Dear Gov. Daniels

Dear Gov. Daniels,

It was a pleasure seeing and meeting you on Tuesday.  The workshop really touched me. Like Parker Palmer, I am a Quaker.  Quakers seek Spirit will in every action they take.  This is kind of nice, because if I am seeking god’s will I am not as attached to the outcome. I know we see thing different from each other, but hope that we can have a conversation with an open heart.  Thank you for agreeing to talk to in more depth in January or February. I will be in Massachusetts at some point during that time to conduct interviews for my dissertation, but should be free as some point to speak.

There is one thing I wanted to bring up regarding your response to the role of higher education in a democracy.  I resonated with the need for the liberal arts, and I also take issue with the fact that many students today are not aware of basic political facts.  This concerns me and is relevant to engineering. The main reason I am pursuing my PhD in engineering education is to bridge the gap between technical education and societal issues.  Since WWII, engineering education has focused primarily on technical aspects and students are not aware of many contemporary problems. Engineers often discredit and look down upon problems that are non-technical. As a result, engineers are under represented in politics and often neglect to see who benefits from their design. I see engineers having the responsibility to understand how an oil refinery they are designing will impact commerce as well as affect the disenfranchised people down wind of the plant. This type of education is needed to create leaders and active citizens, but is often neglected. Purdue’s engineering education department has made some strides to address these issues, but it is far from ideal. It difficult to create change in the more traditional engineering classes, the courses today are often taught in the same way with the same material used in the 1950’s, yet our needs and technology has shifted dramatically.

I would like to take this issue and layer it with a method you have encouraged to approach education, outcome-based rewards.  You have requested that your salary be based on some type of outcome-based system.  My problem with this is that the goals will inevitably be subjective.  Coming from different backgrounds, the things that I will consider important to achieve will be different than what you will see it. This type of system often neglects social issues and weighs heavily on metric that are easily quantifiable, like is financial. Racism is a large concern on Purdue’s campus after two recent hateful acts.  Should this be apart of funding?  It is the role and responsibility of the President to address.  Also, if you want to take in consideration student civic knowledge (and I would also include engagement), something you said was important for higher education role in democracy than this should be considered determining financial rewards as a president. This difficult thing to measure and would require extensive studies, and the process of measuring will likely take away from the process of educating.

Well, this is some of my reflections from the talk on Tuesday.  I do want to thank you for agreeing to talk with me.  I greatly appreciate the experience to see you and Dr. Palmer, as it was a truly rich and life transforming experience for me.  I am looking forward to meeting and continuing the conversation.

Sincerely,

Julia Thompson

Doctoral Student

Engineering Education

Purdue University

P.S. I am sure you will read this after the show, but good luck with Colbert.  If you do see this, ask him for the “Colbert Bump.”

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his response:

Tks, Julia for following up on y-day’s conversation.  The whole idea of compensating people in higher ed on performance is basically new territory, so no one has a good model to copy.  I am sure we won’t get it just right the first time or maybe ever, but I do hope we can move in the right direction, and much of it should be centered on making a Purdue education even more valuable….high quality for the students, affordable for them and their families.

We will save this message for after my arrival and if you want to talk further we will look for a chance then.  Tks again.

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Reflection:

My first reaction to Governor Daniels’ response is frustration.  I wish outcome based pay would be backed by research, but such bonuses dont work.  I don’t know what he means by value of education… Does he mean monetary value or does he mean value for the public good? Does he think it’s more important for students to go out and make lots of money, or does he think students should go out and make the world a better place?
I am glad he is interested in reducing the cost.  Student debt is too high and is an issue that needs to be addressed. Though outcome based pay bothers me, the fact that Governor Mitch Daniels has been appointed to the position of Purdue University President through cronyism bothers me, and there are many other issues of concern surrounding this situation.  However, I now have engaged in conversation with him, and he has agreed to meet with me.  I will definitely need to call a clearness committee meeting (a quaker meeting intended to seek spiritual clearness) to unpack my feelings to clarify which topics to discuss with him.
This is surely an interesting adventure, and I am thankful for this opportunity.
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Faith-in-Action

I am starting this blog to explore and to bring my whole heart into my role as an activist.  It was inspired on October 22, 2012, when I went to see Parker Palmer and Mitch Daniels, at the conference called Petticrew Faith-in-Action Program: Healing the Heart of Democracy 

Parker Palmer, a Quaker (and the man with me on the right in the picture), started the day talking about his new book, Healing the Heart of Democracy.  He recommends not entering into conversations with the intention to be right or to win an argument. Instead, he recommends keeping dialog open, and allowing tensions to be present.  In his book, he told the story of John Woolman (1720-1772), who was a Quaker perturbed by the inconsistency of Quaker belief in equality, and that many Quakers owned slaves.  Spirit led him to ministry, and guided him to meet and discuss his concerns with slave owning Quakers.  During meetings, Woolman fasted during any meal that he knew was made through slave labor. If he discovered a meal was made with slave labor after he consumed it, he later paid the individuals for their work. After twenty years of Woolman’s effort, Quakers became the first religious society to free their slaves.

What strikes me about this story is how John Woolman was able to let the conversation continue, while the people he conversed with committed the act he renounced. The whole time he was true to his own convictions, spoke his concerns, and was confident enough to feel the discomfort of being in discourse with others that did not believe the same way he did regarding the issue of slavery.

By being open to this paradox, Woolman was being open and fully engaged in democracy. He opened himself to life. This approach is counter-cultural in many ways.  It’s easy to post a quick comment onto Facebook or Twitter that shuts down any real communication. I know because I am guilty of this myself.

Luckily for me, I got a chance to practice the wholehearted approach immediately since my political nemesis, My political nemesis, Mitch Daniels, was the key speakers for the Parker Palmer luncheon.  I have been on TV, quoted in a newspaper, interviewed for the radio, and I have written an op-ed about the public’s concerns regarding Mitch Daniels’ appointment as Purdue University’  next president.

At the seminar, Governor Daniels spoke about his religious convictions, and some concerns about issues that he has about the current political climate. Then, Parker Palmer responded.

I listened, and found I agree with Dr. Palmer’s opinions. I was in awe of the way he presented his ideas. I liked Dr. Palmer’s response when Governor Daniels stated that in a socialism takes up so much time from people since they have to be involved with everything.  Dr. Palmer pointed that many capitalists work late, and are not able to spend time with their families.  Alluding to the fact that no matter what political system, a person can over due it. He addressed Governor Daniels with an open heart and respect. I admire Dr. Palmer’s approach of open dialogue regardless of differing ideas.

At the end of the conference the moderator asked audience member’s questions.  Two questions caught my attention.  The first was, “What is the role of higher education in a democracy?” and the second was “How often do you engage with people that think differently from you?”  (I might not have the words exactly right, but you get the picture).  To answer the first question, Governor Daniels said he was upset that many students are not aware of basic political facts, which is a barrier that prevents students from being engaged citizens.  This is an idea with which I agree.  To answer the second question, Governor Daniels said he spent a small amount of time engaged in conversation with people of different outlooks.  There were few people in his life who engaged him with differing outlooks, but not as many as he would like to have.  He hoped that situation would change after the end of the year.

When the conference ended, I decided to introduce myself to Governor Daniels.  I told him I was a graduate student at Purdue, and one of the main organizers for SOAP (Society for an Open and Accountable Purdue), which is the organization that questions his appointment as President.  I told him I have different beliefs than him, and would like to talk.  He agreed, gave me his email address, and said we could arrange something in late January or February.

So a meeting with Governor Mitch Daniels: the future President of Purdue University, will happen. My next blog post will be my letter to him, and some personal reflections.