Most historians agree that the Second Vatican Council marked an important time in world history. The Council provided a new direction in the Catholic Church, connecting the Church to the world and contemporary issues of society. Whether Catholic or not, religious or not, Vatican II helped define the social responsibility we all share in service to the Common Good. And fifty years later, the Council provides important lessons at a time when mutual respect, understanding and civility are less evident in all walks of life.
Last week I shared the first important lesson that can be drawn from Vatican II … the value of dialogue. While I am a great believer in the usefulness of most technology, the impersonal nature of e-mail and texting has replaced conversation. And I am not sure why we think there is a value in limiting ideas to 140 characters on a Twitter account. Dialogue typically requires face to face interaction, the sharing of thoughts, ideas, feelings and perspectives. Dialogue leads to relationships. Dialogue leads to understanding. Dialogue is open and welcoming. How did 2500 bishops reach the conclusions that led to the Vatican II documents? They talked to each other. They listened to each other. They agreed and they agreed to disagree in a spirit of mutual respect. They welcomed and embraced dialogue.
In his essay entitled, “Conversation Starters: Dialogue and Deliberation During Vatican II” (America, February 13, 2012), Richard Gaillardetz, the Joseph McCarthy Professor of Catholic Systematic Theology at Boston College, suggests that there are two additional important “dynamics” that are instructive. One he defines as “humble learning.” This lesson teaches us that no one has a monopoly on truth and knowledge. A bishop doesn’t become an expert upon ordination; a politician doesn’t become an expert upon election; and a CEO doesn’t become an expert upon appointment (not even a college president!).
According to Gaillardetz, and I fully agree, we must all become students and be open to lifelong learning. One of the most surprising and remarkable things that occurred in Vatican II was the willingness of so many world leaders to listen to others and understand that they needed to learn from colleagues who were more knowledgeable and more experienced. But even more, the bishops at Vatican II demonstrated an openness to learning not only from each other, but also from both the theologians and observers who were in attendance.
And this openness to learning required a demonstration of humility. Gaillardetz states it clearly when he writes about Christianity, “Christ, our teacher, showed impatience only toward those who were arrogant in their certitude.” Humility is neither a sign of weakness nor a lack of confidence. Rather it is a recognition of the value of others, an openness to learning and a respect for the opinions and ideas of others. This sentiment can be found in the Hebrew Scriptures (Micah 6:8: “…what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”) and in the writings of every religious tradition and ethical text. Justice, kindness and humility … wouldn’t that be an interesting paradigm for leadership.
The final lesson we can learn from Vatican II is inclusivity. In his essay, Gaillardetz discusses the value of “openness to the world.” He argues that Vatican II in general, and Pope John XXIII who oversaw the Council in specific, understood the value of “respectful yet critical engagement with the world.” While I think this is a critical lesson for the various religious organizations of the current times, it may be too limiting a perspective as we consider business, industry, government, etc.
To me the best way to translate this concept for broader applicability is to describe it in terms of the value of an inclusive approach. It seems to me that the dialogue is richer, more learning takes place, and the decisions are better with more voices not fewer. The lessons from Vatican II are more dialogue not less, a humble awareness that we can all learn more, and that divergent and varied views and perspectives can only help.
Too often when we look at political campaigns, Wall Street and our religious and civic leaders, we wonder why they act the way they do. We wonder why respectful disagreement looks more like disagreeable behavior. We wonder why difference of opinion seems to include ad hominem attacks. History can teach us important lessons. If we look back 50 years, we can learn a great deal from the process of the Second Vatican Council. And, you know, it wouldn’t hurt to re-read the documents, too!
(Your comments and ideas are always welcome.)
My knowledge of Vatican II is not first-hand. As a young adult in the early 1960’s, my interests were not focused on the conciliar activities in Rome, but rather on the challenges of being a Red Sox fan. As a student at Boston College in the early 1970’s, Vatican II was central to many of my Theology courses, but my focus was earning good grades and completing my degree.
My real education about this important three-year event came from a participant who attended every session of the Second Vatican Council, the late Bishop Aloysius J. Wycislo. Bishop Wycislo hired me in 1982 to become the Superintendent of Schools/Director of Education for the Green Bay Catholic Diocese. Until his retirement a few years later, we spent many hours together driving around the Diocese, attending events and meeting.
Bishop Wycislo enjoyed talking about Vatican II. First of all, he saw the Council as a defining moment in the history of the Church and the World. But as a man of great intellect and capacity, he also found the sessions of the Council stimulating and challenging. Finally, at a personal level, Vatican II had provided him with the opportunity for a great friendship to be formed. At some of the sessions, the bishops sat in alphabetical order. Bishop Wycislo of Green Bay sat next to Bishop Karol Wojtyla from Poland, who later became Pope John Paul II. Bishop Wycislo and Bishop Wojtyla spent a great deal of time together and their close friendship continued throughout the rest of their lives. Needless to say, the stories I heard about Vatican II were rich and colorful in many ways.
So what can we all learn from Vatican II? In a recent essay, Richard Gaillardetz, the Joseph McCarthy Professor of Catholic Systematic Theology at Boston College, provides a helpful perspective. He says that the first important lesson we can all learn is the value of dialogue. The Second Vatican Council was not conducted through the impersonal exchange of written documents. Rather, almost 2500 bishops, theologians and observers gathered in person for each of the four sessions. They were intentionally grouped in ways that encouraged interaction with leaders from other parts of the world holding varying perspectives and ideas. They lived together, socialized together, prayed together, celebrated together, and worked together
Gaillardetz argues that it was the extended opportunities for discussion and debate, face to face, formal and informal, that allowed for the richness of dialogue which led to the richness of the final documents. Gaillardetz words are poignant and instructive:
“The catholicity of dialogue evident at the council shines a harsh light on the situation of our church today. We seek to live our faith in a culture that has become increasingly uncivil. We too often encounter demonizing rhetoric on cable television, talk radio and in the blogosphere. Yet the council reminds us of the Christian obligation to respectful conversation with people whose views may differ markedly from our own. The conduct of the council teaches us that a precondition for genuine ecclesial discernment is the conviction that none of us individually has all the answers. We discover the guidance of the Spirit and penetrate the power and significance of God’s word through ecclesial conversation and the opportunity to interact with believers who offer us different insights, experiences and questions.”
The lesson learned regarding dialogue is important for a Church today that seems overly focused on power, authority and autocratic rule. But I would suggest that the value of open and inclusive dialogue and the importance of welcoming people and perspectives with differing experiences and ideas are valuable for improving the way we function in every aspect of our lives and society. Genuine dialogue would radically change the tenor of activities in government, business and industry and higher education. Genuine dialogue requires listening before speaking, And maybe, just maybe, it would lead to levels of collegiality and innovation so necessary in today’s world.
Next week … lessons #2 and #3.
(Your comments and ideas are always welcome.)
This week, I intend to share some perspectives about the professoriate. This may seem more of an inside the ivory tower topic, but I think there is actually relevance to the broader issues of employee satisfaction and career opportunities. I will be interested in your assessment.
I often refer to our college as a community of scholars and learners … faculty and students. The fact is that the intellectual capital of every college is its faculty. So when I saw the headlines, “Unhappy Associate Professors” and “Why Are Associate Professors So Unhappy?”, I was interested.
Furthermore, these articles described a study conducted by COACHE (the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education). COACHE is “a consortium of over 160 colleges, universities and systems across North America committed to making the academic workplace more attractive and equitable for faculty. Founded in 2002 with support from the Ford Foundation and Atlantic Philanthropies, COACHE is based at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and is now supported completely by its members.” Their most recent study included 13,510 professors at 69 four-year colleges and universities (public and private). Their studies are always well done and very informative.
For those unfamiliar with faculty ranks and career progression, most new faculty are hired as Assistant Professors. After six years on this track, professors are typically eligible to apply for tenure and promotion. Successful applicants are granted tenure and are promoted to the rank of Associate Professor. At some point in their future, they often apply for promotion to the rank of full Professor, the highest rank at most colleges and universities.
The process leading up to the application for tenure and promotion is challenging and stressful for most faculty. Denial of tenure means separation from the institution. The awarding of tenure and promotion is a great accomplishment bringing both recognition and security. So why are so many tenured, Associate Professors so unhappy?
According to this research, many of these mid-career faculty feel underappreciated and over worked. As they were progressing towards tenure, they were often supported through mentoring programs, reduced teaching assignments, fewer committee responsibilities, and support for their research. The three criteria for all faculty assessment are teaching, service and scholarship.
This report indicates a clear perception (if not a reality) that after faculty reach the point of tenure/Associate Professor, these special accommodations no longer exist and are replaced by additional teaching assignments and more committee responsibilities. Many are asked to serve in administrative positions in their programs, departments or schools. These faculty feel over extended. In addition, this reduces the available time for scholarly activity and professional development which are the keys to a successful application for full Professor.
Furthermore, many Associate Professors feel that they are “stuck.” They have little support to advance their careers and limited opportunities to move to another institution. Some refer to themselves as “terminal associates.”
The recommendations from COACHE are to develop programs that are focused on helping Associate Professors to advance their careers and prepare better for their applications to the rank of full Professor. Some institutions are providing more support for research, others are revising the criteria for achieving this rank to better recognize all of the valuable service to the institution by these faculty.
As I read this research, it strikes me that this situation is not unique to higher education. I suspect that the frustration for mid-career employees may be widespread. There are limited opportunities for advancement within an organization and limited opportunities to move to another organization which may be looking for entry level employees.
I would be interested in your comments and perspectives. Associate Professors are critical to the educational mission of every college and university. We need to do a better job of both recognition and support. Our faculty deserve this. Our students deserve this.
(Your comments and ideas are always welcome.)
In this way, colleges and universities will know better if their students are learning; they will know more clearly what and how they need to improve student achievement; and, this information will be available to students, parents and the greater community as decisions are made about college selection, funding and support.
A recent report from the New Leadership Alliance entitled, “Committing to Quality: Guidelines for Assessment and Accountability in Higher Education” provides some helpful parameters for creating a more credible assessment model and accountability system at colleges and universities. While none of these recommendations are radically different from the “best practices” approach to higher education, it should be required reading for all academic leaders and faculty.
The first guideline is to “set ambitious goals.” Colleges need to be clear about their learning objectives and state these goals clearly and publicly. There should be an explicit and logical connection between the learning goals of individual course, academic departments and the overarching institutional learning outcomes. These outcomes should be appropriate for the level of education and benchmarked against external standards from comparable institutions and accrediting bodies.
The second guideline is to “gather evidence of student learning.” Assessment of learning should be ongoing and conducted in a way that is objective and measureable. It should be integral to the teaching-learning process and measured against established standards of excellence and performance goals. Evidence should be gathered objectively and comprehensively. The purpose of gathering data is not to establish a ranking, but rather to develop strategies for improvement.
This leads to the third guideline which is to “use evidence to improve student learning.” Evidence of student learning does two things: it establishes both quality control and clarity regarding areas of needed improvement. Institutions need to have a continuous process of review, evaluation, change, assessment and reporting embedded in the life of the institution. Assessment is not a one time or periodic event. Assessment should be embedded in the life of the institution. And the foundation of all assessment is evidence.
The fourth and final recommendation is that institutions should “report evidence and results of student learning.” This reporting should include both the internal and external communities. More than transparency, this systematic reporting process models of the value of evidence based change and the commitment to quality improvement.
One should not conclude from this discussion that assessment and accountability are foreign concepts to colleges and universities. In fact, most institutions are dedicated to increased levels of assessment and transparency. But what is equally true is that assessment on most campuses occurs in independent ways and at varying levels of effectiveness. Furthermore, it is often held closely by the institution and not readily shared publicly or in ways that are easily understood.
The real value of this report is the call for an institution-wide program of assessment and accountability that is intentional, deliberative and comprehensive. Even more, every element of the educational experience should be connected to the overall institutional goals. Those who teach and lead these programs should understand both the learning objectives and the performance clearly. Those who attend these classes and participate in these activities should understand this as well.
When asked, “are our students learning?” … we should be ready and able to respond with a level of depth and detail. And we should always be aggressively committed to improvement. Our students deserve no less.
(Your comments and ideas are always welcome.)
With memories of Commencement still fresh in my mind, I have been thinking about many of the individual graduates who will be beginning their professional lives in the coming days. In some cases, I helped to advise them regarding a career choice or an employment opportunity. In other cases, I wrote a letter of recommendation or made a phone call as a reference. And in many cases, I simply listened to them speak about their professional goals and aspirations.
While I have great confidence in the quality and integrity of both our academic programs and co-curricular activities, I can’t help but wonder if these graduates are ready to embark on their careers. Their success will be dependent on their knowledge, their wisdom and their maturity … and, of course, the “fit” with their employers. My assessment of readiness is based on some obvious factors … GPA, list of activities, comments from faculty and staff, and my personal interactions. But in the end, how do we know if they are really ready?
Answering this question is the focus of a group called the New Leadership Alliance for Student Learning and Accountability. Since 2009, this group has focused its attention on the assessment of student learning and promoting both transparency and evidence based accountability. Simply said, colleges should be able to answer the question “How Do We Know?” with clear and objective evidence of student achievement rather than relying primarily on anecdotes and impressions.
A recent report from the New Leadership Alliance entitled, “Committing to Quality” provides some helpful guidelines to creating a more credible assessment model and accountability system at colleges and universities. While not all leaders in higher education, including many faculty organizations, agree with the Alliance’s recommendations, this movement towards evidence based assessment is a good thing.
An important element of the Alliance’s work is their advocacy that these efforts towards greater accountability be both voluntary and self-directed. The higher education community often bristles at the notion that federal or state governmental agencies will oversee quality control in higher education. Most colleges and universities welcome transparency and accountability. But the concern is that a national standard controlled by Washington is unlikely to be meaningful or effective. First, it suggests that one system of accountability will be relevant for the diverse and varied population of colleges and universities. Second, it assumes that large federal or state bureaucracies can and will be effective.
It is true that colleges and universities have not always provided clear and complete evidence of their efficacy. But if it is going to happen … and it should … the higher education community has to take both the lead and the responsibility.
The approach suggested by the Alliance makes a good deal of sense. Here is their approach:
“The New Leadership Alliance for Student Learning and Accountability leads and supports voluntary and cooperative efforts to move the higher education community toward gathering, reporting on, and using evidence to improve student learning in American undergraduate education.
The Alliance envisions a self-directed, professional higher education community that produces an increasing number of college graduates with high-quality degrees in preparation for work, life, and responsible citizenship.
Through the promotion of shared principles, recommended actions, and innovative initiatives, the Alliance aims to:
- Shape attitudes, practices, and policies related to gathering, reporting on, and using evidence to improve student learning.
- Promote the establishment of new professional norms for gathering, reporting on, and using evidence of student learning.
- Increase public confidence in the quality of undergraduate education provided by American colleges and universities.”
Are our students learning? How do we know? Next week I will share the Alliance’s guidelines and recommendations.