Current Issues

The ethos of our online academic team

Posted on January 3, 2014

Greg Fowler, the chief academic officer for the College of Online and Continuing Education, followed up on the Slate article and my blog post regarding it with an email to his academic team.

It captures well our ethos.  And he manages to get Christian Laettner and Yevtushenko into the same memo.  I asked him to let me share it here:


I am sharing Paul’s response to the Slate article here:

As the new year starts, it seems a good time to set our course by letting you know a little of how I think about these things

Let me paraphrase and expand upon something that really struck home with me when I read it some time ago.  Education is not a product.  It is not a fish that can be returned, stolen, taken away, or once consumed, leaves no mark that can be detected later. (hence the Chinese proverb.  “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish. Feed him for a lifetime”).  But education is also not a privilege, whose value is in its exclusivity, or its ability to further divide men into those who have it and those who don’t.  Education is a promise—that by doing the things we ask, making the sacrifices we require, you (the student) will change you and your entire life in a way that can never be reversed or stolen, regardless of whether you have a job (a current important metric, but not IMHO, the most important one) or not.

This is what Paul means in his presentations this year when he compares himself as a child with his family now and says that the line between those two life points is education. And when we academicians are honest education institutions have not always done a very good job at measuring whether we have had the transformative impact that we profess.  Universities have gotten very good at research, and some have gotten very good at entertainment, and some have even gotten very good at ushering students through enough to present them with the piece of paper called a degree, but our role as the academic team here is to build a learning environment that will change lives, the very essence of who other human beings are, how they see themselves, and the world around them.  Whether they are 18 or 81, this is the unifying aspect of education.  A number of you have heard me quote the poet Yevtushenko, who references people not simply as individuals but as entire worlds of experiences—tears, joys, memories, dreams—and we are responsible for changing the very nature of those worlds. Few other professions—medicine, maybe religion — and NO product maker, base their success on such criteria.  We all work very hard to make sure that we create an experience for students that leaves them forever changed for the better.

So don’t let manipulated phrases like “faculty are just content deliverers” or “cookie cutter courses” derail you from why we are all here. When we say students are customers I hope you know that we mean we have a responsibility to them not because they pay us but because they trust us with something they come to us not even quite knowing how to define but knowing they need. And as all of you have been witness to over the time we have been here our endeavors here are most certainly not simply about revenue. Nor is success simply defined by whether a student got a good grade.  Everything, the emphasis on academic quality and outcomes, the funds dedicated to making sure you have the resources you need, your personal and professional development, contradicts the naysayers.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give you at least one of my parents’ phrases in this: there are three types of people in the world—those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who don’t know WTF is going on (ok the WTF was my own insertion).  Education is undergoing change similar to the Industrial Revolution right now, and we are a part of that conversation, a group at the table that is impacting the change.  It comes with a lot of crap, including that No Man’s Land feeling sometimes, but I choose that any time over just sitting on the bench. There are two seconds left on the clock of the NCAA Basketball Championship.  You are Christian Laettner, and the ball is coming your way. Let’s make sure that they are talking about what we do here long after we are gone.

Now—back to work.  We have a term start about to happen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *