Making the Case for Small Town Academic Life

The importance of place.

November 21, 2016

The ideal location to participate in today’s academic conversations is not a big city, but a small college town. Calling out a preference for small college town over big city academic life runs counter to the current urban zeitgeist.   Cities seem to get all the press.  For one example, see Leaving For the City: Lots of Prominent American Companies Are Moving Downtown - from the 9/3/16 issue of The Economist.

This is why those of us who have chosen to build a life of teaching and discovery in a small college town need to be more vocal about the reasons behind this choice.  

We need to engage in a public discussion about the positives of learning in a close-knit community of students, faculty, and staff may convince our best students to apply to our schools.  

A commitment to participating in a public dialogue about the benefits of small town college life is particularly important for liberal arts institutions.  Many of our best liberal arts schools are located in small towns and rural areas.  

We can’t assume that those who have not spent significant time living, learning, teaching, and researching at a small school will intuitively grasp the benefits academic life in these non-urban / non-suburban locations.  

The case for small town academic life needs to be actively made.

Fortunately, those of us building an academic life in a small college town have access to the same platforms for conversation as our colleagues at big city universities.  

We can call out the advantages of tight-knit and supportive communities for scholarship and teaching on Twitter and through our blogs.

We can extol the advantages for learning of institutions built around personal relationships between research productive professors and their students.

We can talk to our colleagues working at big city schools about how the range of connections one makes across departments and schools at a small college encourages cross-disciplinary thinking and collaboration.

We should find ways to demonstrate that it is possible to live a big academic life while living in a small college town.

Our pro-small college town advocacy need not be anti-urban.  We can be fans of the renewal of city life while simultaneously celebrating the advantages for collaboration and relationship nurturing of the small college town.  

We can talk about the benefits for teaching and researching of living in a tightly integrated scholarly community, while also recognizing the necessity of maintaining strong networks with the larger postsecondary world. 

How can we amplify the voices of small college town academics?

What can we do to counter the growing bias that new ideas are best created and spread from urban locations?

How do we more accurately tell the story of small town academic life?


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