind of anxiety and frustration dies down, we will settle into our studies, faculty and students like.  We think that education is best done in a community of trust where we work together in the exploration of a subject or field of study and its interaction with multiple other subjects and fields (we call this interdisciplinary study).  It keeps all of us in contact with the issues, problems and mysteries that present themselves in our daily lives, and in the broader world.  We attempt to overcome the isolation of pure individualism and of a narrowly segregated curriculum.  Faith, reason, and experience all have their place, the Biblical scholar, the historian, and the scientist, for example, and often their place is in a common space where we witness a fruitful interaction.  Students, we think, leave with a rich education.

We wouldn’t ask for the last year over again…ever.  It has been the toughest I have experienced in more than 25 years at it.  We still have a lot of work to do. But students have returned enthusiastic and ready. Enrollment is strong. The staff  throughout the university (at all our campuses) has been working hard and with a good spirit to bring it all together.  The faculty are working at the communication that is teaching and learning.  I’m going to take some time to read and think about some of those problems and mysteries, and how to communicate them. We can’t ask for a lot more.

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