Reinhardt in the GHQ

Congratulations to Ken Wheeler and the students of his IDS 317: Town and Gown course in the fall of 2017, whose research on the racial integration of Reinhardt College in the late 1960s has been published in the most recent number of the Georgia Historical Quarterly, and which provided the cover illustration to boot:

Curt Lindquist is Retiring from Reinhardt

Curt Lindquist and his extensive office door cartoon collection.

When I arrived at Reinhardt in 2004, religion professor Curt Lindquist was serving as dean of the School of Arts and Humanities, and was very welcoming and supportive of me. I was especially pleased that he accepted me as a member of the Fulbright-Hays seminar that he organized, “Examining China’s Great Western Development Program: the Social and Cultural Effects upon Ethnic Minorities and the Han Majority” – a topic that remains relevant.

Peg Morlier, Curt Lindquist, and Al Carson.

Ken Wheeler organized a get-together for Curt this Tuesday in the Lawson-Tarpley atrium, when people shared their memories of his time here.

I have enjoyed Curt’s presence across the hall these many years and am sad that he will no longer be teaching at Reinhardt. But I wish him and Mary all the best in the years to come.

Grading

When I first came to the United States as an undergraduate in the fall of 1990, I discovered that course grades, given as letters from A through D (with F for failure) had numerical equivalents.* That is, an A was worth 4, a B worth 3, a C worth 2, and a D worth 1 (with an F, of course, counting for nothing). Over the course of your undergraduate career, you built up something called a “Grade Point Average” – your performance in each class was averaged over the total number of classes you had taken, producing a number out of 4. Very rarely did anyone graduate with a GPA of 4.0, although our valedictorian managed to. I myself finished with a 3.75, which was enough for the Latin honors “magna cum laude” (top 15% of the class) and membership in Phi Beta Kappa (roughly top 10%). Yay me! Although I missed out on “summa cum laude” (top 5% of the class) and would probably not have been admitted to Yale Law School should I have applied there.

But I should qualify this. At Dartmouth, plusses and minuses came into the equation. That is, grades were fine tuned – you could get an A, but if your performance wasn’t quite as stellar as the professor was hoping, your A was lowered to an A-. Similarly, if your work was in the B range, but still quite good compared to other grades in the B range, you got a B+ (if it was pretty bad compared with other grades in the B range, you got a B-, and if it was just average, then you got a straight B, with no plus or minus). And so on down the line. There was no grade of A+, and as far as I can remember no grade of D- either. This fine tuning was reflected in the numerical values accorded to each grade: an A- was worth 3.67 (one third down from an A), while a B+ was worth 3.33 (one third up from a B), and so on.

When I started my Ph.D. program at the University of Minnesota, grades were given as straight A, B, C, D, and F. By the time I finished they had adopted the fine-tuning of grades with plusses and minuses, with the same numerical values that I had remembered from Dartmouth. Not that I paid much attention to grades by this point; I was just looking to get my dissertation done and get out.

So I thought that this is simply how it was – you could give straight, undifferentiated grades, with values equating to integers between 1 and 4, or allow fine tuning with plusses and minuses, with values subdivided by thirds.

But lately I have discovered (on page 82) that LaGrange College of LaGrange, Georgia doesn’t quite measure things this way. That is, in their system, a B is still worth 3, but a B+ is worth 3.25, and a B- is worth 2.75. So you’re not as rewarded for a plus, or as punished for a minus, as you would have been had you gotten such grades at Dartmouth or the University of Minnesota. Note, however, that even in this system, you can go up as well as down, and by the same amount.

So I must say that I was shocked and dismayed to discover that Mercer University of Macon, Georgia does things rather… eccentrically. That is, they allow plusses, but have simply eliminated the possibility of getting a minus! Here is the whole sordid mess from their catalogue:

Grade
Interpretation
Quality Points
Per Credit Hour
A
Excellent
4.0
B+
Good
3.5
B
Good
3.0
C+
Average
2.5
C
Average
2.0
D
Poor
1.0

You’ll note that in addition to eliminating minuses, they reward a plus with a full half-point, greater than a plus would be worth at a real university.

This is awful. Who came up with this, and how did it get approved? Why hasn’t SACS said anything? This is truly an example of the Lake Wobegon idea that “everyone is above average” (or worse, every snowflake deserves a participation trophy). You can’t have plusses without minuses! The possibility of getting your grade raised has to be offset by the possibility of getting it lowered. Otherwise, it is just an example of officially sanctioned grade inflation, presumably for the sake of maintaining students’ athletic eligibility or for protecting their precious self-esteem.

I swear that if such a system is ever adopted at Reinhardt, I will never award a plus grade. For the sake of academic honesty and integrity, I will simply operate under the assumption that our current system, a straight A, B, C, and D system, still prevails.

* In Canada, in high school at least, you got a grade out of 100, which was converted into a letter if need be, which was slightly different from the American system: in the US, an A is in the 90s, a B in the 80s, a C in the 70s, and a D in the 60s, while in Canada, an A was any grade between 80 and 100, a B in the 70s, a C in the 60s, and D in the 50s. My freshman-year roommate laughed at this, suggesting that Canada was soft, but it just seemed to me that teachers in Canada could grade more honestly. (Not that anyone paid much attention to the letter grades; it was the number out of 100 that counted.)

Alumni News

History major Owen Bagley ’13 has returned to campus as an admissions officer. He and his wife Lauren Bagley ’13 are expecting their first child in July.

Proposed Seals

My proposal for a heraldic coat of arms (and thus seal) for Reinhardt was not taken up, and I’m actually glad about it. The biggest problem, in retrospect, is having three lines of text on the book in the chief. That is simply too much! Also, the eagle looks too Germanic, and although the bird has a distinguished heraldic pedigree, at Reinhardt it’s the sports mascot, and a university is always more than its athletic program.

But I’m also glad that they did not select this other proposal:

This is a mess – it’s like you’ve stumbled across a jumble bin at a flea market. The open book is fine, but then why have a scroll over it? Why not just put the writing on the book itself? Then there is a lit torch, acting as a bookmark [!], and a cross, tucked in at a rakish angle and further impeding one’s ability to read the book. The Latin is a nice touch, but on the whole this composition looks like the earnest efforts of some Bible academy, where the love of Jesus trumps any consideration of good design.

So allow me to propose a third option:

The lamp of learning is retained from Reinhardt’s current seal. I have since found plenty of instances of universities employing this device (e.g. Ryerson University, the University of Michigan, or Birkbeck College); it’s not necessarily the mark of a high school (and in any event serves as a memento of the time when Reinhardt was a high school). The lamp is not setting the book on fire; it is being used to illuminate the book so that we may read it, and the writing is placed on the pages, where it ought to be (viz. the arms of Oxford, Harvard, or Yale). Thus the lamp and the book, both symbols of learning, are in scale with each other and relate to each other in a coherent manner, and overall it’s a clean, simple design. In all other respects the seal is identical with Reinhardt’s current seal. There is nothing on here that symbolizes Reinhardt’s location (whether Waleska, Cherokee County, Georgia, the South, or the USA), but at least our town and state are written out along the exterior, and frankly I would rather have nothing at all than an arrowhead – I repeat my observation that Reinhardt was not founded by or for the Cherokee, who were removed long before 1883. In an age when Americans have become sensitive to issues of cultural appropriation, it might be time to quietly drop this symbol. This proposal does not feature any explicit statement of Christianity, but the motto – “do all the good you can” – is certainly a Christian sentiment and derives from a statement attributed to John Wesley, the founder of Methodism.

My thanks to Huitt Rabel for his design skills.

Another RU Blog

My colleague across the hall, Aquiles Martinez, has publicly unveiled Encounters with the Sacred, a blog for Reinhardt’s religion program (he has been authoring it since last August). A sample post:

Any formal study of religion or religions must begin with a clear understanding of the subject matter, namely, what religion is.  And and yet this task is not as easy as it seems because in any society the meaning of words is not absolute or fixed; it is as fluid as its interpretations and applications.

Although the majority of the population of the world continues to identify themselves with a religion, on the basis of some implicit and unmeasured understandings of religion, especially when it comes to answering polls, over the years religious scholars have struggled with the meaning of the term religion, or even with the essential, common traits that would lead them to classify individuals or groups under that label.

Adopting different points of view and using methodologies of analysis that embody different human experiences, many scholars have concluded that a single, definitive definition of religion is neither possible nor advisable.  Since it is a social construct that reflects diversity of perceptions and thoughts, it is up to any person to decide what it means and for others to try to understand these definitions in their corresponding contexts.  And yet a work-in-progress definition of religion is possible, necessary, and desirable, at least to name the subject matter and start a conversation that would elicit a wide range of qualifications, exceptions to the rule, and even critiques.

Recognizing that there is no such a thing as value-free, final definition and that, at the same time, religion is something that average people primarily experience or live and hardly ever stop to formally define it, much less to take into account the ideas of others to see where they all coincide, how could we, then, define religion?

Read on at the link.

Dr. Jerome Dobson

Reinhardt’s VPAA Mark Roberts informs us that the university has a new trustee: Reinhardt graduate Jerome Dobson, Professor Emeritus at University of Kansas and former President of the American Geographical Society. Roberts draws our attention to a speech of Dobson’s entitled “Geography: Use it or Lose it,” which he gave in DC in 2010:

Geography is to space what history is to time, and I think very few people think of it that way. Geography is a spatial way of thinking, a science with distinctive methods and tools, a body of knowledge about places, a set of information technologies, old and new, contrary to a lot of ‑‑ a lot of people think it’s just a new thing we have GIS, but geography has always led in technology, from Eratosthenes measuring the earth on forward. People think of it as place-name geography, but if you look at the deeper parts of the iceberg, spatial thinking, place-based research, scientific integration, GIS and so on, not just place-name geography.

Geography is about understanding people and places and how real world places function in a viscerally organic sense. It’s about understanding spatial distributions and interpreting what they mean. If we look at the specialties of American geographers, a lot of people outside geography think of it as a physical discipline, but as you see here only 10 percent of geographers claim a physical specialty. Far more, about well over half, claim some sort of human geography as a specialty. And, one-fifth, more than one-fifth, claim geographic information science as a specialty.

Interesting stuff. Reinhardt does not have a geography program but we in history are proud to sponsor HIS 210: World Geography. Perhaps the new trustee will inspire us to deepen our course offerings in this area.