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Payne Sees Need for Education Reforms

David Payne has spent 30 years as a college teacher and administrator. He believes that the failure of our higher education system to help students find basic moral values may be contributing to scandals like the ones at Enron and in other businesses and governmental agencies.

David Payne
David Payne

"There has always been a lot of dishonesty in society," Payne said, "but I believe it's growing. There was a time when a person's handshake was their bond. It isn't as much so today."

U. S. colleges and universities are also failing in some measure to help their students to acquire critical thinking without cynical thinking, to acquire a rich and civil culture, and to acquire a love for service and willingness to serve, he believes.

Payne, vice president for academic affairs at Sam Houston State University, would like to see American educators make changes, but he is also working to lessen the chances that these faults are repeated in developing countries.

A paper Payne presented in Belgrade recently titled, "Promoting Cultural and Moral Values in Higher Education," was also published in the Winter 2002 edition of the Journal of Eurasian Research, an international, refereed journal dedicated to the promotion of advanced research and intellectual life in the humanities and social sciences.

In the paper Payne told of his experience in a management course he taught prior to coming to SHSU in 1997, using the case study method. His students read about fictional situations and were asked to discuss what they would do under similar circumstances.

One case dealt with an arms contractor who was unsuccessful at getting government bids over a period of years. If the contractor did not get the next contract he was bidding on, he would have to lay off large numbers of employees.

Arriving at his office one morning, the contractor discovered a sealed envelope on his desk, from a friend at the Pentagon. The envelope contained the bids of his competitors.

Payne was troubled when he found out that only two students in his class of 12 said they would not use the illegal data. After spending the next week talking with the students about basic ethics and their importance, he presented the situation again to the students.

This time they all said they would cheat.

After discussing the experience with a philosophy professor, Payne said the professor told him the students had made the correct choice, a response that did not sit too well with Payne.

Payne says that there are fundamental values on which society depends to function. One of those critical values is truth. The absence of honesty leads to an unpredictability which makes systematic functioning at a societal level impossible. While occasional dishonesty is always present, the norm must be honesty.

Students who go into the business world are faced with decisions involving ethical alternatives on a daily basis, and many poor choices are being made, he believes.

"I think that there are many good faculty members and many good administrators who are trying to model values, but there are also many examples that aren't good," said Payne.

"I think it is a timely paper because of the recent revelations about corporate and political dishonesty," said Payne. "Students are evidencing in their professional lives the need for better value formation and clarification."

Another problem Payne sees in higher education is that students don't acquire critical thinking without acquiring cynical thinking. They don't take an open-minded look at institutions, acquiring a balanced picture containing negatives and positives.

"Sometimes when we are learning to think critically, we become very expert at seeing faults in things," said Payne. "We get so trained to see faults that we never see good things. Some become kind of cynical and smart-alecky. When we look at people, ideas, or institutions, we need to be able to see good as well as bad."

Payne is also worried that students today do not develop a lifelong love of the finer arts produced through the generations. He said that last year at SHSU, from a student body of almost 13,000, there were only 318 non-music majors who took a music appreciation course and only 121 non-art majors who took an art appreciation course.

"One of the differences in a high school educated person and a college educated person is a college educated person is supposed to have a richer appreciation for their culture," said Payne.

"It means having a broader understanding of the culture. If you teach a class about music but nobody goes to it, it doesn't help and if the people who go to it don't go to concerts, plays, dramas or art exhibits, then the class is having a minimum effect.

"We want to build a broad enough foundation for the students so that as they mature through life, they have a richer life as a result of their college experience," said Payne.

Payne feels that students need to acquire a love for service and a willingness to serve. His research showed that of the 180 student clubs at SHSU, only nine involving 102 students were doing substantial service on a regular basis.

Payne said there is no greater feeling than helping a person in need.

"Jack Parker, the vice president for finance and operations here, is helping a poor Hispanic family build a house," said Payne. "He goes out three nights a week and all day Saturday and just works on their house. He doesn't get anything and will never get anything from that, but it's just out of a good heart wanting to do something nice. That makes a person richer inside."

Payne believes that his findings relating to students taking music and art appreciation courses, attending fine arts events, and doing service work are typical of many colleges and universities throughout the United States.

Payne believes that people in higher education need to agree that stressing values is an appropriate role for universities and to come up with a way to teach them to college students.

"We need to stop thinking that our obligation as a university is just to profess a set of facts or theories and recognize that our true duty is to change lives," Payne said in the paper.

"Wisdom requires the integration of knowledge and values. It is the mark of a truly educated person, the real goal of a university education, and what the world needs. We should embark on this pursuit."

- END -

SHSU Media Contact: Brandon Autrey
Oct. 1 2002
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