CUAC's Online Seminar II - Anglican Higher Education in the Age of COVID
St. John's Anthropologist Warden on Three Decades of Anglican Education
New College Heads in South Carolina, USA, and Kerala, India
Anglican Higher Education in the Age of Covid: A Global Survey
CUAC’s “Navigating COVID: Six Voices, Six Continents” Online Seminar II took place on November 12, drawing an audience of 130 registrants. In the words of Indian educator Lilian Jasper, it was a reminder “don’t waste a pandemic” – it will teach you a lot.
CUAC’s second online seminar immediately provided an example of a global network in action. When technical difficulties in southern England prevented Dr Jeremy Law (Christ Church, Canterbury) from opening the program he had organized, he quickly e-mailed his remarks to CUAC Board Chair The Revd Dr Robert Derrenbacker (Trinity College) – in Melbourne, Australia – who read them to the audience.
Here are a few highlights from the Seminar: The Rt Revd Dr Renta Nishihara (Dean of College, Rikkyo University, Tokyo), like a number of other speakers, said “the idea of a university itself is being questioned” by COVID despite the speed with which Rikkyo had created “a rich blended learning experience.” Yet the benefits were already remarkable: a diverse range of people in varying locations can interact “regardless of time and space,” especially helpful when you have two campuses whose distance apart had discouraged students from crossing classes. Being online meant that hospitalized students could “come to campus,” that self-study time and reflection could be increased, that international study and “double-degree” courses could be made easier and much cheaper. Yet many students are feeling alone, which means new programs for welfare and guidance.
Dr Damian Powell (Principal, Janet Clarke Hall, University of Melbourne) reflected on how far we have had to come from Newman’s idea of a university in a “defunded, depopulated” academic world which had conscripted technology in order to survive. The crisis was not just in the curriculum but “in the poverty of student life” and its attendant depression and anxiety. On the other hand, most students were already invested in the digital world and were adjusting quickly to the new environment. But what would universities look like in 3-4 years with students who had not experienced the old model? In his college “a lot of what we do is based on an embodied, shared experience – a Benedictine model in which we eat together, with eight people at a table talking together.” How could we revive this post-COVID? “The privileged will survive and even flower; the others will have to offer the cheapest programs possible – it’s a Darwinian struggle.” But not one purely of competition – rather a matter of testing and reframing, with the help of colleagues.
Ambassador Reuben E. Brigety II (Vice-Chancellor, University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee) said there were challenges enough at Sewanee for its first African American president in an institution historically identifying with the white slave-holding South. Then COVID hit. But Sewanee could call upon its tradition of community – and its isolation on 13,000 acres of mountaintop! 95 percent of its students, 2/3rds of its faculty returned to campus last fall. “We emphasize the three ‘W’s’ – wearing a mask, watching your distance, washing your hands.” The challenge now is protecting the mental health of the students – “no one knew in advance how to handle all this.” Students realize that there is no way of going back to an earlier way of life. “You cannot over-communicate,” he added. He compared Zoom to “Prometheus bringing fire to the world.”
Dr Eunice Simmons (Vice Chancellor, University of Chester, UK) said that amid a new national lock-down, their strategy is embodied in the concept of “the citizen student.” The key to ”the Chester blend” was “to re-imagine the campus, with fewer people and lots more cleaning.” Among their 8,000 students, “there has been no evidence of transmission in our taught environments.” Students are often safer on campus than at home. They do worry about student retention in this “slightly half-baked experience” so they make certain that they are listening to them – and the staff – and changing things to adapt to their needs. It’s a moral imperative that “student welfare must be at the center.”
The Revd Dr Herman Browne (President, Cuttington University, Suacoco and Monrovia, Liberia) said they have lost 90 percent of their funding for their three campuses, which are 50 miles apart. “But here in Liberia, perhaps because of Ebola, there is an awareness of what public health protocols to follow.” There is “just a tinge of anxiety” despite the fact that “it is difficult to think about any issues but [institutional] survival.” They are working with the Episcopal Church to explore better use of their farmland. “Our strength has been that we are rural: we aren’t excited by e-learning because we are not part of the national grid. Our campuses look ‘near-normal’.”
Dr Christianna Singh (Principal, Lady Doak College, Madurai, Tamil Nadu) said parents are concerned about “over-doing it” with technology – in other words, losing out on opportunities to meet other people – and they are beginning to go back to face-to-face learning, a way of “keeping the connection alive.” Two interesting developments: they gave a laptop to a student whose rural family could not afford one – now “the challenge for her is finding a place to catch a signal.” And their sports students are doing better academically because “they are more connected to their classes.”
Dr Lilian Jasper (Principal, Women’s Christian College, Chennai, Tamil Nadu) said that government take-over of the campus as a quarantine center “taught us to stretch, to think beyond the buildings.” Colleges are “self-centered” amid COVID if they only think in terms of academics, rather than taking advantage of the chance to understand community problems. So they offer webinars on mental health issues and financial problems. “A lot of outsiders are now dialoguing with us – our boundaries have expanded.” It’s been “a cycle of blessings” and a reminder “never waste a pandemic”!
CUAC members are encouraged to continue this conversation by online chats via CUAC Commons.org.
St. John's Anthropologist Warden Reflects on Three Decades Of Anglican Education in Canada
About to retire, Dr Christopher Trott explains how he has applied three lessons about Anglican higher education in his Manitoba college.
Christopher Trott admits that he didn’t like poetry – “especially the wretched stuff you had to memorize in school” – until he arrived at St John’s College Manitoba and found himself in an office next to a poet. It was Dennis Cooley – the poet who is to the Canadian prairies what Robert Frost is to New England birch woods – and Cooley taught him to love the genre.
It’s that kind of collegiality – chance encounters in the hallway, spontaneous conversations over the copy machine – that Trott misses greatly in the current COVID lockdown. He retires in June as Warden and Vice Chancellor of St John’s. He took some time recently to reflect on his years as head of the historic, 850-student college in Winnipeg, a vibrant city in one of Canada’s poorest yet most urban provinces. He was the only person in the building, a sign of our times.
Trott has devoted his academic life to the study of the social organization of the Indigenous peoples of the far North – specifically, the Inuit of Baffin Island – and he is one of the few outsiders competent in Inuktitut. Yet he also admits to some 30 years of ministry as a lay person – even though, he emphatically says, “I’m not a theologian – I’m an anthropologist!”
In 1985 he earned a theology degree at McGill University in Montreal, where he came under the influence of two great scholars – N.T. Wright, the “New Perspectives on Paul” theologian, and Douglas John Hall, who championed a contextualized theology of the Cross based on “the here and the now” – the view that a religious thinker’s views are shaped by a specific time and place. “This works well in Canada,” Trott said. “It lets us speak truth to power, both to our neighbors to the south and to our former colonial masters.”
St John’s College is today part of the University of Manitoba, but it has historically played a distinctive role in the province’s history, adapting itself to the needs of the time. Founded in 1866 with the mission of offering theological training to Canada’s Indigenous peoples, it had to re-shape itself in the second half of the 19th century as the Canadian government adopted policies aimed at “civilizing” the Indigenous groups by suppressing their traditional way of life and coercing them to convert to Christianity.
St John’s, said Trott, became an institution for training the white elite – “we have lots of bishops and governors-general in our background” – while always struggling “to keep our doors open,” whether it was to welcome women students or Jewish students in the early 20th century. An attempt in the 1990s to re-establish Indigenous training was not a success. “We’re trying now to re-think and recover a lot of that. The direction of the College has changed over time, and is changing right now, specifically because of the number of international students, especially from Africa.” St John’s is committed to a policy of Indigenization – in other words, helping native peoples reclaim the beliefs and practices that colonialism and racism came close to destroying – a policy as relevant to North America as to Africa or Australia.
Trott added: “A quick survey of the Anglican Church calendar in For All the Saints (revised) reveals that of the 136 non-biblical commemorations listed, 18 of them are specifically Canadian. Of these, four acknowledge Indigenous contributions to the Anglican Church of Canada: Henry Budd (Cree), Mollie Brant (Mohawk), Robert McDonald (Anishinaabe/Metis), and Simon Gibbons (Inuit). Without prejudice, I also note that five of the 18 commemorations are people associated with St John’s, of whom two are Indigenous.”
St John’s has been especially creative in recent times in carving out its unique residential identity within the much larger University of Manitoba. “We no longer have our own academic program, but all our students are UM students, and any UM student can become a member of the College. Most don’t know what a college is. Those who do wonder why everyone else hasn’t discovered what a college offers.”
One sacrifice in adopting to the 21st century was loss of St John’s theological degree program. “I had to take the tough decision to shut that program down. We were getting on average only two students a year, and you can’t sustain a program on that.” A compromise was reached: students with a calling for the Anglican priesthood can take core courses at Winnipeg’s Canadian Mennonite University or at the three Anglican colleges in Ontario, then come to St John’s for a sort of “rounding out” – a year of contextualized training to help them move into their first jobs in Manitoba. “We don’t offer a theological degree, but we can offer personal formation opportunities.”
This has opened up the notion of what a theological formation means. Clergy and laypeople can take St John’s courses (for as little as $200 Canadian if non-credit), “whether for refreshing their knowledge, updating their skills, or just out of curiosity.” A partnership with a large downtown Anglican church has broadened this opportunity. “So, we are not running a theological college anymore, but we are a college offering theology.”
What does it mean for a CUAC college to say that it is “Anglican” these days? Trott finds guidance in three things that former Archbishop Rowan Williams said in his 2012 inaugural Dr Rowan Williams Annual CUAC Lecture.
“We have a chapel and a chaplain,” said Trott. “One Fellow of the College said to me one day, you know, so many of my students have personal problems that I don’t know how to deal with. I’m an academic, we weren’t trained for that. I told her, you walk them down the hall to the chaplain’s office. There’s a kind of triage that will happen there. Maybe the student just needs a really good cry. Maybe the problem is truly serious, in which case they will be taken to a professional counselor. Maybe they are having a spiritual crisis after all.”
“This is the biggest relief of a burden I’ve had in my academic career,” the professor told Trott.
The second lesson from Williams’s lecture: the Anglican value of inclusion – “theologically and in terms of where people are welcomed. Everyone who comes through our doors is considered a member of the parish. They are welcome, we are open, we want everyone to feel comfortable and happy. All are welcome to take Communion. Each church can make its own decisions on sacramental practice, but I think what we do is very Anglican in the way I understand Anglicanism.”
Lesson three: “rigorous intellectual inquiry, wherever it leads. A very important thing about this College is collegial and respectful debate. We are not trying to convert people but want to actively engage them.”
Trott is seeing St John’s through the unprecedented challenges of COVID; a capital campaign awaits his successor this June. So how will the retiring Warden fill his days?
“Like most academics I have a number of outstanding writing projects. I have to do the final work on my manuscript, ‘Stairway to Heaven: Religious Change in North Baffin Island,’ and I have a first draft of my Inuit Studies textbook. Plus at least half a dozen articles.
“They have just about finished building a new Inuit Art Centre here. I plan to volunteer there.
I also want to volunteer for Sistema (https://wso.ca/education/sistema-winnipeg/). For the past eight years we have had a fundraising concert for them in the College Chapel (but not this year!), and I am incredibly impressed with their work. Finally, I want to volunteer with an outdoor center here called Fort Whyte (https://www.fortwhyte.org/).
“The priest at my church has already approached me to take over Christian Education at the church but I have said not for another year. But for our priest the word “no” is not part of her vocabulary.
“And I have 13 grandchildren, the oldest of whom is 21 and the youngest 4. There are four in British Columbia, three in Winnipeg, four in Toronto, and two in London, England. I see a lot of travel in my future.
“I also love to cook. One of my projects is to choose the cuisine of a different country every year and try to learn the cooking styles, spicing, and recipes. This year it is Palestine.”
News from Around the CUAC World
Dr Ronnie Hopkins has assumed the role of Interim President at Voorhees College in Denmark, South Carolina, while its board of trustees searches for the institution’s tenth president. A tenured professor of English, Dr Hopkins has served as Provost and Vice-President for Academic Affairs since 2017. After a semester’s hiatus, Voorhees reopened to on campus students as well as offering an online option. He follows Dr W Franklin Evans, the ninth President, who has become President of 183-year-old West Liberty University, near Wheeling, West Virginia. Voorhees is one of two CUAC members in the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) group.
Mathematician Dr Varghese C. Joshua has become the 28th Principal of CMS College Kottyam, in Kerala. Established in 1815, CMS is India's oldest existing college and is affiliated with Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam. Dr Joshua has taught at CMS since 1994 and has been head of its Mathematics Department. The author of some 30 scholarly publications, he is known among his colleagues and students as "an exemplary quiz master" in intercollegiate competitions and as a master chess enthusiast.
He succeeds Dr Roy Sam Daniel, who has left CMS to become Principal of Bishop Speechly College for Advanced Studies in Pallom, Kottyam -- one of India's youngest colleges.
The Rt Revd Renta Nishihara is proving himself a role model in linking the Academy and the Episcopacy: on October 24, he was installed as Bishop of the Diocese of Chubu. A theologian and church historian, Dr Nishihara specializes in Anglican Studies, ecumenism, systematic theology, and contemporary theology. He is chair of the Association of Christian Schools in Japan and a CUAC Board member and has been Dean of College at Rikkyo University in Tokyo. He is seen here receiving the gift from CUAC of a tippet with its Compass Rose logo, presented by Dr Shinji Kikuchi, President of Ryujo University in Nagoya.
From the General Secretary’s Desk (At Home)
Despite longstanding fears of attacks from outside the U.S., the assault on the Capitol on January 6 was entirely homegrown terrorism, supported by the former President. As shocking as it was to witness, and unimaginable in scale, it was not entirely a surprise either. It was a revolt that had been long stoked. Government is based on a basic trust between citizens and institutions, and one of its foundational principles has been orderly transfer of power after an election, going back to our second President, John Adams.
Drawing on words from Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., Presiding Bishop Michael Curry implored Americans to choose community over chaos: “In the moment of a national crisis, a moment of great danger, …a people must decide, ‘Who shall we be?’ I want to submit that the way of love that leads to beloved community is the only way of hope for humanity. Consider the alternative. The alternative is chaos. The alternative is the abyss of anarchy, of chaos, of hatred, of bigotry, of violence, and that alternative is unthinkable. We have seen nightmarish visions of that alternative.”
One consequence of unbridled speech, from the former President down, has been this uprising from supporters who despite all proofs to the contrary believed his message that “the election has been stolen.” Despite efforts by the mainstream media to disprove these false claims, the former President’s most loyal followers kept listening to him and, according to opinion polls, many still are.
So we in Anglican higher education have a long road to travel, regardless of the country we are in. As one of our Vice Chancellors, Reuben Brigety, wrote, “As an institution committed to vigorous but civil debate and the exchange of ideas with mutual respect, the University of the South [Sewanee] supports the role of knowledge and open dialogue to help bridge our differences.”
Like government, Anglican higher education is based on building trust between students, faculty, and institutions. One of our core values is “Respect for the inherent dignity of the whole person.”
As we know so well, trust is built gradually over time, when students, faculty, and staff engage with each other purposefully. There is the basic trust that a student’s work is her own, contributing to her mastery and skill. A university or college exists in the hope that their students will excel, in a world where honesty is a given.
In the recent presidential election, Donald Trump never conceded defeat in a single state. This became the Big Lie Mantra to his followers, which helped orchestrate the January 6 attempted coup. Historically, the abiding failure of the American system was overlaying a democracy with chattel slavery, a matter still to be resolved. It’s a measure of the man that President Joe Biden in his Inaugural address didn’t get distracted attacking his predecessor, but stayed focused on building a new administration, ready to govern…with an African American (who is also an Indian American) as the first woman to serve as Vice President.
The new day has come. Now it will take leaders with the honesty to start rebuilding trust, piece, by piece, by piece.
FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK
If you heard a loud “whosh” sound at noon EST on January 20, it was – as I’m not the first to observe – the huge sigh of relief that passed across the globe as the American presidency changed hands. My remarks here are just a footnote to Jamie’s message above – they express our own views, not those of CUAC – but I have to say it’s certainly an encouragement to CUAC’s mission to know that there are governments based on truth, not fantasy – on public service, not private gain.
To me, the most fascinating aspects of the recent Inauguration were to be found in a myriad of small details. Like where Bernie Saunders got his mittens…or Lady Gaga, her dress. Like what the Harris-Emhoffs must have said to the Pences as they chatted and laughed together as one second family peacefully replaced another.
I even found one CUAC connection in the news coverage. President Biden quoted St Augustine, “who wrote that a people was a multitude defined by the common objects of their love.” In the New York Times’s close exegesis of the speech (p. A15, Jan. 21, 2021), this is glossed as a phrase “not infrequently invoked by Mr Biden’s adviser Jon Meacham, a historian and speechwriter.”
Dr Meacham is a very distinguished historian indeed – a high-profile New York City Episcopalian and a member of the Steering Committee for the CUAC Appeal. Now that’s only two degrees of separation for CUAC from the President! As for the Times’s cautious “not infrequently,” I can only say that even a single invocation of St Augustine in the Oval Office is cause for celebration.
As for “the common objects of their love,” I’d say a lot of people would include the 22-year-old poet Amanda Gorman, who stole the show. If you haven’t read her inaugural poem “The Hill We Climb,” find it on You Tube right now. It was a moment of sheer bliss.
Compass Points is published by GENERAL SECRETARY: The Revd Canon James G. Callaway, D.D. PUBLISHER: Julia DeLashmutt EDITOR: Charles C. Calhoun PRODUCER: Francis Rivera