A Professor in Babylon

I have occasionally called the residence halls at Concordia University Irvine, Babylon beyond the CU Center (the CU Center is the chapel on campus). I don’t say this because our residence halls are full of moral degradation and licentious behavior. Though we encounter our share of behavioral, moral, and psychological challenges, this is not the point. The point is that working and living in the residence halls has often felt like I am in exile from my brothers and sisters on the academic side of the house, even though I teach with them there as well. Thus, my world is Babylon beyond the CU Center.

When I came to Concordia, I was intrigued by the idea of the Core Curriculum, which I had heard about for a few years before I took up my post. As I understood it, the idea was to pair complimentary subjects and have students take the pairings in small groups. Even better, at the center of the Core was a commitment to reading primary sources and classical literature. Better yet, the Core was modeled after the Oxbridge model of education that places great emphasis on real, face to face, interactive, quality discussions between professor and student inside and outside of the classroom. All of this was aimed at producing students who were to become wise, honorable, and cultivated citizens. This, it seemed to me, was more than a wonderful idea, it was the best idea to come around in a very long time.

Then, in 2012, I was offered the position of Director of Residential Education and Services (now Associate Dean of Residential Education and Housing Services). This position entails managing everything that happens in the residence halls at Concordia. On the side, I teach one section of Core Theology every semester. Within a few weeks of beginning my new post, I began to wonder: How can we incorporate the aims of the Core into what happens in the residence halls?

The problem seemed clear. The Core, as structured, is primarily a classroom experience. But students spend 90 percent of their time at the university out of the classroom and in the residence halls. If Concordia is to develop wise, honorable, and cultivated citizens, the conversations that would produce that result needed to extend to the residence halls as well.

When I was a student at Concordia in the 1990s, this was quite natural. My friends and I would regularly, if not daily, meet to discuss in more depth what was being discussed in class. Yet, as I surveyed the modern residence halls, this did not seem to be the case. The academic conversation in the residence halls needed a kick start.

In an attempt to remedy this, in 2013, we began two initiatives in the residence halls meant to carry the Core conversations into the everyday lives of the students outside of the classroom. The first was a series of Living Learning Communities, which I will discuss in another blog. The second was a Faculty in Residence program. Yes, it was decided that we needed some professors living in Babylon.

The Faculty in Residence position exists to assist the Residential Education Services (RES) department by fostering and shaping the social, cultural, and educational, and academic life within residential living communities. Faculty in Residence work collaboratively with the RES department to nurture a heightened sense of community that fosters academic excellence, promotes increased faculty-student interaction, furthers academic conversations beyond the classroom, and enriches the student living, intellectual, and faith-building experience on the college campus.

At Concordia, we get the added benefit of having Core professors serve in these roles. They, in turn, are able to have Core conversations with students not only in the classroom, but also around the dinner table, in the quad, and in the lounge. This means that for the students lucky enough to have a Faculty in Residence in their halls, the aims of the Core are a part of their life, not just their classroom experience.

Scott Keith is Associate Dean of Residential Education and Housing Services at Concordia University Irvine