Monday, February 2, 2009

Reflecting on a mission

This weekend I sat down to read a statement that is found in every building on campus and should hold some weight for the future and direction of the College. The Aquinas College mission statement, though profound and thoroughly pumped with otherwise nebulous value language, exhibits questionable combinations of mission words and vagacious phraseology.

Value language as exhibited in mission statements may be one of the only vocabularies that everyone can understand and, at the same time, interpret differently.

Aquinas College’s mission statement juxtaposes not-so-similar ideas such as “liberal arts education” and “Catholic Dominican tradition” with “career preparation.” I have never seen career- preparation/vocational training among the standards of liberal arts education, viz. learning how to think, how to critique, how to see things as a whole, etc. Stanley Fish, critic of this sort of utilitarian vocational training, notes the necessary inutility of higher education.

“Higher education, properly understood, is distinguished by the absence of a direct and designed relationship between its activities and measurable effects in the world.” By this he seems to imply that students of higher education should not find their reason for learning in anything beyond their continual edification, and though this view is challenged, it is the view of classical education that reigned for centuries and the understanding endorsed by Aristotle, Immanuel Kant, Max Weber, and others.

Further, the noted scholar of higher education John Henry Newman wrote, “[The purpose of a liberal arts education is to] open the mind, to correct it, to refine it, to enable it to know, and to digest, master, rule, and use its knowledge, to give it power over its own faculties, application, flexibility, method, critical exactness, sagacity, resource, address, [and] eloquent expression…” Nowhere does it hint at fostering job skills.

Though such an utterly deflationary understanding of education may be out of touch with the realities and needs of college students today, it may still raise questions as to where a university’s primary focus should land between activism, education and career preparation.

The mission statement continues to note how Aquinas College “fosters a commitment to lifelong learning dedicated to the pursuit of truth and the common good.” I cannot concretely see how this commitment is fostered, and although I like the sound of it, I think I am more concerned about the commitment to learning for the time when I am attending the College.

Another single word that has been inflated and twisted anyone’s wishes is “inclusive.” What does it mean to be an “inclusive educational community?” Does it mean that everyone is welcome to attend Aquinas College (ignoring the fact that welcome is equally vague)? Does it mean that I have to invite everyone to my study sessions? Does it suggest that I need to accept everyone’s ideas? Does it protect ideas from critique and evaluation?

If I could be so forward, I feel like the mission statement is missing something quite important, something each person should have at least considered when applying to any college. Where could the phrase “committed to offering the best education possible” fit? Though I understand that College administrations need to take numerous factors into account when making decisions, shouldn’t the quality of education be a prime consideration?

Unless I am dense to expect something so obvious, why aren’t we concerned about fostering these commitments?

Acknowledging that critiquing a text doesn’t exactly amount to a conclusive statment about Aquinas College’s state of affairs, I see how this really doesn’t matter. If high school seniors want a Catholic-liberal arts-vocational/career oriented college, then the administrative powers has the responsibility to balance fiscally running the College with providing the best education possible. If a college wishes to continue to exist it must offer a product that people want to buy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that you are critically evaluating the mission statement of Aquinas. Like you said, it uses value language. Values are something that should never change. The fact that you are questioning these values either says that you are simply not of the same thought process as Aquinas, or maybe a legitimate change is in order. This would point to the fact that maybe they aren't really values.

The piece of your post that strikes me as most interesting is the challenge of what higher education really is. If I could go to college, an institution of higher education, and do all of the things that John Henry Newman says; open my mind, correct it, refine it, enable it to know and digest, master, rule, and so on, I would be content. Merely attending an institution of higher education to further my knowledge of the world would fulfill me more than going to college to receive a medium through which I can make money.

While currently in my junior year of college here at Aquinas, I find that I desire to learn above all else. If I could just continue going to school here and take all of the classes I wanted to take, I would be very much at peace with that. And I feel that the rest of the Aquinas community does not feel that way. I don't just want to stay in school because the economy frightens me, which it does; I want to gain as much wisdom and experience from this place as possible. I am striving for higher education.

Aquinas College's mission statement might use the phrases "liberal arts education", "Catholic Dominican tradition" and "career preparation", but I think that between Fulton St. and Robinson Rd. there are many people with an almost pure desire to education the students here at a higher level, regardless of what the mission statement says.

When I will talk about my time I spent at Aquinas in the future, it will be towards those people that I look back upon fondly as an embodiment of what Aquinas stands for.

Paul Wizniuk