Caring for the Smartest People in the Room

Cal State Los AngelesThe Brightest Bulbs on the Porch

Some, who have been referred to as the brightest bulbs on the porch or the smartest people in the room, have been at the top of their class since preschool. Many have an alphabet soup of initials after their names to signify their advance academic degrees and the chair positions they hold at elite universities. All have spent long years in libraries and laboratories doing research, writing dissertations, and preparing for their current roles. And all work very hard—teaching classes, doing advanced research, counseling students, serving on faculty committees, applying for grants, and juggling family life.

The Role of Faculty in the Knowledge Based Society

Peter Drucker once said that in a knowledge based society where knowledge represents wealth, the most important institution is the school. It follows that the faculty are the most important players as they are the ones that create and disseminate that knowledge. The Graduate and Faculty staff team of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship seeks to care for the souls of faculty on college and university campuses across the nation. The six team members in Southern California serve at USC, Claremont, Cal State Los Angeles, UC Irvine, UC Riverside, and Cal Tech. In addition to weekly campus fellowship groups and Bible studies, they host their annual Faculty Conference at Campus by the Sea each August. This summer 146 faculty and their families gathered to pursue the theme of Doing Justice, Loving Kindness, and Walking Humbly with God in Higher Education.

Loneliness in Academia

Kermit the Frog once said that it is lonely being green. Many might be surprised to discover that it is also lonely being a faculty member. The environment for earning an advanced degree, finding a teaching position, instructing distracted students, and securing research funding can be highly competitive.  Their jobs often require long hours of introverted scholarly pursuits. Most are experts in subjects that few others can understand or talk about. And in some schools, including ones founded on Christian principles, to admit that you are a follower of Jesus might mean academic suicide.

Faculty Conference

So our Graduate and Faculty team uses the Faculty Conference to build a community of scholars, to nurture their spiritual lives, to help promote the integration of faith and learning, and to encourage evangelism and service. The response from the faculty has been enthusiastic. One woman said, “My family and I will do this every year. We value the local church, but it is only here that I have the academic conversations that I need to grow as a follower of Jesus in the university environment.

Listen to This!

To get a taste of the kinds of discussions that took place, follow this link to the website of Francis Su, Professor of Mathematics at Pomona College. Last year he won the Haimo Award given by the Mathematical Association of America to the most distinguished college or university math teacher. You can listen to his acceptance speech on the topic of The Lesson of Grace in Teaching.