Emory Report

 September 8, 1997

 Volume 50, No. 3


Teaching flourishes in the context of a lively intellectual community

The diverse forms of teaching point toward the ideal of the university as a classroom without walls, an intellectual community in which teaching and learning occur in a variety of spaces and times. The intellectual community has an important impact upon teaching at Emory, as the following illustrations suggest.

A professor listens as a young man expresses his shock at the conditions in the Fulton County Juvenile Detention Center. The student has been visiting this facility regularly as part of the professor's sociology course in Juvenile Delinquency; she waits for the right moment to pose an analytic question.

At the reception following a performance of a new undergraduate play put on by Theater Emory, three students talk with their chemistry teacher. Prompted by the play, they get into a lively discussion of the value of violence in recent films.

"I'm trying to get [students] to take the conversation out of my classroom and into Cox Hall, the residence hall, the frat house. If there were one thing I could do to enhance the quality of teaching at Emory, it would be to find ways to have conversations [with students] about recent political and controversial issues and even to have their coursework take place outside of the classroom. That's a community of learning."

An intellectual community establishes the values on which all teaching endeavors must rest: trust, honesty, free inquiry, open debate, tolerance of difference, and respect for others' convictions. Furthermore, the very act of teaching fosters in students the virtues and characteristics we value in community: intelligence, curiosity, discipline, creativity, integrity, and the desire to learn from others. As many of the examples throughout this report suggest, teaching provides the fundamental link between individuals and the intellectual community that is the university. In turn, the intellectual community provides an environment of stimulation and discovery that allows teaching to take place not simply in the classroom but also at discussions over coffee at Cappuccino Joe's, musical performances in Symphony Hall, open forums in Seney Hall, evening lectures in Winship Ballroom. Thus, teaching at Emory can achieve sustained excellence only if the intellectual community that nourishes it is strong.

Nevertheless, faculty and students alike complain that Emory lacks the structures and practices to cultivate such a community. The commission recognizes these concerns, embodied in the common but erroneous perceptions that "academic life" is limited to the classroom and that "campus life" consists of activities that run counter to the goals of an intellectual community. Like other committees, we found that we were unable to address these concerns adequately. (Report of the Subcommittee on Support, Rewards, and Incentives for Teaching.) We are able only to affirm the value of the intellectual community and to recommend actions designed to buttress this ideal. Strengthening the intellectual community requires attention to both broad themes and small details: it means, for example, being attentive to the adequacy of the infrastructure so that classrooms and meeting rooms are in good condition; improving the ways faculty and students can participate in interdisciplinary classes by developing a master calendar; establishing a better university-wide communications system.

Strengthening the intellectual community as the setting for excellence in teaching also means recruiting students with high intellectual expectations and a willingness to concentrate on learning as a goal worthy to be pursued for its own sake. Faculty, too, must be encouraged to participate in areas of the intellectual community outside their specialties, beyond the classrooms, labs, and offices.

All the recommendations within this report as well as within the subcommittee reports are attempts to strengthen Emory's teaching by strengthening its intellectual community and cultivating its intellectual community by supporting and developing excellence in teaching. In large and small ways, whenever and wherever Emory is represented, the commitment to high-quality teaching and constant learning must be vigorously expressed and pursued.

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