Monthly Archives: February 2014

Book Club 2: Ethical Ambition cont.

Normally I’m a pretty fast reader, but life just gets in the way sometimes (and Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Arrested Development, and Remington Steele…). The last few weeks have been hectic and a little uncomfortable. Thinking over the last couple of weeks goes right along with what I’m reading in Ethical Ambition. As (potential) future professors, we will often be placed in positions where confrontation may be necessary. We may have to call out students for cheating, or our peers for cutting corners in research processes. When it comes to the tough moments like this, my first instinct is to run away. If I didn’t cause the trouble, then why do I have to deal with it?

But what is the cost of avoiding confrontation? In his book, Bell points out that whether I like it or not, I will likely be a role model to some people in the future. If I avoid confrontation or anything uncomfortable, I may actually be setting an unhealthy example. I love his quote on page 67:

If we sought to steer clear of situations that challenged us ethically we would make our lives extremely narrow – and not necessarily ethical.

At some point, when faced with a difficult situation we move from simply an onlooker to a responsible participant. It may not be fair and we may have done nothing to be a part of it, but it’s something we simply cannot avoid. When that time comes we must continue to make the ethical decisions both for ourselves and for those that look up to us.

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Book Club 1: Ethical Ambition

I’m going to start this post with a loud shout-out to public libraries. I love them, and I don’t think enough people appreciate them. I love them so much that when I was working full-time, I actually took a day of vacation just to go to the library because I felt like it, and it was awesome! That was arguably a more impressive library than many that I’ve been to (see below), but these days libraries have so much to offer. They have traditional books, audio books, digital copies of books, movies, magazines, and often tons of scheduled programs that are free to the public.

Memphis’ Central Library

In addition to just being awesome, libraries often also have textbooks or “recommended reading” books for classes that you can borrow and read without having to spend any money. As a student on a very limited income, it’s worth it to check libraries.

I was lucky enough to find Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth by Derrick Bell. It’s listed as one of the suggested readings for Preparing the Future Professoriate and since I could easily get it for free…why not read it? I’ve only just begun, but have already enjoyed the lighter tones that Bell uses. It’s very much a book that offers his personal opinion on simply how to be ethical in a world that is often not supportive of that goal. What has stood out to me the most is how much Bell emphasizes the method of simply taking small steps which little by little cause you to make the right choice. Often, when we think about people who lived lives of meaning and worth, we think of people like Martin Luther King, Jr. – Bell often mentions the civil rights as an area where many will face adversity. These people may have given their lives, their safety, or their comfort to stand for what they believed in. Personally, it’s extremely intimidating to think about these things because it seems like you have to make a grand move or you haven’t done anything. Looking at it as something that you do one step at a time makes it so much more accessible to me. How can I live a life of meaning and worth? By making the right choice – even when it’s difficult – one at a time. On page 36, I think he summarizes it best when he says that “living ethically is a process, a habit that must be refreshed frequently”.

What do you think about thinking about ethics as a process rather than a one time decision? Has anyone else been reading this book? What’s your favorite part?

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University Mission Statements

When I first began this assignment, I wanted to find the mission statements for schools which I have some connection to. It makes it more interesting because everything is more personal. However, I’ve only gone to Mississippi State University and Virginia Tech. Since we’re at Tech, I figured I would find another school. The first thing that I realized is that sometimes it’s surprisingly difficult to find the mission statement. Is it possible, in today’s world, to not have a mission statement? I don’t really know, but I do know that some of the schools made it incredibly difficult to find if they do have it.

I decided to go the Mississippi route and compare MSU (http://www.msstate.edu/web/mission.html) to their in-state rival – University of Mississippi, or Ole Miss (http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/chancellor/mission.html). Both universities are located in North Mississippi and are 4 year universities offering a variety of degrees at the bachelor’s, masters, and PhD levels. While Ole Miss has a stronger focus on humanities and liberal arts, Mississippi State is a land grant institution with a strong history in agriculture and engineering.

As a land grant, MSU focuses on three pillars of research, teaching, and service and expressly mentions diversity as an important part of its core. The mission statement of Ole Miss emphasizes critical thinking and questioning as a key for what students should gain in their time at Ole Miss. Both universities pay homage to their backgrounds of the sciences and liberal arts but portray a well-rounded university that offers a diverse array of opportunities.

Of course I’m biased, as the entirety of my 25 years of life has been heavily influenced by my family’s love for MSU and corresponding rivalry with Ole Miss. However, it seems as though MSU has a more clear focus on service in its mission statement. The development and research is stated multiple times as something that should be used for the advancement of the state. Ole Miss mentions helping Mississippi in a general way, but not with the specificity visible in MSU’s statement. Do you think this is a fair assessment, or is my bias getting in the way?

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