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January 28, 2002

Gregory seminars urge reflection on mission

By Michael Terrazas


Marshall Gregory, Harry Ice Professor of English, Liberal Education and Pedagogy at Butler University, is spending this semester in residence at Emory leading a series of seminars for staff that explore “The Idea of the University,” sponsored by the University Advisory Council on Teaching and Emory College.

Consisting of three groups of 12 participants each, the seminars seek to inform the University’s non-faculty employees about the distinctive nature, mission and values of the modern university, in hopes that staff will better understand their roles in a broader context and thus improve their performance through this understanding.

“We are all so busy doing our part of the university’s mission that we have little time or incentive to reflect on the university mission as a whole,” reads Gregory’s syllabus. “Most of us inside the university find ourselves in the curious position of doing our dead-level best to advance its mission while having only a vague sense of how that mission differs from the mission of any other large corporation or bureaucracy. But working for Emory is not the same as working for Enron.”

The 36 professional staff members who participate in the seminars hail from across the University, each were nominated by their respective departments. Each group meets four times during the spring for a catered lunch and a two-hour conversation; Gregory provides handouts that serve as the seminar’s required reading.

“The seminar is a rare opportunity for professional staff to reflect on the role of their work in the life of the university and to participate in a staff development program with an intellectual context,” said Catherine Howett Smith, interim director of the Carlos Museum and a participant in one of the three staff seminar groups.

Recruited by former provost Rebecca Chopp to spend a semester in Atlanta, Gregory leads similar projects at Butler. He encourages his seminar groups to consider issues relevant to education that may not directly bear on their respective jobs but instead fuel their appreciation for the institution that employs them.

“Today we were talking about liberal arts education in the staff seminar,” Gregory said, “and that doesn’t have anything to do with what anybody in the room does every day. Liberal arts education is not something any of these people have to think about, but they really enjoyed the seminar.”

Gregory is taking a similar approach in another seminar on pedagogy he is leading exclusively for faculty from Emory’s professional schools. Rather than attempting to relay teaching tips—“A tip about how to teach a particular type of painting in an art history class isn’t going to be very useful for someone from chemistry,” he said—Gregory instead urges faculty to be as reflective about how they teach as they are about what they teach.

“Every teacher who walks into the classroom has a certain, even vaguely metaphorical idea about how the mind operates,” Gregory said. “Is the mind a box? And it’s the teacher’s job to stock the box? Is learning more like digestion, or is it more like inscribing on stone?

“Another example is that I invite teachers to think about the ethics of teaching, in the sense that it’s impossible to entertain the objective of changing what people know without facing the possibility that in changing what you know, you’re changing who they are,” he continued. “A lot of teachers have never thought about that.”

Gregory stressed that his utility in improving pedagogy never stems from the fact that he is the “best teacher” in the room, but from the fact that he knows how to orchestrate and diagnose a 20-hour conversation on the subject. “That comes in when I realize that this person is having a problem, while this person has already solved that problem, and I orchestrate the conversation so that they ‘teach’ each other,” he said.

There also will be a reception for Gregory held Jan. 30 from 4–6 p.m. in Cox Hall. Following the spring semester, Gregory will lead a second seminar on pedagogy for the Center for Teaching and Curriculum, directed specifically toward Emory College faculty. For more information, call 404-727-6410.




Back to Emory Report January 28, 2002