About forty years ago there was a rebellion by some engineering students at Delft Technical University (TUD) in Holland. They were sick and tired of being spoken down to – lectured at – communication only passing one way. They wanted a stop to being treated as objects spoken down to. They wanted to be treated as intelligent human beings with feelings!
Some of them met with a chaplain and together, they came up with a plan.
It involved, first of all, the passing of a motion by the Student Council, directed at the academy. The motion was that at least on one occasion every year, the professors had to talk personally about themselves, the students asking their questions about the professor’s professional lives.
The motion was passed, instigating what became known as ‘The Night of Philosophy of…”
(‘Philosophy’ – ‘ideas about knowledge, truth, the meaning of life and how one lives’ – Merriam-Webster Dictionary)
That chaplain was visiting China last year, as part of the MoTiv* team from TUD accompanying a group of engineering students meeting for interchange with a group of Chinese engineering students. MoTiv’s task was to accompany the Delft students and act as cultural interpreters during the exchange. (Reported: http://brc.tudelft.nl/NewsDetails.aspx?pid=86&ctid=2&lang=2&nID=28)
Oasis invited MoTiv to Flinders from China, and while they were here, to introduce us to ‘The Night of Philosophy’. The relatively newly formed Criminal Justice Students Association took up Oasis’ offer to be the guinea pigs. They organized the invitations to the their members and the staff they would like to attend and generated the questions they’d like to ask; Oasis organized a dinner catered by Flinders Housing and supported the student leadership beforehand and on the night.
About 6 to 8 students and one staff member sat at each round table. During each course the staff member was questioned by the students – ‘why did you decide to become a lawyer?’ – ‘what has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to face’ – ‘what has been the hardest ethical dilemma you’ve had to resolve for yourself’…
What a great evening we all had! With minimal coaching by Oasis, the students made the night their own; everybody really enjoyed it and got a lot out of it. Bonds were built, not only with their lecturers, but with their profession. One student who was about to drop out changed his mind!
In more recent times, MoTiv have also conducted cross-disciplinary ‘Nights of Philosophy’, such as one on the theme of Water – a significant theme in Holland for a technical university! These drew students together with highly distinguished professionals and academics from a range of fields. The students were inspired, finding out that their heroes were human, just like them!
Oasis, as an agency connecting students, staff and community within the context of hospitality, well being and inclusive spirituality, would like to play a supportive role in initiatives by students, staff and professional associations interested in adopting or adapting this student-centred strategy, contributing to Flinders reputation as a university that cares for its students.
*MoTiv and Oasis share a similar history of re-invention and secular engagement – in their case, the focus is on motivation in the context of technology. The Oasis -MoTiv connection is likely to strengthen as we explore how the emerging Oasis team at Tonsley, led by Dave Williamson, finds ways to support the Tonsley initiative within the mission of Oasis.