Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Academic Cultures 4: Advocacy Culture

1. The fourth chapter of Engaging the Six Cultures of the Academy looks at what Bergquist and Pawlack call an "advocacy culture. I've been reworking their categories to create a list of emphases that exist not only for universities as a whole but, perhaps more importantly, as different unexamined streams within the same university. Getting these out in the open, I think, might really help a university become more intentional about what direction it takes.

So far, here is the list I've developed out of Bergquist and Pawlack's book:
  • The research emphasis - sees the primary goal of a university as the advancement of knowledge by its professors by way of scholarship, publication. Emphasizes academic freedom.
  • The formation emphasis - sees the primary goal of a university as the formation of young people, making them "educated" or "virtuous" or "Christian." So there might be an emphasis on the liberal arts or on core Christian values.
  • The vocational emphasis - sees the college as a place where people are prepared to get a job and thus be able to support themselves through life
  • The teaching emphasis - sees the primary task of a college as teaching. Professors tend to have high loading and may teach extensive overloads.
  • The pedagogical culture - I am calling this an extreme form of a teaching culture or a managerial culture, where a healthy practice of setting outcomes and assessing them becomes an obsessive preoccupation. Too much detail, overkill on busy-work to be assessed, and a lack of allowance for spontaneity takes over.
  • The paternalistic culture - Again, a healthy concern for developing faculty and students can become oppressive with a bureaucracy of hoops to jump through and an unhealthy narcissism on the part of faculty.
You'll notice that I've begun to distinguish between core emphases a university or part of a university might have and "cultures," now going with the language of the book.

2. Chapter four introduces another culture, an "advocacy" culture. If I have understood this culture correctly, it is a culture that focuses on standing up for something. This emphasis can be either conservative or liberal. All it needs is a cause.

This culture might advocate for different things depending on its context. So it might advocate for anything from people of color to political causes to issues of sexuality. Young people often have significant energies in these areas to harness.

So there are colleges that feed off conservative political angst or anger. They recruit students who want to stand against liberalism or who want to stand for holiness as their subculture understands it. They want to fight against the world, the flesh, and the Devil.

Opponents of a certain different kind of advocacy culture might call it a "politically correct" culture, but there are all kinds of advocacies. And they are simply different expressions of the same human impulse to fight for or against something.

3. In an IWU context, there may be students or individual faculty who are strongly motivated by politics, but IWU does not, in my sense of things, have an advocacy culture that centers on politics. Although IWU has a strongly Republican constituency, this is not an area in which IWU advocates or recruits.

Because of its religious convictions, IWU strongly affirms that all people are valuable in God's eyes, regardless of their orientation, but it does not advocate for anything more than the necessity to love all people in this area. The equality of women is assumed at IWU, and certainly the theological faculty at the university would be fully egalitarian rather than complementarian. We would advocate strongly for that but it does not seem to be a problem at IWU in general.

So the area in which IWU is currently a strong advocate is in its multi-ethnic push. Across the university right now is a strong push to hire more faculty of color and to recruit more students of color.

4. This is a noble aim and a more diverse campus holds the hope of a more rich environment. There are of course dangers. If your base culture is not diverse, then diversity must come from outside your culture. That immediately changes your culture. The hope is of course that such changes are positive, but it also runs the risk of changing features of prior culture that were actually strengths or distinctives.

It would be unreflective to think that diversity in itself is intrinsically more valuable than every feature of prior culture that you might lose. So hiring for diversity must be done with great intentionality. There is a great deal of unreflectivity in this area, it seems to me, in an advocacy culture. The effort necessary to bring diversity to an institution in a healthy way is extremely hard work.

Another key caution is that a poor hire in the name of diversity actually sabotages the overall cause. It is essential that diversity hires be just as competent as whatever non-diversity persons they might be in competition with. Otherwise it demeans those of color that you are trying to hire and reinforces prejudices of inferiority. I know a situation where an entire program was more or less sabotaged for ten years because of an inappropriate diversity hire.

5. Advocacy is a core Christian value because it is an expression of the love of our neighbor. But it can be done in smart ways and in not so reflective ways.

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