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Grad Idea Forum
Explorations of Teaching

29 October 2003
Catharine Stimpson Visit

Summary by Cheryl Selah
Additions, revisions, extensions are encouraged in the Forum


Catharine Stimpson, Myths of Transformation: Realities of Change (PDF format, 690 KB), PMLA 115, 5 (October 2000), 1142-1153
Catharine Stimpson, General Education for Graduate Education (PDF format, 337 KB), The Chronicle Review, from the issue dated November 1, 2002
Catharine R. Stimpson, Written for a conference at the Society of Humanities, Cornell University on "The Idea of the Corporate University" (PDF format, 753 KB),October 18-19, 2002. We thank Catharine Stimpson for giving us permission to post this paper, which was presented at a conference and is still very much a work in progress.

Present were:

Samantha Glazier (Chemistry), Katharine Woodhouse-Beyer (Anthropology), Celeste Johnson (Social Work), Wesley Bryant (Social Work), Anne Dalke (English and Feminist and Gender Studies), Elizabeth McCormick (Physics), Erin Tremblay (French), Judie McCoyd (Social Work), Roland Stahl (Social Work), Paul Grobstein (Biology), Deborah Fineberg (Psychology), Corey Shdaimah (Social Work), Cheryl Selah (Chemistry), and of course, Kate Stimpson.

Kate Stimpson opened with a bit of her background. She grew up in Bellingham, WA and went to the public high school, but there were private girls schools all over. She was president of her pep club. She said she was having a bit of an identity crisis being back at BMC. At BMC she was known as "Dodie", but when she went to Cambridge, "Dodie" became Kate.

When Kate attended Bryn Mawr, the School of Social Work was the hot bed of radicalism, so she emphasized that she was delighted to be at a meeting at the Bryn Mawr School of Social Work.

When Kate attended Bryn Mawr College, the education was formative, rigorous, and disciplinary. Went to Cambridge. Learned a lot during her dropout years. When she went to Columbia for grad school, she was very rebellious and did not like graduate school. Then she taught English at Barnard, where interdisciplinary teaching was welcome. She first taught women's issues at Barnard. She learned interdisciplinary teaching and about other races and cultures, which has helped her be the dean of NYU. At Cambridge, Kate found that there was elegant racism. They expected men to write about science. She taught a course on African-American studies at Barnard, managing racial issues in the classroom, where she learned from her mistakes, made errors and discoveries. Hippocratic oath: do good, but do no harm. Went to Columbia in late 1960s-volatile. Went back to public education, started at Rutgers. Became a graduate dean and never gave up women's studies.

Floor open for discussion:

Cheryl: pertaining to "General Ed" piece…have a lot of pressure to do certain things as a graduate student. Know of people in the sciences that think that studying other things than their discipline is a waste of time.

Kate: Being director of the MacArthur Foundation and NYU dean and professor learned that you have to be aware of ideas of other disciplines.

1990s: different training of graduate students. Stern disciplines. Pressure in sciences to narrow focus. Culture in sciences ferocious in counterreaction to general education. The change needs to be made by faculty to take the pressure off of graduate students; faculty culture needs to change. Anecdote at beginning of general ed piece [General Education for Graduate Education] started all of this line of thinking general/good. Inspired by Bernice Johnson Reagon's piece [Coalition Politics: Turning the Century]. What does it mean to build a coalition? You have to have a home, state survival issues, then formulate coalition issues. Have to have a place to spread out and visit other cultures, disciplines. Sloppy interdisciplinary teachings, complexity theory as an example " a butterfly flaps it wings…etc." People know about it and then try to apply it; that is wrong.

Conservatism of general ed 1) move out of a place 2) need common subject or roots of your discipline 3) redeem general education, go to primary source

Redbook has virtues, but smug recuperation of America to be leader of free world political agenda.

No commonality between students. Brown and Amherst show leniency with requirements, can't assume rhetorical skill, public education has a lack of funding. What does it mean to be a graduate student? Gender issues, racial issues, global issues, different spin. Students need to read, set up graduate forum.

Paul: How far back in education is the problem? It sounds to me like you're talking about problem in earlier schooling and when are young faculty and graduate students going to say "I'm not doing this any more"?

Jody: Young faculty want to do new things, but don't have the power and are placed in a difficult spot.

Corey: This [the grad idea forum] is great. I'm surprised that students wouldn't like a general education. In our group are people who had a need and found each other because of that need.

Roland: Other people can read about all things and not feel weird. Hope that young faculty/students will bring up general education, but skeptical that students will be able to do this. Heard of teaching four-year-olds to achieve a particular type of success and to be competitive.

Kate: Afraid students/kids have been cultivated for a particular type of test. What will they do in college, but there are consequences of such testing and hopefully this type of teaching will be tested and found wanting. The movement will collapse as it shows it's not working. When we started women's studies, it was a group of barely-tenured and non-tenured individuals fed by outside streams of scholarship, people dismissed from academia, the disenfranchised, and the really young. A good dean is responsive to power groups, and there is more strength in graduate coalitions. The consequence of the information explosion should lead up to interdisciplinary teaching. The cold hand of intellectual incompetence clutches at my heart.

Liz: How do we teach and stay relevant to current issues?

Kate: Education has two parents: remember about higher education we need to keep doing basic research, because we never know. Reference to gas station reference and Afghanistan ['Scholarship about Afghanistan no longer seems so peripheral to American officials and citizens. I often think that great research centers are like gas stations. Drivers speed and zoom past them cavalierly, but then a driver suddenly needs gas or oil or spare parts, and heads straight for the once-ignored station,' from General education for Graduate Education]. History is unpredictable. Some research is wasted, but some has been catapulted by catastrophe into relevance. Great ecology of knowledge demands it. There are languages in Africa and Latin America that are dying, being lost, we need to preserve knowledge. We have an obligation to the built world to preserve knowledge, and if we don't, who will? Be loving voices for certain principles.

Corey: Corporate U don't make assumptions that they don't understand.

Sam: I ask myself, "Am I giving the students what they need?" They come from all different backgrounds, and then what I go back to is that the knowledge is good. I tell my students that they can leave the room without anything and they will still be okay. But I try to make it clear to them that enthusiasm about the knowledge should drive them.

Kate: Do you really tell the students that? I'd like to see that.

Roland: I also told the students the same thing. Trying to make sense of why I am here. Tries to tell the students to be passionate about social theory. Sort out with them what is important, maybe not the details but the question.

Jody: What we're really teaching is passion and curiosity.

Liz: I doubt the testing tradition because tests do not test passion and curiosity.

Roland: Essay questions show passion.


Kate: This is personal witness that you are doing this for this or some other reason and not for the money. Kids pick up on that. I teach it because I love it. We're all very aware of the question, which is important in higher education. Teachers get degrees and make more money, so they want to have a sense of useful knowledge. They need to fit into useful knowledge. Existentially healthy example: when I was at Rutgers, the students would come in exhausted from real life, so there had to be a reason that I gave them other than culture for them to be there.

Erin: Also, parents have a right to know that their children are learning something useful, applicable.

Kate: In years, see the results active investment. But this is a false measurement of relativity/learning capacity. Have they mastered something or have they just survived the course?

Celeste: The students come in dog-tired and they have real-life crises. Student evaluations. I came from professional to academic career.

Kate: Tuition driven by two types: one, non-profit, two proprietary. NYU-this is tuition-driven. You teach not to test but to get students into the classroom. Online learning is valuable for general learning. You miss the soul-to-soul conversation, but it works around real life and real needs. Universities are factory-like. University of Phoenix online, people can learn everywhere. University of Indiana is online, but residential time for a week or two. If these types of universities grow, it must mean a real-world need is being met.

Ann: Bryn Mawr has lost its mission with its economic crisis, and the big question is: what needs can Bryn Mawr meet now?

Kate: Shouldn't ask a Bryn Mawr graduate about Bryn Mawr, because the memories are filtered by nostalgia. Where does Bryn Mawr graduate school fit in? People will teach at undergraduate level, but not graduate. Graduate programs will not change things. Bryn Mawr may be okay without it, but changed. It would be better to let go of the graduate school, but not women's college.

Ann: But the cultural richness of Bryn Mawr is the graduate school.

Cheryl: I would hate to see the graduate school go because we, at least in the sciences and in the labs, can give one-on-one guidance and attention that professors don't have time for.

Corey: Does grad program have value? How could it have value and is anyone getting anything out of it? It may not be what it could be, but it has a lot of potential.

Liz: There is fragmentation on departmental lines. They each have different missions, which evolved into different departments. What is the mission for undergraduate education?

Ann: How was Bryn Mawr College, and what is its future?

Kate: Bryn Mawr College was built on social reality. There needed to be a place for women to learn. Physical and career realities. Cut something so you don't lose everything.

Liz: We have to ask ourselves are we doing this well enough?

Kate: That is a survival question. If cultivated PhD graduates are going off and becoming experts and mentors in their discipline, then something good is happening.

Katharine: Parents want students to learn science and a discipline. Graduates need skills.

Out of time.

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