Culture wars

To Dr Harlene Hayne, Vice-Chancellor***, Otago University, New Zealand

Dear Harlene,

As an Otago graduate (Zoology, Class of 1984), I’ve always enjoyed your articles in our Alumni Magazine. Congratulations, btw, on five years in the job. I hope the next five are as good for you and the university as the last five.

Here at Penn State, I am a research professor most of the time. But for 15 challenging weeks a year, I teach 365 non-science majors about science. I’ve been doing it since 2010, and each year I am amazed by just how hard it is. I have a high bar (and struggle with how high set it) and I do everything I can to get the students over that bar — except lower it. I also expect (demand) that the students seize control of their own learning. But many of my students just hate it (they want A’s on a plate) and most of my colleagues don’t much care for my efforts or standards.

And so it’s a struggle. I’ve often wondered why I bother. No one would complain if I aimed low. But now, thanks to your recent article, I know where my teaching aspirations come from. You went on US tour to get feedback from the US students who do Study Abroad at Otago and, in your words, everyone

… reported that the academic standard at Otago was much higher than that of their home institution. I was constantly told that the American students – many of whom came to us from highly selective, and extremely expensive private universities – had to work twice as hard at Otago as they did at home.

They also told me that Otago required students to think for themselves and to take responsibility for their own learning; that Otago fostered a sense of independence that was initially a bit daunting to many of them.

So that’s it! My aspirations are Otago’s fault. Ironic that you, an American in a NZ university have the perspective to explain to me, a NZer in an American university, what’s going on.

Well, here’s to the ‘smart, ambitious and warm-hearted, edgy‘ Otago people who shaped me. To name just three still on your books: AlisonEwan and Alan. You’ve made me realize their reach is long and their contribution to my professional discomfort great. I am sure my own students will one day thank them. I do.






Dr Andrew Read FRS
Evan Pugh Professor of Biology and Entomology
Eberly Professor of Biotechnology
Director, Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics.

This from Otago's recruitment literature...

A major reason I had a fantastic time at Otago University (1981-1984).

***In US speak, the Vice-Chancellor is the University President.

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