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The BG News
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November 30, 2023

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Prof talks of pros, cons of values

A number of University students, faculty and staff braved the inclement weather yesterday to attend Neil Browne’s talk on values in the classroom as part of the 2002 President’s Lecture Series.

“I’d like to say how delighted I am that so many of you could come on such a miserable spring afternoon,” said Donald Nieman, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, who addressed the audience with opening remarks.

The lecture hall of 113 Olscamp was nearly full as Browne discussed the importance of values in a college setting.

Browne is a professor of economics at the University and director of IMPACT, a learning community in Offenhauer. He is also a member of the University Committee on Vision and Values and won the University Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001.

According to Browne, there are four values that stick out above the rest in shaping a prosperous university and students. Those are autonomy, inquisitiveness, tolerance of ambiguity, and reflection guided by reason. He said they are important in meshing the campus together.

“If you agree to abide by these values, all your ideas are welcome in this community,” Browne said. “These are values not because a committee determined them, but because the University’s vision and dreams require them.”

Browne said values are an important part of any classroom setting at any college or university. They allow for discussion and learning of new ideas or the expansion of values.

“We’re a contentious lot, and I’m glad we are,” he said. “Isn’t it a proud member of the University community that says ‘Yeah, but …’ or ‘Have you looked at this perspective?'”

While values are important and should be infused in the classroom, according to the first half of Browne’s lecture, they can also be harmful if used incorrectly or in the wrong way, which led to his second part, on being terrified of values.

“(Values) have their attractive side; that’s why they’re called values,” he said. “But they can also have their side that makes us pause and think what harm can come from them.”

He said if members of the University don’t share common values, then it would not be complete.

He demonstrated this by holding up a glass. He said every part of the glass shared the same function and therefore got the job done. Once the glass was dropped and broke apart into separate pieces, it no longer served its purpose.

“Any university without shared procedural values is broken; it doesn’t mean anything,” he said.

To further illustrate his point that a lack of values in a classroom setting can be harmful, Browne showed four vignettes of classroom conversations.

The first one debated which values were most important in the case of school safety. Was safety a higher value or privacy? The professor in the vignette was not open to debate and demanded that one view, privacy, was correct. This put a damper on class discussion.

The next two vignettes depicted professors who did not allow the discussion of values to come into the classroom, which also hurt topic discussion.

According to Browne, ignoring values completely can be harmful because students want to learn about who they are and what they stand for.

“There’s a responsibility we’re not paying attention to,” he said. “Students yearn for guidance.”

The final vignette showed a classroom with an open discussion of values. Everyone spoke and shared ideas.

Browne said this is the best scenario for society, that strong discussion and new ideas can come from talking about values and having values.

“Our society needs the energy that comes from the discussion of values,” he said. “(Values) are constitutive of what it means to be at a university.”

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