The Collegian
Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Regrets? I've had a few

<p>Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian</p>

Graphic by Annie Scalet/The Collegian

I have lived many years, but I try not to waste my time looking back. Normally, I am not a retrospective person. However, in the spring of 1969, I made what I thought at the time was a minor course choice. I now consider that decision to be somewhere between troubling and stupid. I was a junior in college and wanted to take a political science elective. The times were politically charged. I felt that I needed to know more. My intentions were good.

A senior in my dorm was a political science major, so I asked for a recommendation. He replied enthusiastically with a faculty name: “You will be amazed by how much you will learn.” I was intrigued, but then my friend delivered the kiss of death.  “He is hard. He is challenging. You will have to work and think, but the class is great.”

I was 20 years old. I was not looking to be challenged. Being asked to work and think seemed scary. I sought easy learning. I wanted to walk out of class each day with a smile. Despite the glowing recommendation, I was never ever going to take that professor. I was a coward. Instead, I picked a professor who was known to be easy. 

I spent the next semester being bored to death. Sitting through that political science class was torture. The professor droned on and on while asking nothing of us. The biggest challenge was staying awake.

Looking back, I wonder how I could have been so foolish. Was that really me?  Why did I choose a path that required nothing of me but gave me nothing in return? I only had one shot at a college education, and I chose to avoid the risk. I suppose learning nothing seemed better to me than having to work and think. What was I afraid would happen? That I would make a B rather than an A? Surely, I did not settle for a weak education just to protect a grade point average that virtually no one pays much attention to after graduation.

What a coward.

Students typically experience between 35 and 40 courses at the University of Richmond. That is the entirety of their college education. For most, they will never take another college course for the rest of their lives. Their formal knowledge is founded on the quality of those 35 to 40 courses. Obviously, once a major is chosen, some courses are required. However, beyond that, one of the most important decisions any college student makes is the selection of elective courses. Whether a student is wasting tuition money or making good use of it is wrapped up in those decisions. In 1969, I let my timidity hold me back. I was not 6 years old. I was 20 years old, and I was too apprehensive to take a risk that would improve my educational experience. 

Fast forward three decades and my children went off to college. I did not talk with them about drugs, beer or sex (although I should have). I took each of them aside and explained, “I’d love for you to earn the best education that you could possibly have. I want you to obtain an education that will serve as a strong foundation for the rest of your life. College should be a transformative experience. Make the most of it. Walk through your dorm and talk with friends, acquaintances, strangers, enemies, whomever else you meet. Ask them one simple question: “Who is the best teacher you have had here in college? Who is that one person who changed your life by opening your eyes to the wonders of their subject matter and taught you to work effectively and think clearly?” When you hear certain names repeated over and over, go find out what those people teach and take their courses. I don’t care if they teach ‘Watching Paint Dry in America’; the course will make you a better human being, not just for a few minutes, but for the rest of your life. Yes, the course might be hard, but the hard is what makes it great.”

At the University of Richmond, registration for the fall semester is upon us. Over the 53 years that I have taught, I have had the great pleasure of advising thousands of wonderful college students. They are bright, interesting and articulate. However, when they sit in front of me and I eventually ask, “Other than your required courses, what electives are you going to take?” the answer, way too often, is, “Oh, I’ll just pick some relatively easy course that fits into my schedule.”

At that moment, I want to get up and bang my head against my office wall. 

Joe Hoyle is an associate professor of accounting and Accounting Teaching Fellow at the E. Claiborne Robins School of Business. He is the author of “Transformative Teaching: How Can You Become a Better College Teacher?” and the host of “Transformative Teaching–Stories That Inspire.”

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