I’m told that books sell based on three things: the author, the cover and the title. Well, if that is true, Sex and God at Yale caught my attention! Without knowing anything about it, I picked it up in a college bookstore (not Lipscomb's) and sought to at least understand the message in the title.
Written by Nathan Harden, Sex and God at Yale: Porn, Political Correctness, and a Good Education Gone Bad is a recent graduate’s observations that things have tragically gone awry at the “cradle of presidents.” If I were reviewing the work, I would conclude that it is repetitious, somewhat alarmist, certainly punchy in some places and probably a better 2,500-word essay than a 300-page book. However, it certainly has content worth examining and a message worth considering.
In essence, the book reflects this student's experience at Yale, specifically, his observations of the Yale community and its drift to being a community without morality or purpose. He offers candid descriptions of the Yale environment, including the bi-annual sex week where porn producers are allowed on campus to give demonstrations on sexual technique; where an art student, with departmental approval, displayed an art project she claimed was created from the blood and tissue of repeated self-induced “miscarriages”; where a professor is allegedly employed who praises Hamas terrorism. Writer Harden’s list is, unfortunately, much longer.
This is not easy stuff to read. Beyond the dismay that most would feel knowing that one of our most respected universities has walked away from their influential role in educating about truth, morality and respect, it is frightening to imagine the generation of young adults that they are creating to lead our businesses, influence our communities and guide the world. Will they be able to build a better world with a complete lack of character building in the years where they tell us the brain is still maturing?
I was most affected by the light the author shed on how the hedonistic culture of Yale, and perhaps hundreds of other colleges, impacts the treatment of women students; to the point the university became the subject of a federal investigation for allegedly creating a hostile environment for women. No wonder. But of more concern, here is an environment where women are treated as no more than sex objects with no concern, no compassion, no relationship and no responsibility for their well being – and it does not make front-page news, or even local action to demand that those in charge create a different environment. Nothing. Just silence as the games continue, and they play their part.
As one who serves an institution that believes there is truth and seeks to find it, as imperfect we may be in that endeavor, I am reminded how profoundly different our environment is. I am not naive when it comes to the statistics of sexual activity among young adults nor do I pretend that, even at a Christian college, we don't have challenges with alcohol abuse, drug addiction, immoral behavior and bad judgment. But, I can proclaim three things:
First, we do believe there is truth. And, in our case, the foundation for that truth is the Bible -- the inspired word of God. We begin there, humbly, to understand the ageless definitions of morality that have guided, and served well, for thousands of years. While a community may seek at any point in time to justify immoral behavior, their seeking to justify it does not make it moral. Just because some cultures have condoned the sacrifice of children does not make it right. Just because a college student handles sexual promiscuity with repeated visits to the abortion clinic does not make that right either. The sanctity of life is an eternal truth whether we choose to honor it or not. At Lipscomb, we seek to understand those truths and hold them up as worthy for college students to learn and accept.
Second, we believe that character in one's life is as important as competency in one's profession. There is no question that Yale graduates competent, bright, talented young people who will have every advantage to succeed and lead our nation as many have ably done. Sadly, with moments like the impeachment of our 42nd president who himself is a Yale graduate, it is grossly apparent that competence can exist without moral character or the respect of women.
Character building is messy, it is risky, and any institution courageous enough to attempt it knows that it will never be fully successful. Perhaps that is why our most academically respected institutions of higher learning -- almost all of which began as faith-based colleges -- simply walk away from the task. As a nation, we will be affected in negative ways because they did.
Third, we believe that, however grown up our college students appear to be, they still long for guidance, seek answers to the larger questions of life, appreciate moral boundaries and count on the adults in their lives to be responsible adults. Long ago, colleges gave up in loco parentis (in the place of parents) as a description of their relationship to students. And it is completely understandable that college administrators are pleased to pass on that responsibility while students advocate for the perceived freedom of adulthood. It’s easier.
I am not advocating a return to that environment, but neither can I feel that the responsibility to guide successful learning is carried out when administrators cower from the tasks of reflecting what they hope to see in young people and fail to intentionally seek to influence values and behavior. At Lipscomb, we seek to "be there" in the complex process of maturity, sharing at least our perspective of what is right, what is just and what is of lasting significance. Not all will accept our perspective, and we must be humble and compassionate in the sharing of it. Nevertheless, we will do so.
I have published two books -- neither of which had a title as scintillating as Sex and God at Yale. That may be why neither was on the bestseller list. Beyond the title, Sex and God at Yale, is an alarming description of one slice of our nation's slide into a less respectful, less moral and less responsible society. And it is in the very institution that should be molding the next generation of society's leaders.
While browsing through the Dartmouth College Bookstore in New Hampshire I came across a book with a bold title Saving Higher Education. Anyone who knows higher education knows it is an "industry" that is going through more change today than it has at any time since Harvard was established as the first college in 1636. Costs have increased dramatically. Delivery systems — such as online education — have irreversibly altered the traditional classroom model of learning. Information that once was communicated by a professor is now on every student's computer, and textbooks are quickly giving way to digital materials that can be instantly updated.
While it might be argued that change in higher education does not mean that it needs to be saved, those who value the contribution of the traditional model have to be concerned about what it will look like, and how it will function, in the future. Perhaps it does need to be saved.
Lipscomb would certainly be in the mix of universities that could be affected in substantial ways by changes in higher education. With a modest endowment and virtually no direct government funding, it joins hundreds of other institutions that must navigate unknown waters while fulfilling a familiar mission. Lipscomb has chosen to do so by 1) confronting the realities of higher education in a straightforward manner, 2) understanding the needs of both students and their future employers, and 3) supporting faculty who are diligently working to adapt and deliver exceptional educational products. Here’s what that looks like right now:
Saving Higher Education advocates for a three-year bachelor's degree. I was pleased that Lipscomb University was the first school they identified when describing the "accelerated" three-year degree model. While not perfect, it was instituted at Lipscomb three years ago and has the potential to save a residential student about $10,000 in college costs and allow that person to become an earner a year early.
Seamless transfer policies with community colleges so that students who plan carefully can fulfill their general education requirements at a community college, saving about $40,000, then doing their more specialized major work at Lipscomb, earning a Lipscomb degree at a lower cost.
Establish special financial aid programs for disadvantaged and first-generation students so that they have access to higher education. At Lipscomb this is part of a strategy that has resulted in almost $2 million in aid and a minority student population increase of more than 100% -- from 382 to 771 in a student body of about 4,200 -- in the last five years, providing a richer cultural mix in the Lipscomb student body.
Study the workplace need. We have created more than 50 new academic degrees and programs that respond to present and near-future employment demand, creating a connection between the academy and the workplace. They include information security; conflict management; sustainable practice; health care informatics; civic leadership; aging services leadership; pharmacy; molecular biology; law, justice and society; engineering management and educational leadership. None of those were degree programs when I was in college. All of them are part of the college I now serve.
We have instituted one of the largest "Yellow Ribbon" programs in partnership with the Veterans Administration. Now, more than 170 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are enrolled at Lipscomb which provides both a personalized private education but also a Christian, nurturing environment for their healing. For Yellow Ribbon students at Lipscomb, their education is completely free. It is what we can do for those who did so much for our country.
Look at innovative delivery. For instance, this fall we opened the first of what will be several off-campus education centers in our area. Spark, as our Cool Springs location is called, is the most innovative and technology-rich education facility in Tennessee. Already filled with corporate meetings during the day and graduate programs during the evenings, it takes the Lipscomb product conveniently to a new audience.
But all this is not enough. We are currently working on new online degree programs, more off-campus education centers and instituting the next wave of change which we believe will be education based upon measures of competence in specific areas rather than seat time and credit hours. Employers and graduate schools will not only know a Lipscomb applicant has a degree and a GPA, but will also have proven competence in any of 41 specific skill areas.
While "saving higher education" is not an exaggerated claim of what needs to be done, I am pleased that Lipscomb faculty are on top of it and working daily to create not only an excellent institution but one that is cost-competitive and relevant to the needs of students today... and tomorrow.
It is understatement to say that a college education is a major investment. If you are a student or parent, as investors you need to know what any university is doing to protect and enhance your investment. In short, think about value as much, if not more, than cost.
Like most universities, Lipscomb has had increases in tuition in recent years, but those increases have actually been below average for higher education in terms of percentage increase and much lower in actual dollars than many of our competitors. But even though our tuition costs have increased, the value of that investment continues to rise at an even greater rate.
Consider the following steps taken at Lipscomb recently:
In the last year alone, more than a dozen new undergraduate and graduate programs were added that are exceptionally aligned with what today’s employers want. These include information security, civil engineering and aging services leadership.
Lipscomb’s percentage of graduates who are employed full time or in graduate school within a year following graduation continues to be more than 90 percent, well above national averages.
We recently made significant adjustments to our “core” curriculum — the classes that every Lipscomb graduate must complete — to better reflect the kind of cross-disciplinary thinking that is demanded of employees in a complex and global environment.
We now offer an online bookstore with more electronic choices to help keep the cost of coursework materials down.
The Lipscomb dining center’s food plan has been adjusted to offer students better nutritional choices and to minimize the number of unused food dollars.
We continue to search for creative, cost-saving solutions to a quality education that prepares students for their lives and dreams, without sacrificing that value and quality. Two major innovations that translate into significant financial relief for students is our three-year graduation program and a transfer process that makes coming from a two-year college to Lipscomb as efficient as possible — and maximizes the numbers of credits student can bring with them.
And I can’t wrap this up without tipping my hat to our alumni, donors and community partners who have stepped up to the plate, especially in this past year. We had a record-breaking year for fund raising, which translates into more of the scholarships and student work programs that help offset the cost of a college education.
Our constant goal is to ensure that a degree from Lipscomb University is respected and graduates continue to be sought out by employers as well as graduate institutions. Yes, there is significant cost in providing that, and we are very aware of the sacrifices being made daily by students and families to tap that value. We thank you and hope you know we work daily to build an education that will generate a very good return on that investment.
Private College Tuition Growth Slows According To National Association Of Independent Colleges & Universities
Some weeks are just harder to live through than others.
In the last few weeks at Lipscomb, we have experienced an unusually large number in our community facing sudden, life-threatening and serious health emergencies. An amazing student tragically killed in an automobile accident. A faculty member with an aortic aneurysm whose life was saved because of great medical care in our community. A student whose father was almost fatally injured by a falling tree branch and is still in coma, a staff member who suddenly lost vision due to a retina detachment. A young academy student athlete lying motionless on the field of play after a serious blow. It’s been a season when we have been reminded how fragile life can be.
But what has come out of this is something we at smaller universities value and probably don’t talk about much, especially at faith-based institutions: a strong sense of community. On several occasions in the past few weeks we have stepped out of our academic robes and wrapped our arms around friends and families facing difficulties that no one should shoulder alone. We have gathered at hospitals, we have gathered in prayer, we have gathered in hallways and classrooms to figuratively and literally surround hurting community members, to in some small way offer them more shoulders and arms and feet to carry them through what they are facing.
In the crisis of such moments, we also see miracles. The miracle of an academy student who survived a serious car crash without any lasting injuries. The miracle of trained physicians — gathered in a matter of minutes — to perform life-saving surgery. The miracle of people all around who not only do their jobs but also demonstrate their compassion and get others through difficult times. While explaining the health challenges is difficult, being thankful for the miracles we see is easy.
This is my inaugural presidential blog. My first. And I look forward to doing this every few weeks. I had given a great deal of time thinking through what the best topic would be to interest readers and reflect a little of what Lipscomb is all about. Should it be our growth? Our vision? Our plans for expansion and program development?
Well, all of that is important, and very much a reflection of who we are.
But in recent days I have been forcefully reminded that there is something about us that is even more important: our connectivity to each other and how we walk out our faith, our love and our caring for each other in crisis.
I want our first foray into this very technical form of communication to be what is least technical about us, our heart.