Written by Loren Logsdon
Wednesday, 02 October 2013 00:00
I was aware of another cruel dimension of status elitism at Western. With some people there was a sharp distinction between the Ph.D. and the Ed.D. The Ph.D. was considered vastly superior to the Ed.D, which was the abbreviation for the doctorate in Education. Since I taught several extension courses at Western and the English and Education departments offered many of those courses, I often traveled with education professors to the extension centers, primarily in the Quad Cities. I quickly learned that the education professors felt they were considered second class citizens by the Ph.Ds. No matter how intelligent or scholarly an Ed.D. was, no matter how well read he or she was, no matter his or her reputation as an excellent teacher, the person with an Ed.D was automatically inferior to a person with a Ph.D. It was simply a snobbish matter of elitism at its worst.
Then there was status within the ranks of the doctorate. An Ivy League doctorate was at the top of the status ladder, then the big California schools, then the Big Ten, and after that the other schools that offered the doctorate. What got lost in this excessive degree consciousness was the character, personality, collegiality, and teaching ability of the individual person. These did not matter. All that counted was the prestige of the degree-granting institution. This situation was not unique to Western, but rather typical of the large state universities.
At one point at Western, the chairman of the English Department set in place a hiring policy that at first I thought was healthy. He wanted to hire doctorates from as many different graduate schools as possible in order to respect the principle of academic diversity. He wanted a department that was high powered and cosmopolitan. He succeeded, but with one major problem. We ended up with about three or four people who were poor teachers, people who were effective at research and scholarly publication, but who should have never been allowed in the classroom. They just did not know how to teach and were unwilling to learn. The problem was magnified when we had several fine instructors who could teach circles around many people with the doctorate. Because the instructors did not have a doctorate, they had to leave after a few years, and those people with the doctorate were given tenure. That would never have happened at Eureka College, where the emphasis was balanced on academic credentials and effectiveness in teaching.
Sometimes I dream that I have been given the authority and responsibility to hire faculty to start a new college. In the dream I have a free hand to hire whomever I choose after I establish the hiring criteria. My first criterion would be Ralph Waldo Emerson’s statement that “Character is higher than intellect.” As Emerson explained, intellect is a function of character. Second, I would place great value on one’s scholarly state of mind—one’s openness to different perspectives and one’s willingness to listen respectfully to one’s colleagues, to engage in civilized dialogue, and to question everything, even the ideas one holds most dear. Then I would consider one’s collegiality—the “people skills” that enable faculty to achieve excellence in the classroom as well as work cooperatively with colleagues for the higher academic good. Then I would look for those qualities that I found in the finest teachers with whom I have studied: enthusiasm, love of subject, fairness to students and colleagues, and, above all, a generosity of spirit that can inspire and enrich the learning environment for the entire community.
If status is to be truly meaningful, think on these things.
To be continued
Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 October 2013 14:56