By Timothy L. Hulsey
These are compelling times for higher education. The life of thought and reflec-
tion that has characterized aca-
demia for centuries is going, re-
placed by a fast-paced, consum-
er mentality, while all around us
we see an assault on the basic value of higher
education. Pundits ask repeatedly, and usually
without context, whether a college degree “is
worth it,” while legislators demand that we
strive to produce “employable” graduates.
While there is certainly nothing wrong with
being employable (or employed), the shift away
from educating citizens toward producing employable graduates has profound implications.
Having dramatically reduced funding for higher
education in recent decades, states have shifted
the financial costs of college onto students and
their families. To minimize this burden, students
are encouraged to take loans, move through college quickly, focus on a particular discipline, and
treat college as a place for vocational training.
It is common when talking about education
to confuse prevailing conditions with enduring
ones. We have convinced ourselves that this is a
new age, that technology has fundamentally
changed the world, that these students are different, and that, if we don’t find a way to keep up,
all will be lost. I would argue that this is an illusion, created by political and economic policies.
However, even if illusory, these beliefs have real
world implications: We seem headed back to an
old model, one in which those who can afford
small classes, dedicated and engaging faculty,
challenging and broad-based curricula will con-
tinue to be educated in the classical style, while
those who cannot afford it will receive techno-
logically-mediated instruction, large classes, and
vocationally-oriented curricula. While these
changes may, in fact, improve educational out-
comes, decisions about the future of higher edu-
cation ought to be made at the end of a long
and informed discussion, rather than at the
point of an economic and political spear.
I believe that we perceive higher education
to be in crisis principally because everything
occurs so quickly now. Communication, acquisition, and gratification are all nearly instantaneous. And, while these things may be a
boon for some, they also exact a social and
emotional price. The 14th Dalai Lama has put
it most poignantly:
We have bigger houses but smaller families; more
conveniences, but less time.
We have more degrees but less sense; more knowledge but less judgment;
More experts, but more problems; more medicines
but less healthiness.
We’ve been all the way to the moon and back, but
have trouble in crossing the street to meet our new
We built more computers to hold more copies than
ever, but have less real communication;
We have become long on quantity, but short on
These are times of fast foods but slow digestion; tall
men but short characters;
Steep profits but shallow relationships.
It’s a time when there is much in the window, but
nothing in the room.
The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi honors
students and their achievements. We champion
high standards. We support our members. But
most importantly, we embody a particular (and, I
would argue, a particularly important) approach
to learning. Our motto is, as you know, “Let the
love of learning rule humanity.” Put simply, we
are exhorted to make a virtue of learning.
The English word “virtue” arises from the
Latin virtus, meaning courage. Being virtuous
means having the courage to live according to
one’s convictions. It represents the effort to capture excellence in living by expressing our beliefs
through our behavior.
So, if we are to live our motto, what goals
should we collectively pursue in the 21st century?
How do we support real education? How do we
embody our shared values? How do we aid those
who would truly make a virtue of learning?
I believe that a healthy Phi Kappa Phi is comprised of healthy chapters. The national organization must meet the members at the level of
the chapters. Supporting and creating healthy
chapters will improve our visibility, create a
greater sense of pride and belonging in our
members, and provide a platform for us to speak
to the issues that confront higher education.
Accordingly, I will commit this biennium to
improving the health of our chapters, increasing
the frequency of communication between the
Society and individual chapters, and finding
money to support chapter initiatives. I will work
with the Chapter Development staff to further
their success and with our other divisions to ensure that those of you in positions of chapter
leadership are aware of the ways the Society can
assist your efforts.
If we are to succeed in making a virtue of
learning, we must be intentional about how we
operate, what we celebrate, and the role we play
in the lives of our chapters and our members.
So, let’s band together in support of our motto
and make the love of learning our guiding principle. We simply cannot spend our time struggling with, as David Foster Wallace said, “A
constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost,
some infinite thing.” We must recognize what
we have and work to strengthen it. We must celebrate excellence by being excellent.
By Peter Szatmary
Of all the people you en- countered at college, who comes to mind as
most important? An inspiring
professor? Your future spouse?
I think of the first friend I
made. David, so vivid, shed
luster on me.
We met move-in day our freshman year at a
small, residential, liberal arts campus, living a
few dorm rooms apart. He cursed as I breezed
by. Startled and confused, I retreated to unpack
more. Minutes later, David knocked, introduced
himself, apologized, and explained the profanity: The whoosh of air I had generated from the
hallway sent flying a shredded letter he was piecing together. Turns out, David and a cousin corresponded by composing a one-page missive,
ripping it up into smithereens, and then mailing
the bits in an envelope for the recipient to arrange like a jigsaw puzzle and tape into place.
What ingenuity! What dedication!
David epitomized a budding Renaissance
man. He majored in theater, designing, building
and lighting sets, and minored in biology to be
well-rounded. David read the dictionary for fun.
A cellist since third grade, he played classical
and world music equally adeptly. David added
taekwondo in academia, earning a belt each se-
mester. He baked from scratch, specializing in
dough. And David was a rugged individualist
whose stature dwarfed a skinny 5 foot- 5 inch
frame: He concocted his own study abroad by
taking off what should have been junior year to
trek Alaskan wilderness and paying for the expe-
rience by cleaning fish on a boat during the self-
same odyssey. Such gusto, engagement, curiosi-
ty, breadth, imagination, assuredness, risk-tak-
ing, and diligence!
We were both 18 when our friendship commenced but he was more mature. David, “out”
since 16, exuded a confidence with would-be
male lovers that I lacked with female counterparts. He taught me a philosophical game about
hypothetical either/or choices: Must Pick One.
We’d debate for hours profound alternatives: affluence or benevolence; attend a sister’s wedding
or a brother’s funeral? And David poured orange
juice over cornflakes to be, in his terms, practical
He never returned to college, despite intending
to reenroll, because David died of AIDS late fall
of my third year. Unaware even that he had contracted HIV in The Last Frontier, I sobbed when
his father shared the bereavement. Decades later,
I still cry over David. When I’m not smiling.