An Interview with V.P. David Wendler
Dr. David Wendler has served as a D/MLC education professor for 32 years and as vice president for academics since 2000. He is also a consultant-evaluator on the Higher Learning Commission.
Your work with the Higher Learning Commission gives you an insider’s look at many colleges and universities. How do MLC professors compare to those at other institutions?
I’ve been on evaluation teams at public and private institutions, including Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, and Baptist seminaries. Our faculty is similar to those faculties in their level of expertise and their dedication to teaching, to student learning, and to the students themselves.
But our faculty is also different—in a positive way. Every time I come back from a visit to another school, I have the same thought: I wouldn’t trade our faculty for any other. Our faculty’s dedication to the mission of this institution is incredibly high. It would be hard to think of a time when I asked a faculty member to take on an extra project and they said no. If anything, I’ve felt that it’s part of my job to protect them from their own over-eagerness to serve. The result of this exceptional dedication is a certain esprit de corps, a Christian ethos of cooperation and positive energy, and a high respect among colleagues.
Each department is called to create its own strategic plan. What do you foresee coming out of those plans?
What’s most important is that we have a vision for the future, which involves environmental scanning, needs analysis, and assessment. I’ll explain.
Environmental scanning means looking outside ourselves and knowing what’s going on in the world—in technology, for example. Needs analysis requires that we ask: What are the primary needs in our U.S. churches and schools and in international fields? What needs are changing in the culture? What new needs are arising? Assessment is measuring—producing concrete evidence—that our students have the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required to meet the needs of the church. If we say every graduate must write fluently, for instance, then we must use a metric to assess their writing, and if they can’t do it, then we need to change something.
All of this is essentially proactive planning. We have this vision, and then we put the curriculum, programs, and structures in place to fulfill that vision—to equip our graduates to get the gospel out to the world.
Two examples. The first is international ministry. The thirst for the gospel in Southeast Asia is strong, so we ask ourselves, How can we meet this need? How can we effectively share the gospel? One answer is to teach Mandarin, so we will offer that beginning next year.
Another example is digital literacy. Our students need to know more than basic computer applications. They need skills in SMART Board technology, website creation, and e-publication, not to mention the critical thinking needed to evaluate web resources and the ethical issues surrounding the use of digital media. So we are offering a Digital Literacy class in addition to the media-related projects they complete in other courses.
To summarize: Our mission does not change, but our programs might—in order to better meet the needs of the world we are called to serve. The strategic plan guides us through this process.
The Higher Learning Commission has directed MLC to reduce its faculty workload to 27 credit hours (undergrad) and 24 credit hours (graduate faculty). Why?
College-level teaching and learning is not the same as high school. Professors must read, research, write, and create so there is rigor and depth of learning in their classrooms. And they need time to do that. The HLC is saying, “If you’re going to have your professors do 30+ hours a week, plus coaching, advising, and committee work, then your college is like a high school. You need to be sure your faculty has the time to provide students with adequate rigor and depth.”
Two types of sabbaticals are listed in the strategic plan—for professional growth and for parish renewal. Why are these beneficial?
When we discuss professional growth, we have to understand that we live in an increasingly credentialed society. Credentials often equal credibility. College professors must have their terminal degrees. It’s simply taken for granted. This is especially true on the international front.
Regarding parish renewal sabbaticals, it’s important that our professors remain grounded in the daily life of a parish or school. They need real-life examples and experiences to share with their students. To prepare students for today’s world, they must keep in touch with today’s world.
We expect our students to be lifelong learners. We should expect the same of our professors. Sabbaticals, paid and unpaid, can help our professors fulfill that goal.
Article taken from the July 2012 edition of the MLC InFocus.