Season 3 - Episode 351
What does it mean to help students discover meaning and build a moral foundation during their time in college? In this Baylor Connections, Perry Glanzer, professor of educational foundations in the Baylor School of Education, shares insights from research into religion and higher education and examines the role of a Christian university both now and in the future.
Derek Smith:Hello, and welcome to Baylor Connections, a conversation series with the people shaping our future. Each week we go in depth with Baylor leaders, professors, and more, discussing important topics in higher education, research, and student life. I'm Derek Smith, and our guest today is Dr. Perry Glanzer. Dr. Glanzer serves as Professor of Educational Foundations in the Baylor University School of Education, and is a resident scholar in the Baylor Institute for the Studies of Religion. He's a leading researcher and thinker on moral education, faith-based higher education and the relationship between religion and higher education. He's the author or co-author of numerous books on these subjects, including Restoring the Soul of the University, Unifying Christian Higher Education in a Fragmented Age, as well as The Idea of a Christian College: A Re-examination for Today's University, and his most recent book, Christ Enlivened Student Affairs: A Guide to Christian Thinking and Practices in the Field. He serves as editor-in-chief of Christian Scholars Review, and he's with us today here on Baylor Connections. Dr. Glanzer, really appreciate you taking the time to be with us. Thanks so much for joining us today.
Perry Glanzer:Derek, thanks for having me, it's great to be with you.
Derek Smith:At the end of a year in which so many of us in the Baylor family, whether we work at Baylor, whether we're students, whether it's someone who has a child at Baylor, is a graduate of Baylor, we appreciate the work that so many people have done to bring this year, to help it happen, for one thing, to happen in person, and also think at times reminded of the importance of a place like Baylor and other universities, and certainly Christian universities would have people who feel the same way. And so, talking about that, today I'm excited to dive into some of these topics with you about the importance of Christian education and looking ahead at the impact of these times on it. And obviously we touched on it a bit here, but I'm curious as you think about your work, what are the questions that drive you, the questions that motivate the research you do in faith in higher ed?
Perry Glanzer:Great question. My specialization is in two areas, one in faith-based higher education. So really what drives me there is what difference does Christianity make for higher education? I talk about three ways Christianity sometimes informs higher education. One is Christ assumed, and then the next one is Christ added, and the final one is Christ animating. And I see the third one as the best one. Christ assumed, you just assume, oh, you hire Christians, the Christianity is going to flow out. Well, sometimes that happens but sometimes it doesn't, especially if someone hasn't really thought about it. They may be really pious Christians in one area but in their discipline maybe they haven't thought about how does Christianity influence it. Then Christ added, you maybe do a devotion at the start, or maybe there's chapel and prayer but how does it influence the substance of what people are learning? And I do think it should be more than just Christ added. Christ should animate, bring to life everything that we do here at Baylor and other Christian universities. My second area is really in moral development, and there traditionally it's been thought of you want people to think at a high level about moral principles, but I would argue that, especially for Christians, we should think about how does Christianity enliven all of our identities? How do we seek what I call identity excellence? What does it mean to be an excellent friend, for me, an excellent professor, an excellent husband, an excellent father, an excellent part of Christ's body? That's all that is involved in that endeavor.
Derek Smith:When you think about your own role of being able to teach here at Baylor, what does it mean to you to teach at a faith-based institution of higher learning, particularly as you think of Christ animating those interactions that you have with students?
Perry Glanzer:I think the major way it influences me is I can approach students holistically. To be honest, what most secular universities do is they want to teach you to be an excellent professional or an excellent citizen. Those are good things, we need those. But as a Christian, I want to teach students, what does it mean to be excellent in all your identities? An excellent student, an excellent Christian, an excellent man or woman? And so that's what's wonderful, is I teach student life staff who are actually in charge of helping students with holistic education, and we can do that in a wonderful way here at Baylor and at other Christian universities.
Derek Smith:So with something very good like that, what are the responsibilities that come along with that, and are there potential pitfalls that we need to think about in terms of how we do that?
Perry Glanzer:Absolutely. One of the responsibilities is we need to talk about excellence. What does it mean to be excellent in your profession? For example, what does it mean an excellent historian or an excellent student? You can't avoid that, but in the pitfall is sometimes where we just maybe might focus on rules. For example, think about being an excellent spouse. Are you married, Derek?
Derek Smith:I am.
Perry Glanzer:Okay, if you were to not commit adultery, does that make you an excellent spouse?
Derek Smith:That's a bare minimum in there, right?
Perry Glanzer:Yeah. And that's what I try to point out to students is, hey, if you just focus on the moral rules, that's the bare minimum. If you don't steal it doesn't necessarily mean you're an excellent neighbor. So let's shoot for the highest we can as Christians. Let's talk about excellence and not just... Obeying the 10 commandments is great but sometimes those are just minimum rules, and we need to talk about what does it really mean to love? For example, love my spouse deeply in an agape way that's self-sacrificial.
Derek Smith:When you talk about moral formation, a definition of moral formation in the classroom, is some of that what you're talking about?
Perry Glanzer:It absolutely is. It's really moral formation that's not just okay, we're obeying the rules or perhaps we just do a few different virtues, we talk about some things like respect, responsibility. No, excellence in all of our identities involves virtues, rules, but practices, and it involves really also a larger story. For example, being an excellent student, I talk about with students, what does that involve? Well, for Christians, it involves this larger story that we're in. And so being an excellent student is not how you get your self worth. We get our self worth that we're made in God's image, that Christ has redeemed us. So don't get your self worth from A's. And in fact, A's aren't a really good measure. What you're after, what your purpose is in being an excellent student is to learn. I tell my sons, "Hey, I don't care about your grades, I want you to learn." That's the real purpose that Christians should have. And I also tell my sons, "Hey, that was great you got a high PSAT score or something but that's not how you get your self worth, self worth comes from being made in the image of God and that you are fully valued and loved by God." That's how Christianity can make a difference in a Christian form of moral development and what it means to be, for example, an excellent student.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dr. Perry Glanzer, Professor of Educational Foundations at Baylor. And Dr. Glanzer, as you're talking about being an excellent student, I can certainly remember being a student and you have high aspirations but sometimes the day-to-day, you talk about the pursuit of A's, the day-to-day, the pressures, the demands tend to almost be focused on get this done, and get this done, and get this done. Similarly, I know professors particularly in 2020, have a lot of demands on your time, you're learning new things as it relates to online education, Zoom, student pressures. Is it difficult thinking about that broader picture besides teaching your students well, and the discipline you teach? I don't want to say how difficult is it, but how much purposefulness does it take as you think about being a professor or if you try to impart things to colleagues at Baylor or other universities, to think about these things and keep them in front of us when things get busy?
Perry Glanzer:One of the key components of moral development in addition to having the proper motivation within the Christian story, looking at Christian virtues and different purposes. I would say as one of the things is certain practices and one of those is really, for me, even keeping the Sabbath. You don't want to see it as just this rule but the real purpose is it demonstrates a trust in God. And so, part of what I've even encouraged my students during COVID is, don't feel like you have to work seven days a week and burn yourself out because this is an emotionally demanding time. Make sure you're resting, make sure you're feeding your soul during that day. I try to even structure my class so that I'm not giving work that's due first thing Monday, because part of being a Christian educator is teaching these rhythms of life that God has given to us to give us life, to help with human flourishing, especially amidst an emotionally, mentally, physically draining pandemic.
Derek Smith:Dr. Glanzer, I want to ask you about implementing that more practically in the classroom like that example you just gave. You teach in the school of education, I assume most of your students are planning on being educators, but as we think about some of this more broadly, what all disciplines do you find students going into? Do you have any that are looking even beyond that immediate traditional education sphere?
Perry Glanzer:Yeah, a lot of the graduate students I teach are looking at administration or being in student affairs, and both are really demanding. A lot of extra time outside, especially in student affairs, there's activities associated, but I just had one student write a brilliant paper on how student affairs could help practice the Sabbath at Christian colleges and universities. One of the ways we can make sure things aren't scheduled as much on a particular day of the week, those kinds of things. I think that's very helpful, and for me personally, because I've taught Sunday school in the past, and that feels like another class, I usually take a Jewish Sabbath of sundown Friday to sundown Saturday [inaudible 00:00:10:27]. I started doing that in grad school and it's just a wonderful life-giving practice. It's not a rule. If you just look at it as a rule, that's the wrong way to look at it, but if you look at it as if the Sabbath was made for us.
Derek Smith:We are visiting with Dr. Perry Glanzer here on Baylor Connections. Dr. Glanzer serves as professor of educational foundations in the Baylor University School of Education and as a resident scholar in the Baylor Institute for the studies of religion. We just mentioned one way that as we think about moral foundation and the responsibilities of being a Christian professor at a Christian university, you mentioned the Sabbath there and not having big assignments due on a Monday as one example, but are there some other ways, whether it's you and your class or other colleagues that you work with here or elsewhere that have maybe, in some creative ways, or really meaningful ways worked that into the class that inspires you?
Perry Glanzer:Yeah, I'd say I have a lot of good colleagues around the university who do think of creative ways to think more relationally about how am I teaching... David Smith is one of my inspirations, he's actually at Calvin University and he's just wonderful about talking about what does Christian teaching mean? And he talks about how he's taught German, and you might think, "Well, German is German, you teach that to anybody," but he talks about, "How I want the purpose of my class to be, so my students will love Germans more. Well, how do I do that? I make sure that we don't just learn the basics of how to be a good tourist or how to use business language, but I help them encounter real life Germans through my assignments. I help them learn about the real history, to empathize with them, to love them more deeply." And so, he structures his assignments differently, even as students, even in the beginning clash, get together, they don't just face the professor, they learn in small groups with each other to learn how to practice with each other, they learn how to practice their names, just little things that would help people. What does it mean to really love your neighbor? Well, it means to learn their name, it means to learn their story. Well, you can do that in German. And David Smith talks about "I'm still teaching them German grammar, German vocabulary, but I'm also teaching them in a different way. I'm not just like, how do I get a towel in a hotel? I'm actually going, how do you carry on a conversation as loving and others focused in German?" And it's a wonderful example of how you can do that. Christ animating learning in German language learning.
Derek Smith:What aspects of interacting with students in these environments do you find most invigorating personally? And I think you've probably touched on them, but I wanted to ask you that specifically.
Perry Glanzer:I would say there's two types, but of course there's the classroom and invigorating it. I just had a class that was like this, this is an outstanding class, 14 students, we went online in March and they are all engaged. Even going online they didn't skip a beat, and what I love about them is they liked to challenge me, they liked to ask good questions, I can't always answer them but I try. And that's wonderful invigorating, that kind of class where there's that good give and take, I challenge them certainly too. And I don't sugar coat it too. I'm pretty blunt in challenging and provocative at times and they take it, they are not snowflakes at all, that's for sure. So I really love this class, and I've just had one of them in that regard. And then of course there's the out of class experiences, particularly in certain mentorship situations where I'm leading an undergraduate thesis, or a master's thesis, or a PhD dissertation, and you're just really able to guide a student along about what does it mean to do this in an excellent way? And along the way too often you're talking about life as a whole, it might be some financial issues coming up, some marriage, things that are getting perspectives and certainly I'm not professionally trained in those areas, but I think part of being a Christian mentor is you care about that and you try to offer the best pastoral care you can in those kinds of settings, and those are really invigorating as well.
Derek Smith:As you think about your classes, obviously you had a class that you really enjoyed here in the midst of this pandemic, Dr. Glanzer, but as you about what we've been talking about here, how has the pandemic and the realities of social distancing and just the challenges that everyone's facing, how have you applied these concepts that you've been thinking about for many years into the situation of the pandemic?
Perry Glanzer:That's a great question. It's certainly been a challenge. And I was talking with a good colleague of mine, Tommy Kidd, the other day and he was talking about how he actually found students were more likely to approach you after class for some reason on Zoom. And I found the same way, in fact, I had a student come up to me this last semester and it was just wonderful. She says, "We've been having a lot of these conversations, but I'd like to have some more of these conversations spiritually, I'm thinking through these things. I'm not really sure if I would call myself a Christian or not, and I'd like to think through some of these things, can we have some more conversations about that after class?" And so, I was able to gather a couple of the other classmates and other graduate students, and just really have some extra time after class where we talked about some of the things, even started reading the Bible. And that's never happened to me, actually that kind of quality of interaction and going to that depth has not happened as much. And I don't know what it was, but Zoom allowed for someway that full durability, and hats off to the students for really being vulnerable as well. I thought it was just a wonderful example for her approaching me like that, but really throughout the classes, I feel like just staying on afterwards, students have talked more, which has really been nice. So I guess that's not really adding anything, it's more the students who have done it and it isn't an advantage of technology I wasn't expecting. So it's been a pleasant surprise. I will say, doing some other things, one thing I have made sure, and I think it's just good pedagogy all around, not necessarily even Christians, just making sure students gain ownership of the material and have times to process it themselves, particularly in breakout rooms and through questions and dialogue in this group has been really fantastic at those kinds of discussions.
Derek Smith:We are visiting with Dr. Perry Glanzer here on Baylor Connections. Dr. Glanzer, I want to shift slightly and get your thoughts as someone who has studied Christian higher education for a long time. And I don't want to be too generic because each Christian university is different, each faces unique marketplace challenges or advantages, but are there broad things, you've seen a lot of people talk about, well, how's the pandemic impacting higher education and each different type of university. Are there some themes you're seeing or talking to colleagues and thinking about, well, how do we grapple with this, or how do we take advantage of this, or how do we protect ourselves from this?
Perry Glanzer:That's a great question. Honestly, one of the major challenges it's going to be a financial drain and difficulty for a lot of Christian universities. Part of this is to be honest the way we have structured recently, America has the student loan situation has allowed universities into pricing those student loans, and has really resulted in a lot of tuition inflation. And that's really been a struggle then for a lot of private universities, because they're having to face this kind of tuition inflation and pandemic has just really put some pressure on them. And it's a pressure that's going to be increased by the decrease in the number of college-going students, particularly starting in the year 2025. So there's going to be a lot of challenges and we're going to lose some Christian institutions, I'm afraid. And so we're going to have to figure out how do we innovate and be entrepreneurial? I think this is one way we've learned to do this. I will say there have been a couple of institutions that have shown the way in doing this. I don't necessarily like everything about how they're doing things, but Liberty University or Grand Canyon University, they're the two largest Christian universities in the world because of how they've innovated in terms of online offerings. Anyone can say they're going where their students are and serving them and that's a plus. I think the challenge is, how does Christianity still different there? How do you have character formation in an online setting, spiritual formation? Those are the challenges, but I think some things can be done. So we're going to face those challenges. Also, I think one of the things we're going to need to do is we need to do a top-notch job of responding to the pandemic, and my hats off to the Baylor leadership, our executive leadership has done a fantastic job of being data-driven, of caring about the students and their safety, and we had a successful semester and other Christian universities are able to do that, will show... It just makes a difference when you can show on that kind of stage, "Hey, we not only do this moral and spiritual part, but we are serious about the academic side and the safety side, and we take the data seriously." And that's what I'd hope that a Christian university would do, that we would be the best place to go for, hey, when a pandemic happens, we know we're going to get the best data from a Christian institution not conspiracy theories or other kinds of lazy moralizing that I've seen out there.
Derek Smith:As you think about the unique role of a Christian institution in the marketplace, are there any areas of strength or creativity to leverage that stand out to you going forward, besides I think the obvious that they offer something immediately different in that Christian foundation?
Perry Glanzer:I think our strength is really going to be holistic education, people are hungry for that. I did notice like Harvard, they have a new center in the social science, it's looking at human flourishing, trying to measure that in the social sciences. Well, we should be someone who is saying and coming along, and we're trying to do that with some survey products we're doing here, I'm part of a team that's doing that. Hey, we're going to measure this as well about human flourishing, broadly speaking, not just academics, not just critical thinking, although those are very important, but also moral formation, spiritual formation. How are we measuring that? I think we can offer something specific and unique there. I will say too, we have an advantage in that the population is going to decline, but Christians are having more babies which is a great thing, and around the world we are. For example, Africa is the fastest growing continent in terms of population. It also now has the most Christians of any continent in the world, it also in the past 20 years has started the most Christian institutions of higher education, more than any of the other continents combined. Christian higher education has just taken off in Africa. And so, I think there's some real opportunities to partner, perhaps even for US institutions to recruit African Christian students, but also partner with African institutions, because there's going to be some real leadership happening in Africa, which I think is just exciting for the worldwide Christian community to see some of those things happening.
Derek Smith:Visiting with Dr. Perry Glanzer, and Dr. Glanzer, as we head into the final couple of moments here, I wanted to close by asking you, be tying it together a little bit with the idea of a university's unifying soul. I think you've painted a picture of that over the last 20 minutes or so, but I wanted to ask you specifically, because it's a big part of your 2017 book, Restoring the Soul of the University. When we think of a unifying soul, even beyond the definition, what does that mean to you, and I imagine many of your colleagues?
Perry Glanzer:How I defined it in the book and how I really define it in my work is that a unified soul is a larger meta-narrative that holds everything together, and it's really what a Christian university offers that a secular university does not. Maybe there's some overall narratives about education, or learning, or helping people, but really Christianity offers this cohesiveness that we can say, you want to be a great excellent biologist and an excellent Christian, how do we bring those identities together to be an excellent Christian biologist? Then how do we also bring it together so that, hey, you don't lose your marriage and lose your children in the midst of being an excellent Christian biologist? And how do you have healthy human flourishing so that you steward your body, so that you steward the earth as a Christian biologist and the advocate for that? And also that you're a great friend, an excellent friend, an excellent citizen. How does that all fit together in one life? And of course there's not one way it all fits together, obviously that's the beauty of the diversity of the body of Christ. But I think what we can do is we can ask all those questions. And in fact, one of the things, I was just talking to a colleague at Boston College, he's a Catholic, and we were both talking about how we need to move forward in Christian graduate education to help think about this idea? What does it mean to do Christian graduate education well so we don't burn out our PhD students, we don't abuse them, so we help them go in with flourishing in life? Both Catholic and process institutions have started this process but he and I were both talking, there's not as much written about that as there really needs to be, and I think Christian institutions can be on the cutting edge of really helping take care of a holistic education, even at the higher levels.
Derek Smith:Well, Dr. Glanzer, as we are about up against the clock here, I appreciate your time and sharing that. It sounds like there's some opportunities for some of your future research projects there as we talk about that.
Derek Smith:Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for your time and for these really reminders of what so many people are doing here at Baylor in pouring into students, even in the midst of the challenges of this pandemic, we appreciate that and appreciate your work. So thank you very much.
Perry Glanzer:Thank You for the opportunity there, appreciate it.
Derek Smith:Dr. Perry Glanzer, professor of educational foundations in Baylor School of Education and resident scholar in the Baylor Institute for the studies of religion, our guest today here on Baylor Connections. I'm Derek Smith, a reminder that you can hear this and other programs online, baylor.edu/connections and you can subscribe to the program on iTunes. Thanks for joining us here on Baylor Connections.