Roundtable Discussions on Mercer's Ethos
One of the goals of the Phronesis Project is to promote conversation about the Mercer environment/ethos that involves representatives of various "constituencies" of campus life that often do not talk directly to one another: student, faculty, administration, and student life professionals. The hope is that the conversations will lead to collaborations on ways to create and sustain a more cohesive moral climate in the university. In this first year of the project, we have planned two discussions, one each semester.
The First Roundtable
The fall semester discussion took place on 22 October 2009 and involved 15 people. Seven participants came from administrative and faculty ranks and represented the Provost's Office, Student Life, a Dean, and faculty from College of Liberal Arts, Tift College of Education, Walter F. George School of Law, and McAfee School of Theology. Seven participants came from student ranks, with students from each of these schools, as well as students who represented residence life, judicial affairs, and religious life. Paul Lewis facilitated the discussion.
The basis for the discussion was a handout of backgroundinformationthat (1) identified Mercer's stated commitments to the moral development of it's students, (2) summarized research on moral development among college undergraduates, (3) provided a synopsis of the American Association of Colleges and Universities' initiative on Personal and Social Responsibility, and (4) offered a provocative quotation on social systems by Walter Rauschenbusch, Baptist advocate for the Social Gospel. A second handout identified levels of institutional culture that provided a vocabulary for places where one might experience tension or fit with Mercer's stated goals.
The discussion proved energetic and suggestive. Participants agreed that, on the whole, Mercer provides the rich environment in which moral development best occurs. Some of the facets of Mercer life that were highlighted include interdisciplinary courses, opportunities for service, and professors who both respect students and model honest inquiry.
At the same time, participants identified places where there is a tension between words and actions.Student input on issues is often requested and then ignored. Rules are not always applied evenly. Students are not always motivated to take advantage of the opportunities offered.
The discussion identified two main topics for further investigation. One concerns the usefulness and limits of a rules-based morality. A second involves the role of peer pressure in shaping students lives. Are there ways that peer pressure can be applied positively? For examples, professional schools can hold students accountable to professional standards. How might this work in Liberal Arts?
The Second Roundtable
The spring semester discussion took place on 1 April 2010 and involved 12 people. Six participants came from administrative and faculty ranks and represented the Provost's Office, Student Life, a Dean, and faculty from College of Liberal Arts, Tift College of Education, and Walter F. George School of Law. Six participants came from student ranks, with students from each of these schools, as well as students who represented residence life, judicial affairs, and religious life, as well as an Honors Class that had prepared a presentation on a survey they had conducted. Paul Lewis again facilitated the discussion.
Kim Campbell and Daniel O'Neal summarized the findings of a survey they, along with Lauren Whatley (who could not attend this meeting) had conducted for their Honors Service Learning class on practical reasoning. The text of the report is available separately.
Over the course of the discussion, several ways of following up on the report emerged: (1) to find ways to better education students on the Code of Conduct, which is not reinforced as publicly and frequently as the Honor Code, (2) to refine the effect of peer groups by distinguishing between different peer groups (e.g., Greek v. non-Greek, religious life v. non-, etc.), (3) interview seniors in order to understand both the extent to which they have internalized moral norms and the factors that have helped and hindered such internalization, (4) correlate our finding with the NSSE data, and (5) explore the reasons for the positive correlations between community service/experience of peer pressure and community service/depth of moral discernment.