• Prose and Purpose

    After 25 years on the job, a former provost examines the world on campus and in higher ed.



On the day the film opened, I was asked by my older daughter to drive the car pool taking her and her friends to an IMAX version of 'Divergent.'

March 30, 2014

On the day the film opened, I was asked by my older daughter to drive the car pool taking her and her friends to an IMAX version of Divergent. I had heard about the Divergent story by Veronica Roth but I haven’t to date read any of the books.  In driving the car pool to the movies, there are usually two choices:  drop the kids off and come back two hours later or rather than taking an extra trip home and an extra trip back to the theater, seeing a movie at the same time, which was ultimately my choice.  I decided to see Divergent.

The plot was very interesting and involves the city of Chicago at a future time, clearly after some traumatic event.  The city is divided into five groups: Abnegation, who lead the Chicago government and serve in a selfless way; Amity, those who love peace; Candor for those who are honest in a very unfiltered way; Dauntless, the fearless protectors; and Erudite, those who are very smart (which immediately reminded me of faculty, a natural reaction on the part of provosts). I must also admit that I was disappointed there was no separate group for chocolate lovers; clearly we have a lot to say and a strong common interest that brings us together.

At age 16 kids have to decide whether to stay with the faction they were born into or move to another faction.  This choice is theirs for the making, though a drop of blood is involved to seal the deal.  And once the decision is made it is final, there is no returning to the group that you originally came from, even if you clearly don’t fit into the new group you chose. Beatrice, the focal point of the story, decides to move from Abnegation to Dauntless.  At the same time the Erudite group is attempting to undermine Abnegation.

I’m not about to divulge any more of the story; however, I did find it interesting enough that I plan to read the book within the next few weeks.  In watching the selection process, it reminded me of students selecting a major, though clearly this is a much less painful process.  It also reminds me of a major strength that most of American higher education shares. We allow and even often facilitate students changing their mind or delaying making up their mind.  In my experience a significant percentage of college students enter higher education without any decision regarding a major.  Many others who have decided on a major change their mind after a semester or two and switch majors.  The ability to change your mind often better positions a student for his or her ultimate graduation and future success. Around the globe, there are many examples of students who get tracked into a particular school and or major without the ability to move into a different area.  Clearly, under the circumstances, their chances for success diminish as they become more unhappy with the choice they made or the choice that was made for them.

There are many strengths that are part of American higher education; choice and the ability to change your mind are for me two of the major strengths.


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