Students are best educated as whole persons in a world that increasingly separates their learning experiences into various parts—intellectual, emotional, physical, social, and more. For Robert Haak, the new Vice President and Dean of the College, that is one of the major tenets he believes in as he begins his time leading the College.
“In this age of hyper-individualism where everything is about ‘me,’ and what’s happening with ‘me,’ I think we have lost sight of community,” says Haak, who assumed his duties February 1. “I think the advantage that Hiram and other small liberal arts schools have is that they are one of the few places where we still realize that we are living, learning and working as part of a community, and we haven’t lost sight of that.”
That perspective is born of his background. He comes to Hiram, from Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., where he was Associate Dean and Director of the Community Engagement Center. At Augustana he taught Bible, archaeology and religions of the Middle East it is this experience with theology and society that fuels his optimism about the future of liberal arts education.
In fact, Haak believes that small liberal arts institutions like Hiram are the best places in our culture for cultivating a sense of community and civility in the world.
“Small institutions like Hiram are crucial to providing chances to recreate a civil society,” he says. “More than any other place, they are places where people – students, teachers, staff and everyone else – talk and listen to each other, share diverse ideas and work together. It used to be that we looked to government, for instance to preserve civility, but that is obviously not true anymore. I don’t see any other sector doing what we can do at places like Hiram College.”
With just a few days on the job, Haak has already seen that ideal in action.
“Over this weekend we had the Intercultural Forum dinner and show here on campus, and you could see examples of different nationalities and cultures working together for greater understanding” he says. “For example, hey were playing a game of ‘Twister’ in which the instructions were given in different languages. You could just see the participants being challenged to listen and pick up clues as to what they were to do and working hard to understand and communicate.”
He admits he faces numerous challenges in his new role and in managing the changes that come as a result of these challenges. He said he can already see that Hiram is changing in the face of these challenges.
“We can’t afford to remain isolated from the changes confronting our culture,” he says.
“We are all resistant to change, because we like what is familiar,” Haak says. “But we cannot allow ourselves to be passed by. I have already seen that there is a high degree of emphasis here on interdisciplinary thought and action – on learning diverse things about diverse disciplines – and that is a real strength.”