Mandatory Dean’s Hour Received with Confliction, Ambivalence.

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Award-winning musician Rubén Blades’s dean’s hour lecture in March 2015 Photo credit: BHSEC

By Grace Wan, ‘18

Wednesday, 7th period.

To some, this time is a chance to leave early or to catch up on schoolwork. To others, it is Dean’s Hour, a trademark of BHSEC since the school’s founding. It represents a vital part of college life: the opportunity to hear from noteworthy speakers about pivotal topics.

Dean’s Hour is, in part, a way to mimic the college experience as closely as possible. It connects BHSEC to larger communities, whether they be focused on jazz or urban agriculture.  Dean’s Hour presentations may address an important topic or invite a speaker with a unique point-of-view. For example, as someone with a background in both humanities and science, Dr. Kennedy was asked to present on Darwinism. The payoff may not be immediate, but Dean’s Hour lectures are meant to be both worthwhile and exciting. Dean Hinrichs stated, “It’s better to have 50 people who are excited than 200 people who are compelled.” Even if a student’s interests do not necessarily coincide with the lecture the hope is that by the end, the presenter will have shown the topic to be engaging and of lasting importance.

The original group of presenters consisted of BHSEC faculty, who are experts in their fields. The pool was later extended to presenters from Bard College, and eventually, to parents and faculty members’ colleagues outside of school. The hope is that even students’ talks will become common focuses in Dean’s Hour presentations. Whether musical, theatrical, or scholarly, the talents and ideas of BHSEC students, who are the lifeblood of the BHSEC community, are worth exploring.

Dean’s Hour, as with any other program, has its flaws. In the future, the school hopes to institute changes that will better the experience for everyone. Oftentimes, students will have more questions than those that are answered during the lecture. A small, voluntary follow-up session has been proposed as a solution. Some students may also wish to attend a lecture but have other obligations that they must prioritize, or the date may be inconvenient for potential non-student attendees. Dean’s Hour lectures may be videotaped in the future so that that those who want to view the lecture have the opportunity to so. Some, though, have pointed out that some Dean’s Hour presentations do not align with their interests. The school wishes to establish a student committee that will suggest topics that will appeal to more people, especially students.

Students, too, have considered ways of making Dean’s Hour a more worthwhile experience. Hanan Issa, Y2, suggested inviting younger speakers, saying, “Sure it’s nice having someone with three PhDs, but having a younger speaker would allow the speaker and the students to connect better.” Other students have recommended a more diverse panel of speakers. An anonymous student stated, “There is no point in having three Democrats on the stage discussing Trump because there is no conflict. There is no counter-argument to show us the other side of things… Without two sides of the story, we are just being indoctrinated more to think liberally… this is not about being an enjoyable experience. It is about opening our minds to different world views.”

Against the wishes of some students, a number of Dean’s Hour presentations has been made mandatory, often based on their relevance to particular classes. For example, Y1s were required to attend Dr. Clark’s lecture on The Iliad because their seminar classes were, at the time, centered around that text. In other cases, a presentation may be made mandatory based on how it relates to a particular part of the student body. Y1s were also required to attend William Deresiewicz’s lecture on college education because they had recently entered the college program.

A number of students are critical of mandatory Dean’s Hour lectures. An anonymous student stated, “I think in a school where students are supposed to take initiative, cultivating one’s own voluntary appreciation for learning is much more important than the vehicle of the learning.” Others are content having mandatory Dean’s Hour presentations only if they are limited in number or connected to a particular class. Some have recognized the value of Dean’s Hour presentations but remain skeptical of the value of mandatory Dean’s Hours. Enmanuel De La Nuez, a Y1, commented, “Some of these lectures are really interesting and can allow us to learn so much! With that said, if a person is not interested, yet mandated to go, I would expect they won’t get anything out of the lectures.”

Dean’s Hour remains a defining part of the BHSEC community, and while making some presentations mandatory has garnered some criticism, offers an opportunity to hear a potentially new perspective on an important matter.

 

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