Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Wrapping Papers

Well it’s that joyous season of the academic year when papers are due- blah blah blah, bah humbug. Students grumble and feel pressured and harried even though many of us professors tell them from day one when the papers are due. I even provide an on-line list of possible research topics, model outlines, writing guidelines about style and citation and plagiarism etc. I also offer to go over to the library and help students find information; some take me up on it, but many don’t. I even offer to read rough drafts a week in advance—you can imagine how many of those I receive. Is this guy nuts or what!

Christmas is the season for cramming everything in: food, parties, plays, concerts, more parties and socials, carrolling, Christmas shopping, so why not cramming in research papers as well? It’s the one season of the academic year I get to do theatrics—standing on top of the desk to get everyone’s attention and making explicitly sure students don’t use the on-line version of the Catholic Encyclopedia from 1918, that is NOT the New Catholic Encyclopedia from 2003 that they need to use as one resource. I also rail at them about Wikipedia not being a valid academic resource. I likewise lovingly “snarl” at them about plagiarism and how I have an almost photographic memory and keep electronic copies of papers to check for plagiarism and do internet searches as well. Bottom line, it’s the one time of year I get to play the part of Scrooge so that when Winter Break does come around they really enjoy it and celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or whatever they wish or don’t wish. Unbeknownst to them, I’m really providing a service: by making something so “painful” and dour that they’ll later experience pleasure and contentment.

But every now and then there’s that bright student who shines like the Star the Wise Men followed who is excited about their research topic and comes in ahead of time and bounces things off me and then eagerly awaits to see how I receive their research project that they’re so proud of. And thus I receive small Christmas gifts in advance and this makes my job worthwhile and gratifying. Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Ahnentafel What?

Well it’s Tuesday and tomorrow RU is out for Thanksgiving Break, so I thought I better get this out today.

I was trying to think what to write about and I thought I’d weave together my last two blogs: the one on alluding to genealogy and the other about globalization. Growing up in our household Thanksgiving was always a big feast and my maternal grandmother would recount how her ancestor John Howland fell off the Mayflower and was rescued, later becoming a prominent Pilgrim Father. Ever since being a boy, I’ve had a fascination with Family History but only in recent years has it developed into a full blown historical study.

So what’s an Ahnentafel? It’s a pedigree chart. Pretty simple. But I’d like to talk about my ancestry as an example of DIVERSITY. In my Family Tree are some pretty interesting characters. For starters, there are the Pilgrims. Some of their descendants married Presbyterians, who later married into Quaker lines from the founding Quaker colonies in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. One of my ancestors, Martin Kendig, was the one who founded the Mennonite colony in Lancaster, PA helping people escape persecution in Europe. In my Family Tree I also have Methodists, Baptists, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics and Greek Orthodox. I even have an ancestor who was part of the original group called “Millenial Dawnists” out of which the Jehovah’s Witnesses evolved. So you can see my Family Tree is filled with lots of religious history. (If you go WAY back through my mother’s line some are canonized saints in the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and Armenian Orthodox churches. Unfortunately, I can only take my father’s ancestry back to the late 1700s.)
So, when you look at my Ahnentafel you’ll see that there are some very diverse branches on that tree. And that’s life. Life is filled with rich diversity. That makes us who we are, our stories. May you have a great Thanksgiving Holiday and celebrate the diversity and richness of your family!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


This past September the Board of Trustees approved seven learning goals that had been formulated by the Rockhurst Community the previous year. One of these goals concerns globalization. Here’s an excerpt of what was approved by the Board:

“Through our mission of learning, leadership, and service in the Jesuit tradition, Rockhurst University cultivates a learning and living environment that encourages cura personalis, care and development of the whole person, through reflection and discernment. Within that environment, Rockhurst creates an integrative experience for students to develop skills, competencies, and values in these seven areas:”

It then lists the seven, the third of which is:
International and Cultural Understanding: The appreciation of cultural differences and commonalities, and the ability to interact with sensitivity and alertness as citizens of the world.”

Thus yesterday afternoon the Faculty Senate unanimously approved the motion: “To endorse the addition of a Global Proficiency to the core curriculum.” I serve on the Core Implementation Committee and we’ll meet tomorrow to address the proposal (and most probably approve it since it arises out of a long process of faculty input). The Faculty as a whole will then need to vote on the issue at the general University Faculty Assembly.

While this might appear as boring stuff, I thought I’d let you see how things work here at Rockhurst. The faculty get involved! Due to our Jesuit mission we believe that we must address the contemporary world and prepare students to live and excel in the global environment with a set of values. To quote from John Donne, an English 17th century poet, “No man is an island.” This is far truer in the 21st century of the World Wide Web and instant media coverage etc. We no longer are merely citizens of our own country, but we are global citizens with a responsibility involving compassion and justice on several fronts: economic, political, moral etc. As a Catholic university we’re also grounded in the teachings of Jesus regarding one’s neighbor. Global awareness also engages us in ecological responsibility and sets the foundation for space exploration and settlement. There needs to be respect for and celebration of the richness of diversity in life (which by its very nature means maintaining differences in a healthy and life-giving manner.)

So the bottom line is Rockhurst is taking steps to equip its students with a vision and ability to live and excel in the global world, not only of the present, but of the future as well. I'm a member of the College of Arts & Sciences and here's our Mission Statement: "Grounded in the Jesuit and Catholic traditions of liberal arts education, the College of Arts and Sciences engages learners in building a foundation of values, integrated knowledge, critical analysis, and personal reflection that prepares graduates to become compassionate, just, and globally aware leaders in a diverse and changing world." This is what we're about at Rockhurst!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Where Did I Come From?

Kids eventually pose that question. College applications ask about your background and your parents. Historians address the same issue from a broader perspective. Evolutionary scientists tackle it from a different angle. And theologians take yet another approach. But everyone eventually gets around to the same basic question: Where did I come from? Its related to the question about meaning and purpose.

Apart from the birds and the bees (and I’m not talking about ornithologists and apiologists), there’s also the matter of your Family Tree, the field genealogists love to research. I’m am amateur genealogist, that is to say I am not licensed; but I have published six articles, one of which is in the scholarly journal: The New England Historical and Genealogical Register. (Some of my ancestors came over on the Mayflower.)

Knowing where we come from gives us a sense of identity, a sense of belonging. Thanksgiving and several religious holidays are right around the corner when families gather together to renew ties and celebrate relationships. This is a perfect opportunity for you to ask your grandparents about where they came from, and not just about dates and place of birth and marriage, but family stories as well. Ask them what they remember about their parents and grandparents and write the stuff down, or better yet burn it. Believe me, you’ll bring a twinkle to their eye and they’ll feel you genuinely care about them and their life story. And once you get a snap shot into their life experiences it’ll make history class, etc so much more interesting. And when you have kids one day, you’ll be able to pass on the living heritage.

So why am I going on about genealogy? Because family history fosters a sense of belonging and enables you to understand family dynamics. “Where do I come from?” is a question centered around identity, connections, and purpose. At Rockhurst we strive to foster a sense of belonging to a community, a new family as it were. People need a sense of connectedness and rootedness. Tap into your own family roots. By being at Rockhurst you can tap into four hundred fifty years of a Jesuit tradition grounded in Catholic roots that go WAY back. Even if you don’t come to Rockhurst, ask your grandparents about their lives and memories and record the info so you can one day pass it on.

I’m a theology proff so bear with me just a bit. In the Gospel of Luke it records Jesus’ genealogy and it takes him back all the way to Adam. It then calls Adam, “son of God.” Jesus’ Family Tree is stressing relationships and rootedness in God. But Luke purposely recorded Jesus as the seventy-seventh descendant. In other words, he was the perfection of what it means to come from God and be in a relationship with God. At Rockhurst you’ll get an education that focuses on the whole person: body, soul, and spirit; an education that enables you not only to answer on multiple levels for your self: Where did I come from? but also Where am I going?