Teachers of the Future: Advice from Seminary Leader Dan Dumas

Dan DumasThe landscape of higher education is undergoing a seismic shift. What’s the future of teachers after the shakedown? What will the teachers of the next generation need to look like and prioritize? Dan Dumas, Senior Vice President for Institutional Administration at Southern Seminary, recently shared four observations with a classroom of prospective teachers. Dumas has a broader perspective on the teacher’s role because of his broad institutional oversight at Southern. Some of these may be uncomfortable observations, but regardless of one’s opinion, these are real issues that will require attention and leadership. Leaders recognize problems and tensions, take them in their hands for inspection, and strategize decisively to address them. The prospective teacher is wise to consider them now.

1. Do more before you say more.

There’s a tremendous difference between earned leadership and granted leadership. The end of your PhD is not the end of your learning. The heavy lifting actually begins at commencement. When guys get PhDs they tend to think they’ve arrived, but they haven’t really done anything yet. Entitlement can set in. These young guys are bringing raw content to the table without experience. They see someone who’s learned, experienced, taught, and written, and they want to have his platform and his influence without the work. In the church, a lot of guys like the title of elder, but they don’t like the work — work to the point of exhaustion (1 Tim 3:1). So remember: Sweat equity is always the best equity. As you work in academics, work hard at humility and character. We’re talking about higher education, and character is central to education. In the church, it’s similar: the qualifications are character and sagacity. So do more before you say more.

2. Higher education lacks a healthy competitive environment.

I think the next generation faculty member at the next generation institution needs to be all in. There will be no coasting, and less compartmentalization. A question that will come up in the near future is this: “Does tenure tempt us to be slothful?” We need to have an edge to us, to have an aggression, to have drive. The next crop of faculty members will need to recruit students to classes. The next generation teacher will need to be strategic about admissions. They will have to believe in the whole institution and its mission, not just their classes and research. If you want to teach in future institutions, be an all-in faculty member. Remember: You (the teacher) think about teaching, but we (the administration) think about selling hours. Sometimes when there’s not a competitive environment, innovation can slip to a low.

3. Higher education must create higher expectations and accountability.

We’re working toward a meritocracy (promotions and raises for job performance). But how do you evaluate faculty? You can’t depend on peer evaluations. So we’re thinking outside the box and having the deans oversee the evaluations. We want to raise the expectations, define the expectations, and develop clear accountability. We also need to incentivize the faculty, and it’s not always about the money. It might be about a certain amenity, or reducing teaching load, or a book budget.

4. Higher education lacks adaptability.

The ability to change with the times is mandatory. Academics in higher education can sometimes coast. We need to be revising syllabi, reading books in the field, paying attention to trends, adjusting with technology, doing our best in the online world. You’re going to find people who are inflexible, but you need to be Gumby. Ultimately we want to be on the cutting edge, not the bleeding edge. We want to look at what others are doing and then leap-frog.


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