Essential Wabash

December 12, 2006

Essential Wabash

One hundred seniors told Wabash administrators the things that "must be preserved" at their college.

DURING SMALL GROUP discussions during lunch last spring, Dean of the College Raymond Williams H’76 asked 100 seniors, "What has been so valuable in your Wabash experience that it must be preserved?"

Some of their answers—and their enthusiasm—surprised the professor emeritus of religion, who came out of retirement last year to serve as dean while the College sought a replacement for Mauri Ditzler ’75, now president of Monmouth College.

"I have a very high opinion of Wabash faculty and the Wabash education, but I was still surprised at how positive, how outgoing they were about their high regard for Wabash faculty,"Williams says. "I had not expected the depth of their feeling. That’s gratifying."

Dean Williams reviewed his notes from those senior interviews with WM, sharing the responses that came up most frequently during those conversations.

THE CLOSE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN STUDENTS AND PROFESSORS

This was overwhelmingly the most important to them.

"I wouldn’t have graduated without that," one student said. Another said, "It creates person-to-person trust."

They praised aspects of that close relationship: the open-door policy; the opportunity to do research with faculty. One person said, "Everyone is available, open, and friendly," and he named a particularly helpful staff member. "Professors put students first," one student said. Another appreciated "the openness and informality between students and professors. Camaraderie."

"Faculty get onto you for missing class or messing up," said one student. "They’ll yell across the mall, ‘Where were you today?’"

These came up in every session and were usually the first thing on the table: open door; mutual respect; and trust.

ACADEMIC RIGOR

"It forces you to grow up." One student confessed that in his freshman tutorial, he was "scared straight" by the writing, research, and high expectations.

CLUBS AND TEAMS

They appreciated the many opportunities to participate in clubs and on teams. Several said that these experiences played a major role in their leadership development.

THE GENTLEMAN’S RULE

Some spoke specifically about the Gentleman’s Rule and the responsibility it places on students.They said students need to be reminded that the Gentleman’s Rule isn’t simply a license to do what they want to do—personal responsibility is essential.

They felt that this array of freedom, trust, and the ability for them to grow and become responsible was an important part of their education here.

A COLLEGE FOR MEN

A number of students mentioned that the all-male character of the College encourages relaxed relations and freedom.

They mentioned the importance of intentionality in defining manhood and masculinity and giving students the capacity to do that for themselves, to find their own right path.

IMMERSION TRIPS AND INTERNSHIPS

They spoke positively about immersion trips and study abroad, along with summer opportunities for internships and research—Dill Internship grants, Ecuador, and the immersion experience in New York were all mentioned. Several had their first experience of being on a plane, traveling out of the country, or walking through a big city during those trips.

One student said Wabash had prepared him well for his off-campus experience. For two years he had learned at Wabash what he needed to know to take full advantage of the experience he had off campus. Thus, study abroad enriched his Wabash education.

VISITING ARTISTS AND LECTURES

Students appreciated visiting artists and lecturers, saying these need to be broadbased and, when they were, they provided many valuable cultural opportunities.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I don’t think faculty realize what high regard students have for them and how much students look to them as role models.

Wabash students expect to be pushed, to be stretched, to be led to be their best selves, and they value the open-door policy and the close relationships they have with faculty, but I’m not sure students realize how much work that is, and how hard the Wabash faculty work.

The best Wabash faculty work enormously hard to create the kind of learning that teaches Wabash students so well. The open door is the metaphor for that whole ethos of excellent teaching and learning.

That ethos is handed down to new faculty by veteran professors who have come to realize that the most satisfying aspects of being a faculty member are teaching and close involvement with students, which are more life-giving for faculty, in the long run, than anything else they do.

What do you think?

How does your Wabash experience stack up against that of the Class of 2006? What "essentials" did they miss?What aspects of your Wabash experience were so valuable that they must be preserved?

Let us know by emailing the editor at charless@wabash.edu

 


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