The Epistle of Q — Chapter 171 (D)

back again…

The intriguing month of October 2022 – Part D

This has been a very interesting and sometimes confounding month. Many milestones, a few bumpy moments, some sad and reflective times. I’ve decided to write you a long epistle, but break in down into parts so that you don’t get eye strain trying to read it all at once. However, I am not going to unfold the story in a time-relevant sequence, so you might have to go back once in a while to get the full context… Nevertheless, here goes:

This also turned out to be a month of conferences. I ended up attending two – one was the Annual General Meeting of my professional associations, the other one tangentially related to my work with Concordia University of Edmonton (CUE). Both were good, certainly worth my time, but were quite different.

Let me now review the first one. This was the SEAC Conference (Society for Ethics Across the Curriculum — the actual AGM was held later, via ZOOM) and it was held at Ole Miss (University of Mississippi). As important as this gathering is to keeping me up-to-date on trends in good curriculum and pedagogy, this year’s location was very special. It was the 60th anniversary of the race riots associated with a young Mr. Meredith’s attempt to enroll at Ole Miss. When I was a kid, the University of Mississippi was recognized as a very good academic institution in the heart of the deep south. Thus the desire of a young black to attend was not surprising. Neither was it that astonishing that the governor of the day, reflecting the attitudes of the majority of white folk, didn’t want to see blacks in Mississippi sitting with whites in college classes.

I already was beyond Grade XII when, in the autumn of 1962, Meredith went to register. The governor, not the university president, was personally there to bar the door. It took federal troops (ordered there by President Kennedy) to ensure that Meredith was able to join the student body. I remember watching it on the news. So it was definitely a location that this year appealed to me.

I went early, before even the pre-conference sessions, in order to give myself time to explore the campus, and see where the infamous moments had occurred. The campus is much different now. The open quadrangle (actually more a semi-circle) is a grove of trees, with various plaques describing the event and subsequent changes (there has been no attempt to re-write history: the good, bad & the ugly is discussed on many signs, plaques and brochures). The Grove is a peaceful setting wherein it is very easy to reflect upon the past and contemplate what the future might bring. In addition, graduating classes have now begun to build brick pathways whereupon their names and aspects of their university years are engraved on individual bricks. It makes for a fitting tribute to the on-going evolution of the university itself.

The conference itself was very well organized and included meals right alongside the various sessions. The weather cooperated so that often people sat out on the grassy knolls, picnic-style, while eating — it promoted a delightful interactive informality which in turn spawned many unique conversations. The conference site was The Inn at Ole Miss, right in the midst of the campus. This made visiting certain buildings very convenient. One such trek was to hear the university provost (Noel E. Wilkin). In his welcome to the university he pointed out the amazing journey of Ole Miss from a segregated institution to one that now has a higher percentage of blacks than the University of California Berkley. Moreover (as I had already noted) there were turbans, hijabs, and vocal accents from around the world to be met on any walk across the campus. And all this has taken place without Ole Miss losing its standing as a vibrant academic institution.

The conference itself had a plethora of interesting sessions and worthwhile speeches. I personally was able to take in a conversation on addressing decision fatigue: adopting an ethical reasoning strategy and developing pattern recognition for moral situations, followed by a vigorous debate on the ethics of doing ethics. We also explored learning through conversation: using the Ethics Bowl Format in the classroom as well as an anatomy of classroom engagement. Additional ideas for pedagogical improvements looked at finding ethical issues in cases: how Kant fails us; and, approaching social justice topics through the use of social norms. The presidential address (Elaine E. Englehardt from Utah Valley University) gave us a good review of how SEAC is growing and contributing to the expanding world of practical ethics within the academy and beyond – including more dynamic cooperation with APPE (Association of Practical & Professional Ethics), another professional association wherein I am a member.

We also heard from keynotes on philosophy, public engagement and social movements as well as intellectual virtues and ethics education. I was honoured to chair an extended session which examined both the production of fear and loathing for power and profit, and care ethics and fake news: how Nel Noddings’ educational reform proposal ccan help address the fake news problem. Along with two of my former students, we presented a panel using the APPE Ethics Bowl formats to create an applied ethics final exam. While attendance at this session was not large, the conversations lasted almost two hours and were both vigorous and extremely supportive. A good deal of validation for my approach was received, and we were able to assist others attempting to incorporate similar pedagogical innovations in their courses and classroom settings.

All in all it was a very worthwhile experience. I reconnected with a good number of long-time colleagues including special friends from Clemson, Utah Valley, Rosemont, Villanova, Arizona State along with new graduate students and others. I learned some things. I debated some things. I was part of some intriguing conversations. And I enhanced my own abilities to deliver effective ethics courses, should I be invited to do so going forward. I was glad to have visited Ole Miss, to see and in some ways experience its evolution. I was very happy with SEAC for giving all who attended a real boost in their knowledge and abilities to deliver ethics across curricular boundaries. I am already looking forward to autumn 2023 when we will gather again, this time at James Madison University in Harrisonburg Virginia.

October has been a good month in my professional journey.