A Problem solving Seminary?

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Philosopher of religion and chair of the department of religion at Columbia University, Mark C. Taylor, has written a provocative op-ed artice entitled, “End the University as we Know it.” (Thanks to my colleague Rhoda Cairns for pointing this out.)

Some highlights:

  • “As [academic] departments fragment, research and publication become more and more about less and less.”
  • “The dirty secret of higher education is that without underpaid graduate students to help in laboratories and with teaching, universities couldn’t conduct research or even instruct their growing undergraduate populations. That’s one of the main reasons we still encourage people to enroll in doctoral programs. It is simply cheaper to provide graduate students with modest stipends and adjuncts with as little as $5,000 a course — with no benefits — than it is to hire full-time professors.”
  •  “Young people enroll in graduate programs, work hard for subsistence pay and assume huge debt burdens, all because of the illusory promise of faculty appointments. But their economical presence, coupled with the intransigence of tenure, ensures that there will always be too many candidates for too few openings.”

Taylor goes on to speak about six steps that will be needed “to make higher learning more agile, adaptive and imaginative” (which I won’t recount here) by making higher education centred on a “problem solving approach.” For example, he suggests, “A Water program would bring together people in the humanities, arts, social and natural sciences with representatives from professional schools like medicine, law, business, engineering, social work, theology and architecture.” I like this idea. 

Some years ago I attended a lecture by process theologian John Cobb, Jr. who suggested a similar approach to education centered around problem solving. It might be interesting whether our modern day seminaries could begin to structure, at least partially, in this way. Indeed, I have begun to realize how important our “Ministry Related Research Project” (affectionately known as the “MRRP” (pronounced, “Merp”)) here at Briercrest Seminary really is because it is already somewhat directed toward a problem solving approach.  But what might be very interesting is to think about a cohort of graduating students would all work together on a single MRRP focused on a practical ministry problem, but bringing in the expertise of each of the disciplines (leadership, pastoral ministry, theology, biblical studies, counselling, etc.) to bear on the topic. 

For example, imagine what would happen if, for example, we addressed the problem of “biblical literacy” as an interdisciplinary problem to solve. It would be fascinating to get a group of final year seminary students from all the programs sitting together in a room and brainstorming on how to address this problem from the perspective of their discipline. The final outcome would be fascinating, especially when trying to integrate the insights into a coherent document! But I think it could be fruitful and an exciting learning venture.

What do you think?

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