Reclaiming the Ideals of Academia: A Reflection from the Lewis and Friends Colloquium

20160602_195413I just spent a very refreshing weekend in the good company of friends and colleagues at Taylor University’s Lewis and Friends Colloquium (June 2-5). I’ve been to various conferences in the past relating to the Wade authors, but upon reflection what made this one memorable was two main qualities:

  1. The level of scholarship in the presentations
  2. The camaraderie & collegiality of the participants

If you look at the speaker list then #1 is no surprise! However I want to focus on #2, which in my estimation is far more difficult to achieve in any group setting as it requires “buy in” from all in attendance, and a conducive atmosphere in which to flourish. Let me back up a little here to explain why I find this quality such a refreshing attribute.

Academia is, to put it mildly, a challenging world and certainly not for the faint of heart. Experts in their fields are honed to be the best they can be, which can lead to extreme levels of competition to get into the best programs, retain prestigious mentors, maintain GPA, land the desired internships / post-docs, and ultimately clench the best job positions and secure tenure. The levels of stress to simply survive in this kind of climate are off the chart for a great many people, and it’s also a climate where unkindness can flourish.

Through my educational career I’ve heard (and seen) stories unfold in the jungle of academia that have made my blood run cold.

Real Examples:

  • An adviser stealing 75% of the income from their teaching assistant and spending it on travelling or other extraneous expenses.
  • A master’s thesis denied from passing because one adviser had a grudge against another adviser (nothing to do with the student who wrote the thesis)
  • Work stolen and claimed to be the work of another person
  • A display damaged by a jealous colleague to reflect poorly on the designer
  • False accusations to sully reputations

On some of my less-optimistic days walking among academic buildings with quotes written in stone proclaiming the pursuit of truth, illumination, morality, wisdom, and religion; I’ve wondered how many people on those campuses still followed such lofty ideals. Of course these instances of pettiness and cruelty are not unique to academia; they are the cancer of humanity in a broken world and can be found everywhere. It is disheartening, however, to ponder what academia claims to exist for and how far it often falls from that standard.

AngellHall

I will also hasten to add that for all the sad examples listed above, I’ve also encountered some of the most humble, servant-hearted, incredible people along my academic path, for whom I will forever remain grateful. The difference? In a world that trains you to shout: “I am the best!” these fine people are still motivated to:

  • Put others first through quality teaching and mentoring along with self-sacrificing acts of service
  • Truly love and want to forward their discipline through good scholarship and raising the next generation of scholars
  • Be good listeners along with deep, discerning, and honest intellectual rigor

Now let’s get back to what I witnessed at the Taylor Colloquium last weekend. Academic professionals from across the US and a handful of international locales descended on Upland, IN to give and attend talks of scholarship and have rigorous intellectual discussions, but were also actively engaged in laughing together, having sing-alongs and amateur drama, and above all befriending and encouraging all those present, be they a scholar, a student, or a local enthusiast. In our world which is currently so ready to react with anger and alienation where thoughts and opinions differ, there is a real beauty in witnessing intellectuals who revel in those differences, feel thankful for them, and work collaboratively for love of forwarding the discipline that has brought them together; all while laughing and enjoying each other’s company and friendship. It is a celebration of so much that is right, true, and good. How could the world of academia change if these values were embraced?

Scholars gather to enjoy looking at an original C.S. Lewis manuscript at the Center for the Study of C.S. Lewis and Friends at Taylor University.

Scholars gather to enjoy looking at an original C.S. Lewis manuscript at the Center for the Study of C.S. Lewis and Friends at Taylor University.

Diana Glyer, one of the three excellent keynote speakers at the Colloquium, defines this practice as “intellectual hospitality.” If you haven’t heard her speak on this, I highly encourage you to watch this video which explains the concept.

Real Examples of Intellectual Hospitality from the Colloquium:

  • Encouraging comments, discerning feedback, and honest critiques during sessions and informal conversations
  • Fellowship at meals and times of fun
  • Helping fellow scholars solve research queries through shared resources
  • Desire for collaboration in future projects
  • A respected scholar who was willing to send me a pre-published draft of his article which will help with my current research (this has happened more than once)
  • Discussion on how to encourage more student participation, and mentor the next generation of scholars
  • An invitation during a chapel service to share meaningful moments from the conference and/or the works of the authors we’re there celebrating
  • Prayer for those at the conference with health and job needs

That last point is another element, as a Christian, that I highly valued. Taking time to pray for those with real concerns outside of the conference topics was a touching gesture. Gracious collegiality of this sort is not exclusive to the Christian academic community, nor is it a given in Christian academic community, but when the two coincide it is a glorious sight to behold. It combines academic integrity with loving someone as the Maker intended; not for their work or their title, but because of the inherent beauty of their soul and worth as a human being created in the image of God.

The weekend was a lovely look at the best in present academia and all it could be in the future. I can think of no better way to transform academic culture and help it recapture those lofty ideals carved in stone across campuses around the world.

One or two more blog posts to come on other Colloquium reflection topics. Stay tuned!

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6 thoughts on “Reclaiming the Ideals of Academia: A Reflection from the Lewis and Friends Colloquium

  1. Reblogged this on A Pilgrim in Narnia and commented:
    I had the opportunity to travel with Laura and some others to this amazing conference. I would like to take some time to blog about my experience. Until I do, Laura’s thoughts about “Ideals of Academia” is key for anyone in research or education.

  2. I didn’t know you had a blog – I’m glad Brenton’s reblog brought me here!

    This is somehow not surprising, but it is good to hear. As you well say, “Gracious collegiality of this sort is not exclusive to the Christian academic community, nor is it a given in Christian academic community, but when the two coincide it is a glorious sight to behold.”

  3. Pingback: A Call for Literary Patrons | A Pilgrim in Narnia

  4. Pingback: Mind the Gap: Where Scholarship on C.S. Lewis and other Wade Authors needs some Filling-In – Sunlit Fields

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