VOL. 133 | NO. 14 | Thursday, January 18, 2018
Hass Wants Rhodes to Embrace Change
By Bill Dries
After six months as president of Rhodes College, Marjorie Hass says small liberal arts colleges like Rhodes are “on the defensive.”
President Marjorie Hass is presented with the Rhodes College Medallion by faculty member Dr. Loretta Jackson-Hayes. (rhodes.edu)
But as she was installed Saturday, Jan. 13, as the 20th president of Rhodes, Hass defended the need for such an education in an age of technological advances and vowed to create an institution that is not fragile to the “shock and disruption” of inevitable changes already underway.
“Many of the things that matter to us – the disinterested search for truth, the honing of expertise, the careful critical thinking, lively engagement with new ideas – many of those things that matter to us are politicized or even rejected in the Twitter-sphere that is now our public square,” Hass said in her address. “I sometimes feel a kinship with the monks and scribes who held aloft the fragile light of learning and literacy in the midst of the Middle Ages.”
Hass said the disruption from new technologies such as social media represent a backlash to previous technologies that “make location less relevant for coalition building and cooperation.”
“Isolationism, nationalism, racism provide some with the illusion that the consequences of the rapid pace of technological and demographic change can be forestalled,” Hass warned. “Our students are going to need an education that equips them with the skills to lead and act amidst this backdrop of massive technological and cultural change.”
A decade ago, that challenge was described as a competition with students in other parts of the world in an increasingly global society and economy.
“Today, we are warning them that their fastest-growing competition is technology itself,” Hass told those at the ceremony that included Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen. “The human jobs of tomorrow will be those that trade on our most human traits, our ability to make meaning, to identify problems, to love, to understand and to imagine.
“An anti-mechanistic education is one that hones those skills and offers practice applying them to real-world change.”
That includes, by her description, an education that is “anti-fragile” – one that not only survives disruption and change but benefits from it.
Hass said central to that is remaining grounded in face-to-face relationships that are not from the distance of social media.
“Those connections are an antidote to the intensely mediated interactions we have online. … It is face to face that we learn how to have hard conversations,” she said. “We learn how to stay at the table when we disagree. We learn to value diversity of thought and experience. It’s here that we hone the deeply human skills of care and engagement that undergird citizenship and give us the courage to pursue justice.”
Hass foresees in the next 10 years a Rhodes student body and a college-aged population in general that is more diverse, coming from across the country – as most Rhodes students currently do – and around the world.
In calling for more needs-based financial aid, Hass also said more Rhodes students in the future will be first-generation college students.
The college will undertake a year-long “visioning and strategy process” to set goals toward the objectives outlined by Hass.
In the spring, armed with $8.5 million from donors, Rhodes will embark on a new master’s degree program in urban education that in a few years is expected to produce 100 teachers annually to teach in Shelby County Schools.
Hass also announced a Lynne and Henry Turley Center – also privately funded and named in honor of the Memphis developer and his wife – to focus on urban education as well as social change, community development, youth empowerment and justice.