01 October 2012

When we interview someone for a vacancy in my office, one of the parts of the interview is to ask the applicant what they know about King's. Often the honest answer is that they know very little, so I have taken to giving the candidate a thumbnail sketch of King's. This is what follows.

King's started as the dream of a number of people in the late 1960s. Predominantly but not exclusively from a Christian Reformed background, this group saw the need for a Christian University in western Canada. This group dreamed not of a bible college that serves only Christian students, or of a college that delivered exactly what students would find at the public universities. Instead they dreamed of a place where Christian faith shaped the curriculum and the classroom, with sufficient academic rigor to earn the respect of academia, and that welcomed any qualified student regardless of faith commitment.

That dream came to partial fruition when King's opened its doors to students for the first time in 1979. That first group of students had no idea what they would be able to do with their study at this new institution, but bravely chose to enter into university study on hope that their work would transfer. By the middle of the 1980s, King's was part of the Alberta Council on Admissions and Transfer and was offering predominantly 2 year transfer programs. King's also entered into an affiliation arrangement with the University of Alberta in 1983.

But there was more to this dream than 1 or 2 years of study and then transferring elsewhere. So when the province of Alberta created a system for accrediting private institutions to offer degrees, King's eagerly followed that path, being authorized to grant 3-year BA degrees in 1987 and 3-year BSc degrees in 1988. A couple of years after that, King's was admitted to membership in the Association of Universities and Colleges in Canada (AUCC) membership in which provides recognition for King's degrees nationally and internationally.

Since then we have added 4 year BA, BSc, BCom, and BMus degrees and we have added 2-year BEd After Degrees. We also added the areas of study in the 3 year degree programs.

King's has been very overt about being a Christian institution. All our faculty and staff agree to King's broadly framed statement of faith. We come from a wide variety of denominational backgrounds. But we have equally been open to having students of any faith, or no faith, attend and to participate in our faith directed university education.

So is the dream fulfilled? Although we are grateful for how far we have come, we think there is more to come even though we may not be totally clear on what that is. More majors at the undergraduate level? Almost certainly. Graduate programs? That seems sure to come eventually. However, the thing that will mark the future is programs aimed as equipping students to bring renewal and reconciliation to their worlds.

What Is Christian University Education

A colleague has asked that I write a couple of paragraphs on the subject of what Christian University Education means. So I'll share that here too.This is written from a faculty perspective in an attempt to say why we do what we do.

Our Christian faith is the reason we study. If all of creation, not just the religious bits, belongs to God then all subjects are worthy of study. And more than that, inasmuch as God has revealed himself in creation, our academic study helps us to trace the thumbprint of God. 

Our faith is also why we teach. Teaching is a mandate for all Christians and for us in academic life that also includes classroom instruction. It is a way for us to care for our students by sharing what we have learned in our fields to help students become their best selves and make their best contribution to bringing reconciliation to their world. Our teaching can impart to students the sense that they bear God's image and that they can see echoes of that image in our disciplines.

Note that this does not mean that all our students need be Christians. King's open admission policy is based on the belief that all people carry the imprint of God from creation. Christians do have the presence of the Spirit molding them into Christ's image, but all are welcome to take what we offer. At worst they will get excellent instruction in their discipline, and a challenge to integrate all parts of their lives with their academic work. At best they will take steps to engage with the Creator behind the creation they study.

Our faith is also why we work in research. Our God is a creative God, and we derive the impulse to explore and discover and make new knowledge from Him. We are subsidiary because our creative work is built on creation; even so we are imitating our Father. Our ideal is not to be isolated in our study or labs, but to join together across disciplines in this creative effort. Our ideal is further to engage students directly in our research so that they can apprentice in this creative task.

08 November 2011

Journey or Destination

"We know that you have choices in the marketplace, so we thank you for flying with [insert name of airline here]."

This is what I heard a few times as we flew across the country and back this summer. It struck me as odd at the time, because I did not have the sense that I had a lot of choice in the decision to choose this particular airline. I thought to myself, "I chose you because you were going where I wanted to go, when I wanted to go, and at a price I could tolerate." Had a competitor been cheaper and flying when I wanted, I probably would have chosen them.

Sometimes students choose a university on similar grounds. They have the degree that the student thinks he or she wants, the institution is located where they want (usually this means close to home or far, far away from home) and the tuition is manageable. In another post I am going to argue that on these grounds the choice may not be as clear as it might seem.

One thing I did not get to base my choice on with my air flight was on the quality of the journey. I could not elect an airline that had more comfortable seats, or better (or any or cheaper or free) food, or seat companions with whom I could talk about real, deep subjects and who might become lifelong friends. Sure, the airline I chose does sometimes tell jokes during the flight (although strangely not on this one this summer) but it was not like I had a choice on the quality of the wit.

In choosing a university the quality of the experience, should be a central part of the decision. This is a tricky area to ask questions about, or to observe through a website. Most likely you will need to visit the campus, and talk with staff, faculty, and current students.

The kinds of questions you will want to think through are
  • can I participate in this learning experience with my whole self? With all my heart and its deep commitments and searching questions? With all my mind and its curiosity to learn and explore? With all my strength being involved in campus life (residence, sports, clubs, chapels and less formal worship times, service opportunities)?
  • will I find my faith commitments -- clear or murky, certain or faltering -- be respected, constructively challenged and engaged both outside and inside the classroom?
  • will I be able to engage closely with faculty? Are the class sizes right for me to make a personal connection with my instructors? Do I get a faculty mentor or advisor to help me shape my education? Will I be able to participate in the research of a faculty member either as part of my formal studies or through summer research opportunities?
  • will the institution and its staff and faculty help me find my place in this world, where I can make a difference in pursuing justice, mercy, and my walk with God. Do the alumni show the evidence of this when they leave the institution? Do current students report that they are finding their calling through their education?
It might look like these are questions that a student who already has a Christian commitment would ask. But my experience in working at The King's University College where we will admit students regardless of religious identification (or lack of religious identification) other students share these questions.

What I would like to contend is that a Christian university is able to provide this context. Where there is a temptation to put faith in a box that is distinct from the academic box, and to simply not let the two encounter one another. At a Christian university that is committed to bringing Christ into every classroom, a fearless engagement of faith and all disciplines occurs. Classes may vary in size, but Christian institutions generally are committed to personal interaction with students and therefore emphasize small classes. While I can't speak for other institutions, at King's a strong emphasis is on students doing significant research, to the point of being co-authors on academic papers, making presentations to major conferences, and generally doing work that elsewhere is often reserved for graduate students.

So much as you choose your university by degree, cost and location, you should consider the quality of the journey you will be on for the next four years.

18 October 2011

Where do you want to go?

"[Undergraduate education] ought to produce critical thinkers, scientifically and culturally literate people who can assess evidence, connect the dots and communicate with clarity – the key skills, that, in a fast-changing economy, prepare people for the jobs that haven't been invented yet." (The Globe And Mail Editorial)

This is one line out of a recent Global and Mail editorial that calls for quality measures and accountability in undergraduate education in Canada. In it they recite various statistics, anecdotes and opinions that point to "getting less for more" at university in Canada.

One of the best kept secrets in post-secondary, however, is that some institutions offer a great undergraduate educational experience. The faculty focus on teaching as the key task. But they don't neglect developing and maintaining a vibrant scholarly life that feeds and informs their classrooms. But then the learning circle is completed by inviting the students to become part of that research, working side-by-side with faculty in research, paper writing (even publishing as co-authors), conference presentations.

The programs that these students pursue are built on a foundation of historical, literary, philosophical and theological literacy. They are stretched so that, regardless of chosen major, all students must study fine arts or languages, social sciences and natural science. In all these classes students are asked to bring their whole selves, not just the intellectual box, into the classroom. More emphatically, however, each term these students are called to integrate the wide areas of study to speak into and out of major life and societal questions in a 2 day conference.

In their chosen major they are drawn into both breadth and depth in their discipline, preparing them with a basis for employment or further study. Equipped with this broad base but with deep questions, many go on to graduate study only to learn that they have begun asking the questions and taking the approaches of grad school even as their finish their undergraduate study. Employers tell us that they appreciate these students who become their employees; the most common response is "send us more, please!"

And throughout their study these students are called to connect their deepest beliefs with that study -- having their faith inform their study and their study inform their faith. Instead of seeing their faith as putting a fence around what they might study, they are pushed to take their faith into the study of all things. Whether students share the Christian perspective of their faculty, or whether they bring another faith commitment (or no faith commitment) they are called to find a deep resonance in all areas of life.

I am writing, of course, about my own institution. As a Christian university, I am confident that we are delivering the educational experience that the Globe and Mail's editorial calls for and more. Yes, like other Christian universities in Canada we are more expensive than fully funded universities. We do receive an operating grant from the government, but as that is a fraction of what fully funded institutions receive our tuition must be higher (and our salaries lower!). 

But I am happy to defend the quality of education received by our students. A quality confirmed by internal and external reviews and graduate surveys. And a quality that is an awfully good reason to choose a Christian university.

07 August 2011

Topics I hope to cover

So here is a list of topics I hope to touch on in this blog. These are presented in ITOTOTM* sequence and so may not be in chronological order. Also, these are each bigger than a single blog post.
  • Why should students consider university, Christian or otherwise, at all?
  • What do I mean by a Christian university?
  • Why should Christian students consider a Christian university?
  • Why should non-Christian students consider a Christian university?
  • How to miss the point of your Christian university experience.
  • The dangers of evaluating your education too soon or how to measure "success".

* In the order they occurred to me

I probably won't proceed through this in a linear fashion but rather touch on these as they come around in my interests.

So... Here we go!

Why write a blog?

I suppose that most blogs start with a "why am I doing this" kind of post. This is mine.

I have been working at a Christian university for 21 years now. During most of that time I have been the Registrar, which often puts me in the position of trying to explain to prospective or current students, to potential or current staff, or even to potential faculty members what a Christian university is, at least the way we do this at King's.So I have accumulated some "stuff" in my head about which I periodically think "I should write that down." So here I am, writing it down.

As well, a colleague who writes the great blog Who Wants To Be A Registrar? noted that he had not seen a good defence of the need for a Christian post-secondary education in some time. This blog is intended to be a bit of an answer to that. I will probably not be either theological or philosophical enough for some, although I will touch on both. I will also probably not be practical enough for others, although I will touch on practical reasons.

While writing this I have prospective university students in mind. That is not to say that only prospective students should read this. In fact, I'll be somewhat surprised if any prospective students read this! However, there are other audiences who should be working through the whys of Christian university education too: parents, grandparents, secondary teachers, current students (especially in those "why am I here" moments), those considering careers in academia (either on the faculty or administrative sides) and probably some I am forgetting.

I intend to leave the comments on for these posts, although moderated. This is not because I want to constrain anyone's opinions on topic, but given the prevalence of spam and trolls on any topic related to religion it seems wise to have some control. So we can have a bit of discussion as we roll along.

Finally, I plan to write every couple of weeks. The life of a Registrar moves in waves, the peaks and valleys of which might challenge regular blog production! But I will be trying to write regularly. Next time I will take a stab at a list of topics I think I will cover.