People get PhDs because they love learning. When Elizabeth Thompson said this to me I realized how obvious it is, and wondered how I’d missed that basic fact. I’ve worked with professors for years, and have been part of many conversations about departmental committees and faculty politics – conversations in which we decry the corporatization of the university and the way that employees, especially adjunct professors, are treated. Often anxious and bitter talk hides a deep spiritual longing, and Elizabeth helped me to understand that professors long for that feeling of excitement and discovery that was with them during their student days.
Understanding this, Elizabeth set out to help herself and her colleagues fill this longing, and build a community for a learning community at Ohio University, where she works as an Instructor in English. She gathered a few colleagues, and together they created the Soul Biscuits program at The Church of the Good Shepherd. “We put our spiritual life in a box,” she told me. “When I start neglecting the things I love best, I know I’m on a downward spiral.” Soul Biscuits works at opening that box, so that people who love learning, but have little opportunity to learn, can feel their spirits nurtured.
Soul Biscuits meets every other Friday evening. People gather for wine and cheese, have time to chat and form friendships, and then listen to a musical performance, a talk given by a professor or a graduate student, or participate in a workshop. Elizabeth, and the friends who help her organize Soul Biscuits, are clear that this is a secular outreach program. Many of our churches sit on campuses or in neighborhoods that have specific community needs. When we stop worrying about how we can get people into church on Sunday morning, and start wondering about how we can help our neighbors, we find ourselves opening our doors to all sorts of community activities, and meeting the spiritual needs of all sorts and manner of people.
Adjunct and visiting professors are most in need on many of our campuses. Even though we’re living through a period of steady expansion in higher education, when many schools find that they can be more selective in the students they accept due to the size of the millennial generation, and many campuses are engaged in large building projects, the job market for PhDs is exceedingly tight. Many schools are cutting costs by hiring adjunct instead of tenure track professors. People who have dedicated their lives to studying the things they most love now find themselves teaching heavy course loads for very little money, and with no hope of promotion. They’re so busy teaching that they have no time to learn or research, or to pursue publication, which they need to do if they’re to have any hope of finding tenure track positions.
Campus ministry is ministry to the whole campus. This includes non-tenure track professors. Campus ministries must find ways to serve them, both by calling the institutions they serve to account, and by helping to nurture their souls. Knowing this, and having spent much time worrying over the needs of adjuncts, it was a revelation and a grace to discover the work that Elizabeth is doing at the Church of the Good Shepherd. It’s work that could be shared on all of our campuses, each in its own way and in its own context.