Santa Clara University

The Teaching Scholar: A Call to Connection

Diane Jonte-Pace
—By Diane Jonte-Pace, Professor of Religious Studies and Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Development

 

A contributor to The Chronicle of Higher Education argued recently that our responsibility as faculty is to teach within our own disciplines and to respect disciplinary boundaries: he argued for academic autonomy.

 

Academic autonomy is the traditional paradigm for higher education. It has many strengths, but it also involves risks. When we refrain from crossing intellectual boundaries and making interdisciplinary connections, we risk creating the dystopia that T.S. Eliot described where nothing connects to nothing. We risk becoming solipsistic scholars and parochial professors. We risk producing disjointed scholarship and fragmented curricula; we risk training students who are unable to ask troubling questions.

 

I don’t believe that Santa Clara University is in danger of producing fragmented curricula, isolated scholars, or students incapable of asking troubling questions. In fact, we are at the forefront of a paradigm shift in higher education. Our notion of the teaching scholar is central to this shift. The heart of our paradigm is a willingness to cross boundaries and make connections: we might call it a calling to connection.

 

This calling can be seen in the integrative research our faculty do. It can also be seen in our classrooms. As student learning comes into focus as our primary goal, teaching becomes more collaborative. The professor becomes the guide on the side rather than the sage on the stage. We create new connections and new curricular structures as we prepare our students to become intentional learners and integrative thinkers who can transfer their learning from one context to another.

 

We may not be the only university with a vision of the teaching scholar as a calling to connection in research and pedagogy. But Santa Clara University does an excellent job of avoiding the fragmentation that remains an occupational hazard in the academy and in the world.  We model for our students the process of working collaboratively, to weave information into knowledge, knowledge into wisdom, and wisdom into ethical action.