First impressions: a faculty perspective

My wife, Paige Fields, and I joined the TU Business Administration faculty at the beginning of last semester. Having spent 27 years as a student or professor at large public universities (LPUs), I thought it might be interesting to reflect on what makes Trinity students different from their LPU counterparts. Let me preface this little adventure by acknowledging that because I’m still on my TU honeymoon, my views might be a bit biased. As such, I reserve the right to recant if future students prove themselves to be less fabulous than those I was blessed with during my first semester here.

Let’s start with similarities. On many levels, college students are college students. I don’t think Maslow specifically addressed college student needs, but if I were building a model it would include fun, relationships, passable grades, wireless access, sleep, and coffee. On those dimensions Trinity students aren’t particularly special. They’re just like other students, wherever they might be.

What are the differences? Relative to LPU students, Trinity students are:

More liberal ““ I’ll start by picking the low-hanging fruit. Admittedly, my frame of reference may be skewed given that I spent the past 18 years at Texas A&M (which isn’t exactly a bastion of liberalism). But I think it is safe to say that there is more granola here than at the average LPU.

Better writers ““ Although I have heard a few people say that Trinity students don’t write well enough, I have been impressed with what I’ve seen. The students in my graduate Business Ethics course definitely write better than their LPU peers. And while there is very little writing in the intro Fundamentals of Financial Accounting course, I did ““ in true, interdisciplinary fashion ““ give my students an extra credit opportunity involving an interpretation of Snodgrass’ 10-part, Pulitzer Prize-winning “Heart’s Needle” poem. With very few exceptions, they did a terrific job.

More well-rounded ““ Yes, there are well-rounded students at LPUs. But as a percentage of the student body, it’s not even close. Have you heard the Trinity choirs? Despite the fact that only around 25% of the participants have majors that are even tangentially related to music, these people are amazing. A very diverse group of students is also involved in the orchestra and ensembles, theatre, athletics and all manner of other activities. Bravo.

More interested in learning ““ I chose to attend the University of Kentucky as an undergraduate because (1) I lived in Kentucky; (2) I had a tuition scholarship; (3) they were moderately interested in me as a tennis player; and (4) I would have guaranteed seats to home basketball games. The most important factor? Item #4. While countless prospective college students apply similar decision rules every year, Trinity students don’t. My discussions with Trinity students suggest rather emphatically that they come here as learners, not spectators.

Less whiny ““ I’ve had terrific students for my entire career. However, most of my LPU colleagues maintain that when the going gets tough, students whine. I didn’t experience any of that last semester, despite the fact that I pushed people extremely hard. When students didn’t perform well, they were more likely to apologize than to complain. They seemed far more interested in figuring out how to improve than in making excuses or assigning blame. Of course, it is entirely possible that a few of them burned me in effigy while my back was turned “¦ but if so, at least they were quiet about it.

So there you have it ““ my initial views on how TU students differ from LPU students. One of these days I might put together something similar regarding TU faculty versus LPU faculty. But for the moment, I’ll just say that I’m thrilled to be here and I very much appreciate what TU students bring to the table.

Mike Wilkins is the Jesse H. Jones professor of business administration.