Take EPE 628, Ethics & Educational Decision Making, S’20

In the spring of 2020, I’ll be teaching Ethics and Educational Decision Making, EPE 628, with both face-to-face AND synchronously online sections! The class meets on Tuesday from 4-6:30pm. Consider signing up or tell your friends who might.

Image of a road that forks, next to the text of the name of the course, 'Ethics and Educational Decision Making.'

Why study Ethics and Educational Decision Making?

  1. Ethics is essential for leadership in the educational policy context;
  2. The course fulfills an elective requirement for the Graduate Certificate in College Teaching and Learning;
  3. The course includes options for customizing assignments for conference and journal submissions;
  4. Two students from last semester had their papers accepted for presentation at the 2019 Midwest Educational Research Association conference;
  5. It’s really fun.

Thumbnail image of a flyer for EPE 628. Clicking on this image opens a PDF of the flyer, which is text searchable. Here’s a flyer for the course, and here’s a short bio about the instructor:

Dr. Eric Thomas Weber is Associate Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation. He also serves as Executive Director of the Society of Philosophers in America (SOPHIA) and co-host of the Philosophy Bakes Bread radio show and podcast, and is the author of Uniting Mississippi and Democracy and Leadership.

Consider joining the class or sharing this post with your networks! 

[VIDEO]: Why You Should Take my Philosophy of Education Course this Fall

EPE 640 is offered this fall, 2019

Graduate students and advanced undergraduates at the University of Kentucky, watch this VIDEO (4m29s) about why you should take my EPE 640 course this fall on the Philosophy of Education.

If you can’t see this video in your RSS reader or email, then click here.

Photo with students at the University of Mississippi.Advanced undergraduates, if you’d like to take this course, email the instructor at eric.t.weber@uky.edu.

 

Why study the Philosophy of Education?

a) Educators and leaders are expected to have a meaningful grasp of their own philosophies of education;

b) All research is rooted in frameworks of ideas that support and contextualize our work and thought, and that can clarify and help us to focus or be conflicted and confuse us if not carefully considered;

c) Everyone working in educational administration contributes to a system that functions with respect to or in conflict with underlying philosophical ideas. That calls for appreciating and always keeping in mind what we ought to be doing in education.

What you’ll get out of it / create:

Eric Thomas Weber, author of "Uniting Mississippi: Democracy and Leadership in the South" speaks at Sturgis Hall October 19, 2015. Photo Credit: Jacob Slaton

Photo Credit: Jacob Slaton

1) A short “teaching statement,” “Statement on Philosophy of Education,” or related document commonly requested in academic job applications, as well as for administrative positions that often involve teaching courses or otherwise supporting them;

2) A book review for possible publication;

3) A conference-length paper ready for submission to professional calls for papers;

4) A full-length research paper suitable for submission to journals and that could support your other projects;

John Dewey, standing.

John Dewey, concerned that you’re not yet signed up for the course.

5) An op-ed-length version of the research paper for possible submission to newspapers or educational periodicals;

6) Credits that can contribute to the Graduate Certificate in College Teaching and Learning.

 

When & Where?

It’ll be on Wednesdays from 11am-1:30pm in Dickey Hall rm 127.

 

Questions? Email me at eric.t.weber@uky.edu. You can also connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, & Academia.edu.

Talking Leadership with Grad Students

Logo for the Graduate Student Congress at the University of Kentucky.Today I had the honor of having been invited to speak at the University of Kentucky’s Graduate Student Leadership Conference. My talk was called “Democracy and Leadership in Higher Education: A Talk for Graduate Students.” I seconded some of the prior speaker’s remarks, which concerned the value of networking, including online and via social media. One student had expressed her aversion to social media. I explained that at least one wants to have a good Web site, as people do want to look you up some when getting to know you. One avenue that can help are social media profiles, but a good Web site can do wonders too. I would encourage some of the same things. He had said that Facebook isn’t a great medium, but that’s because he was thinking of one’s personal Facebook profile. And obviously he hasn’t read my post about why scholars need Facebook author pages (and since I wrote that piece, my author page following has grown from ~2k to ~141k).

Eric Weber delivering a different talk years earlier, not the one mentioned in this post.

Photo of the paperback and hardback editions of 'Democracy and Leadership.'I wasn’t there today to talk about social media, though. Instead, I spoke mainly about my 2013 book, Democracy and Leadership, and showed what I think we still have to learn from Plato, even if it needs updating for the modern and democratic era. I find a lot of value in reminding myself of what Plato’s Socrates says in the first book of the Republic. There, Socrates says that good people won’t be willing to lead. They’d rather others do it. But, some compulsion weighs on good people, inspiring them to be leaders against their inclinations. That compulsion is the fact, in his way of thinking, that worse people will lead. In the democratic era, the language of good people and bad people generally rings as unpleasant at best. My translation for democracy is to say that the compulsion could be instead that good people care about problems, injustices, that could be ameliorated with effort. Good people don’t want to be at the top for its own sake, but accept positions of responsibility because of what would happen if other people would not stand up to address key problems.

Bust of Socrates.

Socrates.

After that, I explained how and why I think it’s important that we continue to learn about leadership from Plato, even while we disagree with and let go of his authoritarian outlook. In other words, how he characterizes the virtues of leadership is problematic, but there’s no doubt that wisdom is important for leadership, for example, including in the democratic era. It just needs to be understood, pursued, and embodied democratically. So, I talked about what I take that to mean in many contexts of leadership today, but focusing on prime challenges for grad students. After all, good people will need compulsion in grad school too. Leadership is generally thankless, or worse. Plus, it takes a great deal of time and effort, which generally means a distraction from one’s other work. As such, engaging in leadership efforts as a grad student may well mean taking longer to finish one’s program. That’s something serious to accept. To want to lead despite that may well take some compulsion. Even if it does, however, grad student leaders would be wisest if they engage in democratic practices, acknowledging the dangers, challenges, and harms that can come from leading. They should also beware not to carry the world on their shoulders, as time is short, even at its longest, in graduate school (or we generally want it to be), and colleges and universities are slow-moving, relatively conservative institutions. So, at best one can make incremental change and pass on to the next group of leaders their chance to make a further difference.

As such, leadership in the grad school context should stay humble and stoic about what’s possible, want to lead for the right reasons, and be award of the costs, challenges, and reasons not to lead, all while going after it anyway in those cases that truly call for such a sacrifice.

————–

P.S. Of course there was more detail in the talk, but this is the gist of what I had to say this morning, and the people in attendance seemed to appreciate thinking through these matters with me, raising some very thoughtful and valuable questions. My thanks go out to James William Lincoln and the Graduate Student Congress for the invitation.

The Risks of Public Engagement, Part I

Dr. Shane RalstonI and others may well be guilty of romanticizing public philosophy. Fellow Dewey scholar and a prolific writer, Shane Ralston, has published a warning for people interested in engaging in public philosophy. In “On the Perils of Public Philosophy,” Ralston rightly recognizes both that there is a resurgence in the movement for publicly engaged philosophy and that too few call attention to its risks.

He explains that “Public philosophers are often criticized, bullied, harassed and even threatened and, unfortunately, some respond in kind when communicating their ideas in the public sphere.” He’s right. In Oxford, MS, while I was working at the University of Mississippi, I was thoroughly harassed by someone who made me feel ill. I won’t go into the details of it, but being publicly engaged has not been easy. People who disagree with you sometimes do so to a degree motivating enough to be threatening.

David - The Death of Socrates

I have reason to believe that this person sent two students to my office with a video camera for a “gotcha” kind of harassing interview. They were surprised when I sat them down to schedule a time to meet up formally. They didn’t show up for that.

Other people have written me with insults. One man, in a single email, called me a eunuch, a gelding, and effeminate. He clearly has strong feelings about gender and opinions. That sort of thing I can laugh off. The person who told me he was meeting with my Chancellor the next day was clearly trying to intimidate me. I was then an untenured assistant professor.

People will be mean. They will be unbelievably uncivil. One said that I should spend more time in the classroom than in the opinion pages.

Ralston is right that we don’t hear enough about the unpleasant side of public engagement.

So, why on Earth do we do it?

First of all, we should remember that it’s no surprise to be criticized or insulted for engaging with people about philosophical issues. Plato noted in his cave metaphor that the philosophers who have seen the light outside the cave have an obligation to go back down in there to help free the others. He did not think that they would welcome this liberation, he explained. If any philosopher “tried to loose another [prisoner in the cave] and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death… No question.”

Plato’s Socrates recognized that people will resist teachers and liberators. The folks in the cave are habituated to that setting. They believe that they have interests there. It’s unpleasant to be turned toward the light. People will be upset. Some might try to kill you.

I see that I have yet to make the case for public engagement. My point so far is that when we do it, we must do so with understanding of dangers. It’s like a battle medic. You head into dangerous territory to save people, not to injure anyone. Nevertheless, you can be targeted and hurt in the process. The part that makes it all the more difficult is that in Plato’s metaphor, it’s those whom you’re trying to save who resist and want you dead. Given that, why think we even have an obligation to them?

Here another line from the Republic is motivating for me. Plato’s Socrates says that the “greatest punishment for those unwilling to rule is to be led by those who are worse.”

Puppet master's hands and strings.If you’re unwilling to fight for the truth and for the liberation of people’s minds, you have chosen to be ruled by ignorance and whatever shadows on the wall the powerful puppet masters choose.

If we are going to mean what we do in love of wisdom, we must do so with our greatest hopes in mind. It isn’t that we should believe that they will be achieved. The point is that if we don’t try, we choose to be doomed to follow ignorance and injustice.

Now we have the greatest need I have witnessed in my lifetime to engage publicly in reasoned, vigorous debate about what is right. There will be risks to doing so. Socrates was killed. It is incredibly unlikely that philosophy professors today could face such risks, but it is not impossible. This is all the more reason why it is important to mean it when we say with Socrates that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

You can follow me on Twitter @EricTWeber and on Facebook @EricThomasWeberAuthor.

One University with Great Leadership

At so many colleges and universities, administrators can be checked out and out of touch, or be disaffected pencil pushers. Faculty and their administrators rarely get along well. I am with folks who want to challenge leadership when it’s wrong. At the same time, it’s important to give credit where it is due. On top of that, when there is great leadership, we should recognize it and point it out, especially if we want more of it.

The Lyceum building at the University of Mississippi.

Some fantastic universities can be really poorly run. I recall hearing recently about some foolishness from Emory University’s President. He encouraged compromise in the public sphere with reference to the 3/5ths compromise as his guiding example. It was one of the awful elements of our Constitution. Fortunately, Emory will soon have a new President, who will, I hope, be a bit more thoughtful and wise in his public commentaries.

When I was an undergraduate at Vanderbilt University, I remember hearing about how unhappy many were with the Chancellor there (before Gordon Gee). At SIU, where I got my Ph.D., the university went through a few chancellors while I was there. The last one before I left had plagiarized a big portion of his dissertation. I don’t even remember the name of the Chancellor at Ohio University, where I got my Master’s degree. Coming to the University of Mississippi, therefore, I felt surprised and blessed to meet and watch several great Chancellors who have many times done the right, courageous things to do.

Photo of Weber with Chancellor Dan JonesI had cause to call Chancellor Dan Jones to action and to criticize the administration when a student and I got no response for nearly a year. That said, after we applied some pressure, we got the change that we wanted. Despite that one difficulty, I thought and still think very highly of Chancellor Jones. He made the right, tough decision many times. It’s important to call attention to examples like these. Last semester, he visited my Philosophy of Leadership course, where the students got to ask him questions about our readings, his experience, and what is worth losing one’s job over as a leader.

This morning, a Saturday, I wrote the University of Mississippi’s attorney and copied the Chancellor — presently Acting Chancellor Morris Stocks — about a pressing concern that I had this morning. The cause of my email isn’t the point here. The point is about the response I got. I wrote them at 9 am. In under two hours, I had heard from the university attorney, who answered us both. I then replied with a followup thought, given that feedback. Twenty minutes later, I heard from the Chancellor, who called my thought reasonable and who copied the relevant director at the university on that message. 37 minutes later, I heard from that director that he was going to take care of the issue — a response without a hint of complaint, only with appreciation for the thought and message. A plan was made in under 3 hours, before noon, on a Saturday, to resolve the concern I raised. My head is still spinning over the promptness of the replies I got.

Chart of enrollment growth at the university, through 2014, when we had reached a total of 22,000 students.To understand why this is a big deal, it might help to know a few more things about this little story (admittedly and necessarily short on some details). As an institution, our annual operating budget is just shy of $2 Billion — yes, with a “B.” We have a medical center, Schools of Pharmacy, Journalism, Accountancy, Applied Sciences, Business, and more (I’m in the College of Liberal Arts). I understand that we have over 800 full-time faculty members and we’re growing.

Despite that remarkable scale and complexity, I emailed top university leadership and heard from three of them within three hours time on a Saturday. The is ball rolling towards resolution of my concern. I had to take a moment to reflect on how lucky I am to be at an institution in which that could happen. There is good reason why the university is bursting at the seems with enrollment growth, fundraising, and increases in all of the right numbers, despite our share of setbacks and ugly moments. Some places have decreasing enrollment and some small schools are even shutting down as a result. By contrast, the University of Mississippi is growing. Even our tough moments, like election night 2012, offer opportunities for growth, like the candlelight vigil that was the subject of the cover photo for my recent book, Uniting Mississippi:

A section of the artwork for 'Uniting Mississippi,' featuring members of the University of Mississippi community gathered for a 2012 candlelight vigil in Oxford, MS.

When there are reasons and ways in which we need to change, I’ll be among the first to encourage us to do so. I presently try to do that on a regular basis as it is. Today, I feel compelled to call attention to how responsive my university leadership has just been. Bad leadership would ignore some complaining professor’s email, especially on a Saturday. What can’t wait until Monday?

That’s not the response I got. At least one university has great leadership.