Group meets to discuss intellectual climate

Faculty, staff and students engaged in a deliberative dialogue to address how to enhance intellectual engagement on campus.

More than 100 faculty, staff and students met April 30 to discuss the intellectual climate at Elon University.

Participants gathered in Whitley Auditorium at 4:30 p.m. for a brief meeting before they broke into 10 smaller groups for more in-depth discussions about what could be done to further intellectual engagement on campus and the best way to achieve it.

The initiative started last May when a small group of students and faculty met with President Leo M. Lambert and Provost Steven House because they felt steps needed to be taken to enhance the intellectual climate. The group provided an analysis of the issue as well as some ideas they had to improve upon what was already happening at Elon.

The group also presented a list of initiatives. Many had been started prior to the meeting and others have happened during the 2013-14 academic year. Some of the initiatives include Coffee Klatch gatherings after cultural events, an active book club, a survey of student opinions about intellectual climate, formal discussions at Student Government Association and senior staff retreats as well as SGA legislation that calls on the university to support intellectual engagement. In addition, intellectual climate was made an institutional priority.

“The question of enhancing intellectual life is robust,” Tim Peeples, associate provost for faculty affairs, told the participants. “It’s challenging. It’s integrative. It’s central to the work of a high-quality residential liberal arts university. It is the work we need to do.”

Before the participants broke into smaller groups for discussion, Connie Ledoux Book, associate provost for academic affairs, explained the purpose and process of a deliberative dialogue.

“A deliberative dialogue is not designed to be an open venting session without structure to it or goals associated with it,” she said. “You’ll have time and opportunity to express your opinion, and you’ll also be encouraged to listen to each other, carefully think about what’s being said and ask questions.”

The groups were charged with discussing for 90 minutes one of three options regarding what Elon could do as a campus to further intellectual engagement. The topics included changing the student culture, focusing on pedagogy and curricular issues and focusing on co-curricular programs and conversations.

“You’ll be asked to take seriously the position you might disagree with in the conversation and try to understand why not everyone thinks the same way you do and whether there is common ground we can find with each other that might lead to a position of action,” Book said.

The groups, which had faculty, staff and students in them, met in separate classrooms around campus and were led by a pre-assigned moderator who had an outline to help with facilitating the discussion. A recorder also was assigned to keep track of the conversation so that all the notes could be compiled together for a public report.

“We are going to be asking people about what they can do personally, what they can do as a group and then what they might recommend to administration,” said Mary Morrison, assistant dean of students and director of the Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement. Morrison along with Stacie Dooley, student development specialist, and Kyle Whitaker ’14 organized the deliberative dialogue.

A follow-up meeting is scheduled for 5 to 6 p.m. May 12 in Moseley 215 where results from those various conversations will be shared and recommendations will be made.