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I wrote an article that was just posted this week. It's called Why America Should Revisit Civic Education. I sincerely believe we're going to pay a severe price if we do not resurrect civic education. 

Learning about one’s country and what makes it a distinctive nation, learning about this nation’s ideals and achievements past should be a key part of an American youth’s upbringing. And it used to be, but not so much anymore. Yet learning to act like a citizen does not just happen.

Survey after survey demonstrate that each generation of American citizens understand less of what it means to be a citizen, as opposed to simply a subject. We no longer grasp the essentials of republican government, we can’t list president’s names, let alone explain who did what and why it was important. Worse, as a culture we no longer have a clear sense of what it means to be an American, which creates problems for us at home—for example, the immigration issue—and abroad—for example, knowing who and who not to befriend.

Civic education that once played a prominent role in elementary and secondary education needs a transfusion of support and passion. We need to help our youth rediscover the beauty of America’s founding ideals. We need to help them reinvigorate the hope that it is possible to design a government in which free and thinking people can decide what is best and pursue it.

Without this effort, at risk is a nation of, by, and for the people. Without meaningful civic education, at risk long-term is life, liberty, freedom of worship, and the pursuit of happiness.

To me these ideals are too rare and too precious to risk them further. We must teach America’s wonderful heritage. This is not civil religion. It’s civic education for the good of all.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

Tenure is a sacred word in higher education. But its long-standing dominance in academia may be coming to an end, in part due to mounting financial pressures facing college and university administrators across the country. Actually, it’s more than that: tenure will eventually come under review because municipal and state budgets are upside-down and must be cut to re-establish some kind of financial sanity—education is a part of the pie.

Boards of trustees, school boards, and legislators are reconsidering the wisdom of continuing to create an administratively untouchable class of employees whose compensation acts as a “negative endowment” upon the institution, especially when these personnel retire. Citizens are wondering why individuals employed to serve the public good are granted greater benefits, higher average salaries, extended time off, and contracts for life while the rest of us have to work for a living.

Tenure may be earned by fulltime faculty members, usually after they’ve taught five or six years, when they demonstrate knowledge of their discipline, ability to write and publish research, and one would hope, positive student feedback, and teaching competency. Assuming this is so, faculty peers who consider evaluated colleagues worthy of a long-term commitment may recommend them to the institution for tenure.

Tenured faculty members can pretty much consider themselves employed for life or good behavior. Tenure is a legally defined “property right” that once extended can only be retracted through due process. While it’s possible to release a tenured faculty member for cause, the process is fraught with emotional and legal hurdles, so it is rare indeed.

Tenure originated in the Middle Ages as a means of protecting teachers from arbitrary professional harm. It’s called “academic freedom,” the idea a professor can pursue a line of inquiry or propound views that may not be considered acceptable by others, who may be in a position to suppress the ideas or fire the professor for holding to “wrong views.” In some notable examples the idea has worked.

Meanwhile, about two-thirds of faculty members nationally do not hold tenure. As non-tenure track adjuncts they teach heavy loads, are compensated less, and yet for the most part serve students well and otherwise perform admirably. They do not enjoy the protections of the special one-third.

I should note that tenured faculty members are not a recently discovered new “enemy,” or at least they shouldn’t be considered such. Tenured faculty members in general are not the problem. And among the two-thirds non-tenured professors many are cultivating notable careers. It’s the few among them who abuse the system who are the problem, and even more, it’s the system itself that’s become unnecessary and financially unsustainable.

Tenure is now more about job security than academic freedom. I say this because there is so much case law and other precedent protecting freedom of speech or expression that faculty members are well protected as citizens of these United States. Tenure acts more often as a protection of position than ideas.

Tenure reduces accountability and undermines competitive incentives—faculty peer reviews can come under great pressure to overlook problems and endorse a suspect colleague. When this happens, the system helps perpetuate poor professors, thus robbing students of the high caliber their high education costs should give them the right to expect.

Tenure creates highly inflexible financial and operational commitments for institutions that can no longer maintain them. If an institution needs to reposition its workforce for better productivity or if an institution needs to reduce the size of its workforce, tenure gets in the way. In fact, tenure protects the highest paid teachers, which translates to lower paid teachers taking the brunt of cuts even if at least some of them may be better in-classroom instructors. Tenure protects teachers in disciplines supporting majors students may no longer want, so schools are left with faculty/student ratios that can’t support the program but can’t be changed.

Tenure isolates faculty and reinforces disciplinary values rather than institutional values. So if they’re so inclined, faculty can teach the way they wish and no longer respond to administrative influence, much less directives, to improve pedagogy or increase excellence. They can focus more on advancing within their professional disciplines than upon teaching.

Tenure is an impediment to academic excellence. Even if it must be phased out via new hires, I’d argue public or private secondary schools and low endowed postsecondary institutions interested in surviving should eliminate tenure, which no longer protects academic freedom. It just protects poor teaching and poor teachers.

In lieu of tenure, institutions can put in place longer contracts, sometimes called “term tenure,” of up to five years. They can tie professor advancement and salaries to actual in-class teaching excellence, not solely advanced degrees and most of all, not simply seniority. They can reward excellence and achievement in a multitude of other ways short of granting employment for life.

Tenure isn’t evil. It’s just a system that’s seen its day and should be set aside. Like cutting taxes, an act that first seems to produce less will in a short time produce more—competitive excellence and financially sound institutions. Most of the rest of the workforce outside teaching does quite nicely without tenure. Education can too.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

In a recent book entitled Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses lead author Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa claim nearly half of American undergraduates evidence no significant academic gains in their first two years of college.

The researchers also noted students spend 50% less time studying than students a few decades ago. Some 50% said they never took a class wherein they wrote 20 or more pages.

Arum and his co-author's research results are discouraging but not surprising. In fact, I find it interesting Arum described the results as “really kind of shocking.” If he means he’s appalled, than I understand. If he means he and other researchers or faculty members in general were unaware of this trend, than I think he must live in an academic bubble. People in higher education have watched these trends for years, but like the growing national debt, not much has been done about them—at least not the things most likely to turn trends in a productive direction.

Higher education has become a huge bureaucracy with its own rhythms, power structures, and focus on means over ends. There’s still much good, but there’s even more that’s not so good. After more than thirty-four years “in the biz,” I’d offer three critiques of American higher education generally:

--Public and private institutions without commitment to Christian or religious worldviews have become “multi-versities” with no coherent over-arching paradigm. There’s no “uni” left. Faculties dispense information as facts but do not provide students with a philosophic overview or set of wisdom principles by which to organize, evaluate, and apply the information/facts.

--A significant majority of faculty members in most institutions have earned tenure and, while it’s not true of all, many if not most professors teach what and the way they will and no longer respond to administrative influence, much less directives, to improve pedagogy or increase excellence. They focus more on advancing within their professional disciplines, which requires research and writing, than upon teaching. Yes, there’s a lot of noise about excellence (every institution of higher learning claims to be excellent) and committees sometimes spend months on the subject, but in the end, most professors do their thing much like they always have. Tenure shields them from accountability, robs them of incentive, and reinforces mediocrity.

Both of these higher education characteristics undermine learning. But declines in student learning are not solely the responsibility of academia. These declines are rooted in American culture too.

--We no longer demand or expect a strong work ethic or excellent work. From family room to courtroom, we’ve established innumerable obstacles for academic authorities to negotiate even if they want to place higher demands upon students. Students are, therefore, protected within a zone of laxity. At home, we don’t teach students restraint, a sense of personal limits, respect for authority, or accountability, so schools and schoolwork that used to benefit from these cultural characteristics are now no longer reinforced.

The result of all this is that generations are coming to adulthood without maturity—some don’t even know what maturity is—and worse, with a sense the world owes them rather than they owe the world.

If higher education is to produce greater returns on students’ first two years of investment, several reforms must be implemented:

--In colleges and universities, resurrect and implement cohesive “meta-narrative” approaches to education—even if not specifically Christian or religious, schools should define themselves and expect faculty members to support their school’s philosophy of education. Tie state disbursements to whether this gets done, gets implemented, and is owned and applied by school faculty.

--Even if it must be phased out via new hires, eliminate tenure—at secondary and postsecondary level—which no longer protects academic freedom. It just protects poor teaching and poor teachers. Tenure is an impediment to academic excellence. Tie professor advancement and salaries to actual in-class teaching excellence, not solely advanced degrees and most of all, not simply seniority.

--Put political pressure on governors to make education excellence and achievement, at every level, top priority in their states. No other public policy would reap as high a return on investment as could be accomplished via developing truly better schools.

--Reposition elementary and secondary education with family and local support, focusing upon teaching and learning, achievement, and accountability. Sounds like pie in the sky, that maybe we’ve gone too far and it couldn’t be done. But with dynamic leadership it has already been accomplished in some districts, and it can be done in others.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Rex or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/RexMRogers.

This academic year marks my 30th year in Christian education and my 25th anniversary year in Christian higher education.  It's difficult to believe, but time does indeed go by quickly.

God is good, as we know, but he's demonstrated his unfailing love to me many times over, including this past week.  I like to dream and at times I like to "think big, think bigger"--or at least I imagine that's what I'm doing.  But on several occasions God has blessed me and he has blessed Cornerstone University in ways that I did not have the sense to pray for, dream about, or bring to pass.  "God Is, and He Is Not Silent," as Dr. Francis Schaeffer reminded us many years ago.

This is my 19th year in upper level leadership.  Again, God is good.  What more is there to say?

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2007

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

 

“It’s a free country,” we say, and God be praised it is. Americans are afforded choices that most in human history simply could not imagine. So the idea of a workplace “Personnel Lifestyle Statement” may strike some people as an anachronism in these anything goes postmodern times.

But every person and nearly every organization make choices about how he or she wishes to live or how they wish their employees to behave. People intentionally or often unintentionally craft a lifestyle from the myriad decisions they make about what they do, are willing to do, would never do, or consider it immoral to do. And organizations write policy handbooks directing employee actions and sometimes attitudes they believe are in the best interests of the organization’s mission. In other words, while it’s a free country and an open culture, we all live or work with “lifestyle statements” whether they’re codified or not.

Cornerstone University has maintained a Personnel Lifestyle Statement throughout its 65 year history. The statement has changed over time. Some things once considered important are no longer identified. But the purpose of the statement remains: This Christian university desires a covenant with its personnel (faculty and staff members) that establishes a Christian community that fosters the university’s educational and spiritual goals for its students and now also for its radio listeners.

Any number of covenantal agreements could be listed. As I said, some items like “No movies” or “No piercings” or “No playing cards” or “No dancing” have been removed from Cornerstone University’s Personnel Lifestyle Statement and are now considered matters for each person’s Christian liberty.

Any number of Christian colleges and universities, mission agencies, churches, rescue missions, even publishing enterprises, have operated or are still operating with some kind of employee covenant. These covenants are all a lot alike, and they are all distinctive. Their similarities are generally rooted in basic Christian beliefs or traditional habits of the heart. Their differences are rooted in denominational heritages, cultural developments, doctrinal beliefs, unique organizational histories, or simply the personal preferences of the people who founded or who now administer the organization.

For the past eighteen months, Cornerstone University has conducted a review of its Personnel Lifestyle Statement, including our longstanding standards calling for abstaining from use of alcoholic beverages or tobacco products and for non-participation in gambling. We conducted this review because we wanted to assure that the statement we embraced was “our statement” and not just one that “we inherited” from days gone by.

Our lifestyle statement review was led by a group of faculty and staff members (as well as one student added later in the process) who I appointed and who we called the Personnel Lifestyle Statement Review Team.

I have nothing but praise for this Team. The Personnel Lifestyle Statement Review Team conducted themselves with the utmost of professional excellence and spiritual maturity and constructed an open, thorough review process in which all employees were invited to participate. Most did.

The Team studied Scripture, reviewed the employee covenants of other Christian colleges and universities, conducted faculty and staff forums, invited electronic feedback, administered a survey of their colleagues, talked with members of the Alumni Board, interacted with some friends of the university, and more. The Team eventually wrote and submitted a report and the Team’s recommendations to me as the university president. The report was then read and discussed by the President’s Cabinet, a group of five vice presidents and the seminary president who work with me. Finally, I presented my recommendations to the Board of Trustees.

The Board of Trustees discussed the lifestyle statement in a meeting eighteen months ago, interacted with the Personnel Lifestyle Statement Review Team in the Board’s January meeting, and then deliberated the matter in its May 5, 2006 Board of Trustees meeting. Trustees conducted an energetic discussion characterized by mutual respect, a desire to honor the Lord, and the absence of rancor. They truly sought the Lord’s wisdom. I have nothing but praise for the Board. Thursday, May 11, 2006, we reported the Board of Trustees’ decision, along with an explanatory paragraph:

To reaffirm Cornerstone University’s longstanding Personnel Lifestyle Statement including the historical institutional standards calling upon employees to abstain from possession and use of alcohol and tobacco products and to abstain from participation in gambling.

This Board of Trustees action reaffirms Cornerstone University’s continuing commitment to a distinctive model of Christian higher education. The university will remain a higher education alternative where we model for our students a “lifestyle for a lifetime.” In so doing we will lead our students by example away from the documented serious health problems associated with use of tobacco products, the financial and social pathologies linked to problem gambling, and the potential devastation of problem drinking.

Asking our personnel to abstain from use of alcoholic beverages or tobacco products and to abstain from participation in gambling are Cornerstone University’s institutional preferences. We’re not making comments about Christian people whose views differ from our perspective, nor are we implying anything negative about Christian organizations whose policies are different from ours. We are only saying this is who we want to be. That’s our Christian liberty. While Christian liberty allows us to be “Free from” manmade rules, Christian liberty also grants us the opportunity to choose or to be “Free to” embrace standards we think best.

The university was criticized by some for even conducting such a review, partly because some people reacted to a February 22, 2006 article in The Grand Rapids Press that was headlined with the provocative idea that CU was considering dropping its “Ban on Faculty Vices.” Some people thought the mere fact of a review indicated some lessening of spiritual commitment within the university. Some people thought the review was simply a charade, masking a behind-the-scenes person orchestrating the review to a pre-determined conclusion. I understand the criticisms, but neither view was warranted.

Actually, I think CU has provided an example or demonstrated some leadership for the Christian community. Christian organizations need to think openly about how their faith applies to contemporary life and culture. Avoiding hot potato issues simply because they are controversial does not help people understand why we believe and do as we do, nor does it help them become more adept at integrating their faith with their lives.

I believe it was right for the university to defend its “right” or “responsibility” to review its own policies. I believe the review process was good for the university’s organizational culture, and I believe the Board of Trustees’ ultimate conclusion is best for the university.

If you wish to learn more about CU’s values, see the Core Values link on the homepage of the university website at www.cornerstone.edu. If you want to learn more about the Personnel Lifestyle Statement Review see our “Frequently Asked Questions” document or the guest commentary I wrote for The Grand Rapids Press.


© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

The 2006 Cornerstone University graduating class was the largest in the university’s history—742 undergraduate, graduate, and seminary students. For this we praise God.

Dr. H. B. London, Jr., Focus on the Family, spoke at the Grand Rapids Theological Seminary Commencement Friday evening, May 5th, to 48 graduates. Some 19 will graduate from the university’s Asia Baptist Theological Seminary later this year.

On Saturday, May 6th, Mr. Ralph Winter, Hollywood producer of more than 25 films, spoke to two University Commencements, graduating 275 traditional age students and 348 adult undergraduates and 52 graduate students (Master of Science in Management, Master of Arts in Teaching, Master of Arts in Ministry Leadership) in Professional and Graduate Studies.

Mr. Winter was invited to speak because his experience as a dedicated Christian and accomplishments in the film industry make him uniquely qualified to address the increasing influence of media upon culture. Cornerstone University recently initiated a Media Studies program focusing upon film, video, radio, theatre, journalism, storytelling, and eventually digital video animation. Mr. Winter’s professional experience connects directly to this emerging CU interest and distinctive. In his commencement address, Mr. Winter talked about the structure of the story of the Prodigal Son and encouraged graduates to develop their media savvy so that they can take Christ into a marketplace driven by all forms of media.

I continue to say that if you have not attended a Cornerstone University Commencement you do not really know the university. God is praised, the programs are excellently produced, Matthews Auditorium and Mol Arena are packed, and students are rewarded for their academic commitment and achievement.

I tell the graduates that Commencement is my favorite day of the year—better than Christmas. It’s what we are about. It’s a time of commemoration, celebration, and “commencement”—a new beginning. May God bless each graduate as he or she takes Christ into culture.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.