A Faculty Meeting Like No Other

Where do a world-renown mathematician, deans, and a safari hunting president come together for an inquisition and an announcement about committees that receives applause—only at a Southwestern faculty meeting. You’ll never believe what all happened before lunch at the August 19th annual faculty meeting.

The meeting began normal with food and fellowship as we mingled with each other sharing about summer travels, mission trips, fall plans and of course some business items.

The crowd came to order by singing praises to God. We sang a mix of choruses and hymns. One of the hymns we sang was “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” Dr. David Allen (having used this as a sermon illustration I’m sure) came up afterward and told the audience about the author, Robert Robinson. Robinson was saved under Whitfield and became a committed Baptist after reading the New Testament. (On a side note, the Spring 2006 journal printed one of his unpublished works titled, Slavery inconsistent with the Spirit of Christianity).

Joshua Williams read a passage from the Old Testament and Paul Hoskins read a passage from the New Testament before having a time of prayer for students, fellow faculty members, evangelism, and God’s blessings upon our work.

Although Southwestern faculty meetings usually start this way, I began wondering, “How many faculty meetings across America start off with worship, Bible reading, and prayer?”

Then Dr. Patterson announced that he planned to minimize administrative requirements on the faculty so that they could focus on: 1) teaching, 2) writing, 3) evangelism, 4) prayer and 5) living a model Christian life. The faculty interrupted him with applause at the announcement of minimizing committee work. And I’m pretty sure these are not the top five tasks most presidents would give to the faculty.

The intrigue continued as Dr. Patterson invited Dr. Robert S. Doran to come and speak to us. Dr. Doran has solved one of the “unsolvable” math problems, and despite his prominence, he insists on teaching entry-level math at TCU. (Read more about him and the math problem here.) He began with a funny limerick, and for the next hour, he captivated a group of intellectual elites, telling how God brought him to salvation and changed his teaching career, as well as how he keeps the classroom interesting.

One thing he said stood out to me: “I began thinking of each student as a person for whom God died.” He told one group that you can’t really be a good teacher without Jesus in your life. He is right. When professors see students as a stewardship from God to either lead them to Christ or help them grow in godliness, the classroom becomes much more than a place to convey information, and the students become much more than names on a roll.

After a short break, all of the deans walked onto the stage for an inquisition discussion with the president. The time was titled, “The President on Safari and the Deans in the Dock.” The first question addressed the use of or the banning of laptops in the classroom. Most of the comments leaned against the use of laptops. They tend to provide distractions to learning; inward focus rather than outward focus; and are not helpful from the standpoint of pedagogical theory.

The comment I found the most helpful came from Dr. Eitel. Anyone who uses a laptop must sit at the front of his classroom and the remainder of the class becomes the “enforcers” to make sure that the students use laptops for taking notes and not for playing games. Anyone using the laptop for non-academic purposes loses the privilege for the semester. This solution provides accountability while allowing students to continue using technology for positive reasons.

As one who has used a laptop in most classes through seminary, I am in favor of technology used correctly. I still have my notes from my classes a few clicks away no matter where in the world I may be. No need to spend hours digging through paper files. I also have seen students drawing football plays on notebook paper. In fact, I may have drawn a few myself many years ago—my point: any tool can be used for good or evil, so it is with laptops in the classroom. At the end of the day, another rule will not teach a student how to be responsible but will yet encourage more legalism. I teach master’s level students, primarily. If by this time, these students are not responsible for learning, then taking away technology will not produce the desired result.

At the conclusion of the discussion, Dr. Patterson stated that no rule would be issued on whether to use or allow students to use technology in the classroom, but that he wanted professors to closely monitor their own classrooms. I love working for a president who doesn’t like rules.

Next, Dr. Patterson asked the deans to give two things they would like to see happen at Southwestern. He promised that their thoughts would be kept confidential so I can’t share them, but I admire a leader willing to open himself up for advice in front of the entire faculty. I think it shows Patterson’s true desire to build the best seminary in the world and his openness to listen to ideas from others—a good lesson in leadership, for sure.

This happened in just the morning session. I’ll have to tell you about the afternoon some other time. This faculty meeting confirms what I already knew … Southwestern is a unique place among institutions of higher learning in America for many reasons, but the most important is that dedication to Christ comes before, and accompanies, academic excellence.

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