December 6, 2018

James Hall, Reflections on Universities and Hopes for Fulbright

December 6, 2018

Dr. James Hall shared a larger narrative of universities’ formations and changes during his lecture, Intellectual Sources for Understanding Individualized Higher Education. At the talk, he said it is important to recognize the ways in which Fulbright’s particular experience is not long, but the critique that Fulbright joins is long.

“Thinking about joining this discussion breaks us from a consumerist ethos that we are choosing something just because it is new,” he said. “This is not a new iPhone. There is a long story behind you.”

Hall described universities’ origins by giving examples of some of the first universities created. At Yale University, men were educated to serve the church and state. At the University of Berlin, Alexander von Humboldtcreated departments to produce specific, new knowledge. Other universities began to adopt this model.

Hall also referenced intellectuals including John Dewey, Pual Goodman, and Ivan Illich whose perspectives shaped conversations regarding science, the mind, and individualized approaches to study.

“You get a growing sense of liberation and that education as action and experience is needed,” he said. “Institutions become places where you embrace the fullness of your personhood as you imagine it.”

Working through history, Hall then said the aftermath of World War II and the 1960s served as two pivotal moments in the development of U.S. university culture. First, after World War II, the U.S. reflected on what universities were producing. Institutions then developed a dual sense of mission to produce engaged citizens for the country on one hand and serve as engines for economic development on the other. Regarding the 1960s, Hall depicted social turmoil that led to coalitions who worked to re-center the learning experience on undergraduates.

Hall acknowledged that knowledge production and economic development are certain components of modern institutions but warned that universities should remain focused on the classroom relationship.

“You have relationships with faculty and investments in building a learning community,” Hall said. “Universities can be large. They can be elaborate research institutions. But, if somehow, they are missing out on the mission to stimulate students’ minds, something is wrong.”

Hall ended by introducing Fulbright as part of a new wave of development in university innovation. He challenged Fulbright’s students to take part in the higher education conversation.

“You think about management, economics, and chemistry and always do so with the environment of Fulbright and doing things differently in mind,” he said. “If this is a co-design year, push your faculty to think more about what kind of institution you want to build together. This is your responsibility to each other as learners and to your community.”

Dr. James C. Hall joined RIT in 2014 as the Executive Director for the Center for Multidisciplinary Studies, later renamed the School of Individualized Study. Previously, he was director of New College at Alabama and executive director of the Consortium for Innovative Environments in Learning. Prior to the University of Alabama, Dr. Hall taught at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Dr. Hall completed his Ph.D. and MA in American studies at the University of Iowa. He has also completed a MA in religion and culture and BA in English at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. His research and professional interests include African-American literature as well as higher education innovation and reform.

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