I did an interview this week with Wendy Rahn, a U of MN political science professor who founded Survivors’ Studio, an exercise studio for women with cancer. This was a real challenge for her, on top of professional responsibilities and a family. What struck me in the interview though was not the idea of someone with a really cool, benevolent hobby, but rather the picture of someone who teaches every day about forms of cooperation, about the centrality of trust to human enterprises, about public solutions to private problems engaging in just the sort of enterprise that makes all those abstractions tangible, immediate, daily realities.
In the academic world, there is a space for community service on the professional resume. That has some effect on promotion and tenure decisions. But this is different: a project closely integrated with one’s academic work, giving dimension and ensuring accountability in a way not otherwise possible. I can imagine a funding source within the academic environment to make this kind of small scale project feasible, and to build practical experimentation into the overall projects of university teachers across a range of disciplines. This is an idea with the potential to transform departments and to shift public expectations of the academy.
For more on Wendy Rahn’s work, which includes a substantial public education component, go to http://studio.survivorstraining.org.