Posted by: gcarkner | September 8, 2013

Dr. Olav Slaymaker on Stewardship

UNIVERSITY SERVICE: an Emeritus Professor’s understanding of stewardship at a research university.

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When I was appointed to a tenure track position in 1968 I was told that the appropriate allocation of my time should be approximately 40:40:20 respectively to teaching, research and service. In this context, service was defined as anything from departmental committee work through university administration to continuing education and public lectures downtown and volunteer international development work. When I became Head of my Department in 1982 I soon realized that the balance had shifted from 40:40:20 to 30:60:10 (i.e. reduced teaching and service vis-à-vis research). My estimate of the current situation is that there has been a further drift away from teaching and service such that 20:75:5 describes better the balance of effort that is required in order to achieve tenure and/or promotion.

At the same time, the rhetoric that is increasingly projected by the University is a concern for the well-being of the University, the community around it, the nation and the globe. It is very difficult to reconcile the trends and the rhetoric. Of course, there is a sense in which the research expertise of faculty members represents an important service to humanity. But if knowledge is personal, as Michael Polanyi used to insist and as many Christians surely believe, then there is a net loss of a sense of stewardship towards our students, the nation and the environment at large. The word that is missing from much of our research university language is “mentoring”. The sharing of research knowledge and teaching experience between professor, post-doctoral fellow, graduate  and undergraduate student either through face-to-face meetings or through small, focused interactive seminars. When 75% of one’s time is taken up with research there is simply no time to engage with students on a one-by-one basis and even less time to perform as a public intellectual, to act as advisor to government or to participate on the board of an international development agency.

It came as a shock to me when I formally retired from the University in 2004 to realize how my sense of stewardship towards others and towards the environment had become muted. The constant pressure of adding to one’s list of publications induces a focus on oneself and one’s fame in the academic market place. Good research is a “sine qua non” to distinguish higher education from high school. But, if we believe that God has placed us in a University with a specific purpose, good teaching and effective service are essential to move the focus towards the stewardship of one’s students, the student community and society at large.

Thankfully, there is a new awareness of the tension described here and teaching, at least, is being given higher priority than in recent years. Quest University at Squamish provides, in my view, a model of a better balanced academic career, with iitssubstantive emphasis on mentoring and outreach in addition to traditional scholarship.

Olav Slaymaker, Ph.D., D.Sc., FRCGS, Emeritus Professor, Geography, The University of British Columbia. Dr. Stephen Bouma-Prediger, Hope College, current leading light in creation care theology.

UBC Panel on Climate Change: Olav Slaymaker, Paul Williams and Iain Provan–the-great-distraction

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