Lessons from James Lang

I could open-mouth kiss James Lang right now.

I’ve just finished his book Cheating Lessons: Lessons on Academic Dishonestyand am so excited by the ideas he presented and the ideas he shared. For the record, I would recommend this book to anyone excited about the prospect of teaching- not just in pursuit of honest classrooms, but of dynamic ones that are creative and flexible about the craft of educating. One idea in particular caught me by surprise, an act of generosity that truly resonated with me after a few days of soul searching. I alluded to this moment about an hour ago via Twitter:

While that statement may seem cryptic, I’d like to share the quote with you now. To provide some context, he is speaking about the required stakeholders in creating a culture of academic integrity on campus.

But faculty members should not bear the sole responsibility for such an educational campaign; staff members have an essential role to play in this process. I used to have the mistaken impression- shared, I know, by many faculty- that staff members on campus who work in areas like student life or residential life were less focused on the educational mission of the college, and therefore would have little interest in substantive discussions about educational matters on campus. After I became the director of the Honors Program at my college, I found myself working more frequently with staff members froma variety of offices, and I quickly realized how I had misjudged a wide swath of my colleagues. Frequently I find that staff members have a much more direct grasp on the shape and nature of our students’ lives than faculty members do; they see them in a wider variety of contexts than we do, and have a better understanding of the many pressures and challenges that our students struggle with on a daily basis.

Or, to borrow a Tweet from Chris Conzen who phrased it at once more crudely and more realistically than Lang does here:

Or, to put it even more simply than that: sometimes we surprise people on our campuses when they find out we’re smart. Faculty members typically arrive at that station in their careers because they remain lifelong students of their disciplines. Those of us who are frustrated when we’re misunderstood, underestimated, or undervalued, feel that way because we too are students of our discipline. What’s the difference? To turn a phrase from Jeff Lail, we are students of our students. Yes, many of us are students of other things, but being students of our students drives us each day. And this post is absolutely written with Cindy Kane in mind- a woman and practitioner who is putting blood, sweat, and tears into a dissertation that discusses the plight of scholar-practitioners in student affairs.

I could offer lots of strategies to demonstrate how to show interest in the faculty side of the house, or how to show them your smarts. But I’ve long painted myself as someone who doesn’t like that student affairs often appears to have something to prove- I’ll stand by that here. What I would instead ask is: what are you doing to show the faculty on your campus that you’re smart? Not prove it, mind you, but simply demonstrate that you do more than assign rooms, blow up balloons, or send emails?

I don’t have the answers to that for anyone other than myself, but I do know that I want to start by thanking those who open themselves to the idea of seeing that in the staff members on their campuses. Should I have the opportunity to meet Professor Lang after his lecture at Emmanuel tomorrow, this will surely be the first thing that I thank him for.

One thought on “Lessons from James Lang

  1. I show the campus I’m smart by no longer holding back when I think I have something “smart” to say. It’s interesting – the doc program has given me some license to be more forthcoming with things but I know the skills have been there all along. Chris’s tweet is also one I could have written – I enjoy the dissonance of that moment too and wish there were fewer moments than there are! My favorite was when someone looked at the degrees on my wall and, in a bewildered tone, said “wow, you went to some good schools.” That awkward moment motivates me to keep showing smarts more often!

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