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david l. passmore

Assumptions, Choices, & Constraints

My Assumptions About Teaching
& Learning in Graduate Schooling

Paul (the late) and Maralyn Mazza created South Hills School of Business & Technology in 1970 in response to the need for more specialized skills training in central Pennsylvania. Over a fine lunch in State College, Pennsylvania, on one snowy day, Paul Mazza articulated for me two key assumptions about the process of schooling: respect and effort.

On the opening day of classes at the South Hills school, the Mazzas remind each student cohort incoming to South Hills about the centrality of these two assumptions about the South Hills experience. He always told new students assembled for the first day of classes, “We will be nice to you, you will be nice to each other, and you will work harder at our school than at any other time in your life.” Two assumptions: respect and effort.

I was impressed by the wisdom, simplicity, and power of Mr. Mazza’s two assumptions. After much reflection, I concluded that these two assumptions are good guides for the exchange that occurs between graduate faculty and graduate students. I translated and rendered Mr. Mazza’s thoughtful ideas into two simple personal assumptions — and commitments — I make about graduate faculty/graduate student relationships:

Respect – First, I respect you as a person embodied with integrity and dignity. I keep in mind that you have parents, significant others, children, extended family members, friends, co–workers, and community members who admire and love you for the many qualities you bring to life. Moreover, at the same time, I respect your choice to enter into a graduate program like the Workforce Education & Development program and all that this choice signifies. To me, your choice reflects your expectations to attain high scholarly ideals, to strive with persistence to overcome human frailties and life’s barriers to scholarly excellence, to enter and compete in the tight and difficult market for scholarship, and to courageously pursue high quality scholarship that is case–hardened by principled, ethical behavior. In these ways, respect is a value that you and I share about you.

Respect the burden.
      – Napoleon Bonaparte,
         French military and political leader
         during the latter stages of the French Revolution

Effort – Serious graduate study does not resemble a simple walk in the park. Graduate students commonly are required to acquire knowledge, demonstrate competence, and develop skills in domains with which they have scant any background or from which they, as adults, often are separated by years from original exposure, often as adolescents (e.g., in areas such as mathematics, science, and formal, publicly–evaluated writing). Expect that I will ask you to work hard, perhaps harder than you ever have worked, to attain an academic goal. No apologies, though. The professional challenges that await graduates of and advanced degree programs such as Workforce Education & Development must be met with high levels of knowledge, competence, and skill. There are no gold stars for merely holding an advanced degree. In addition, employment in the field of practice of workforce education and development is highly competitive. You gotta be good! For these reasons, the effort you must expend is justified by the professional demands and the competition you will face in the work force.

All life demands struggle. Those who have everything given to them become lazy, selfish, and insensitive to the real values of life. The very striving and hard work that we so constantly try to avoid is the major building block in the person we are today.

      – Pope Paul VI,
         reigned as Pope of the Catholic Church from
         June 21,1963, until his death on August 6, 1978

Your Choices About Advising & Instruction

Students who do not share my assumptions about teaching and learning in graduate schooling probably should seek advice and instruction from other graduate faculty in the Workforce Education and Development program. The Workforce Education and Development program gives you some choice over assignment of your academic advisor and offers you some latitude in establishing the program of studies leading to your graduate degree.

Your Constraints Dictated by Resources
Allocated to Advising & Instruction

The Workforce Education and Development program, however, might assign me to act as your temporary doctoral advisor (when you enter the doctoral program and prior to your admission to doctoral candidacy) or as the chair of your doctoral committee or academic advisor as a result of the administrative need to balance graduate student advising assignments within the academic program. Most Workforce Education and Development students also will encounter me as an instructor for core courses in program of studies that they must complete.