Reductio Ad Absurdum: The danger of lean in philosophies of higher education

There has been a lot of great discussion around “great teaching” and the responsibility of college faculty for supporting students, not with outside interventions, but inside the classroom through good pedagogical approaches.

In some cases, it was suggested that students who were unable to self-learn beyond what professors could offer could perhaps find a better fit at institutions that were not as focused on research. The debate was lively, full of personal anecdotes by current faculty (who most likely were outliers among their students to continue studies and even earn a PhD), and pleas to think of what was “best for the students”.

The nuances to this debate are many. Faculty and educators who engage in the debate may choose their words carefully (or not so much) and understand often the intent behind statements that walk the line between micro-agressions and pragmatism. Administrators and the general public are not always able to read between the lines of our discourse.

Today in my news feed an article appeared about Mt. Saint Mary’s University in Maryland. The president of the University is trying to boost his retention numbers by early identification of students who struggle with the transition to college. His language is absurd, and the comments he makes are ridiculous. However, it is a stark reminder of the danger in fixed mindset and “lean-in” philosophies in higher education.

From the president:

Instead of thinking of students as cuddly bunnies, you just have to drown the bunnies … put a Glock to their heads.

This was his attempt to classify the “weed out” mentality he hoped his faculty would pursue. Inflammatory language – absolutely. What worries me more? The idea that students are pre-determined to succeed or fail based upon their inability to adjust quickly, lean in, and “take” their education.

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