Non-Compulsory Chapel

A few weeks ago, from Pittsburgh I drove north on I-79 through the deepening autumn to Edinboro, PA to attend an Edinboro University retired faculty luncheon. There was a hearty turn out of all us old profs, and as usual, I was grateful we were all wearing name tags. Every time I go to these sorts of events I can hardly believe how mightily age has edited our appearance. However, the food was good, and we all seem to have kept our sense of humor. What made this gathering a bit different was that the new president of EUP, Dr. Julie E. Woolman, was there to thank us for helping Edinboro U be ranked in top 10 list of colleges that nurture students. There EUP was up among several Ivy Leagues! Made me think of Pittsburgh’s myriad high rankings as “Most Livable City.”

Later that afternoon, I drove to the EUP police station to pick up a parking hang-tag, so I could park on campus while I visited the library’s archives. I was pleasantly surprised to be issued faculty parking decals that were good for a year, just like my car bumpers used to sport before I took early retirement during 1996. Made me and perhaps my Honda Fit, feel years younger!

From 1977 through 1980 I used to be the editor of EUP’s faculty-administrator newsletter, The Edinboro Review. I out of sheer curiosity had decided to take a look in the University Archives at how and what I had written during that time. A few days earlier, I had called David Obringer, the library’s archivist to dig out all the back copies, and he handed them to me the minute I approached him at The Reference Desk. How did he know me? Maybe it was my age, because he was still in junior high when I retired. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel reading my stuff from so long ago. I found an obscure carrel and hoped no one who might recognize me would notice.

Soon, I was flooded with what I had thought were lost memories of those four years when I was taking notes for many faculty and administrator interviews, researching campus places, and even moments when I was writing and laying out the pages—cutting & pasting. A few hours later, I decided to scan some of my interviews and editorials. No problem. That was the 70s, now it’s the 21st Century where there’s the odor of the University’s Starbucks in the air.

As I drove south down I-79, one of my essay/editorials kept wandering through my mind. Something about it reminded me of Pittsburgh. So I’d miss Pittsburgh’s rush hour, I stopped at the Grove City Outlets for dinner. While I waited for my order, I checked my email. That got me firmly back into now and even thinking about how The Steelers might do Sunday. And, that’s when I knew I’ve become a true, believing Pittsburgher and when I understood the connection between Pittsburgh’s livability and my 1978 Edinboro Review Editorial.


Last semester I failed Art 257 Communications Graphics II. It wasn’t because I was dumb—I got an A on the first exam—or because the prof wasn’t any good—Mr. Mullen is marvel of patience, good humor, practical experience and encouragement—or because the course content was dull or shallow—note the new design of The Edinboro Review. I did it myself from what I learned in class. I flunked for the same reason that probably 85% of our students fail: I quit going to class. So, if all of the above is true, how come I quit?

I quit for the same reasons that I have heard dozens, no scores, of students sit or stand uncomfortably in my office and try to explain to me. First, I got sick and the class went on without me while I visited St. Vincent’s emergency room. Then my mother was hospitalized for ten days for a series of painful and frightening tests. And finally, I graded mid-term exams rather than take them. By that time I had missed nearly three weeks of Graphics class. Though Mr. Mullen assured me that I could make up the class, I couldn’t seem to find the time to do it nor a time to meet with him that did not conflict with his or my class time. It was inconvenient, and so I failed.

I wouldn’t have thought much more about this ordinary story except that it was so ordinary, such a commonplace occurrence on the Edinboro State College campus. I got to wondering why it was so ordinary in spite of good teaching, reasonably bright students, regularly scheduled office hours, and much exhortation toward warm and human advising. I came back to time.

I thought of how often my students and I could not find a mutually free time except at night or on Saturday. I thought or all the freshman advisee meetings for which there was no possible day time meeting, so they were grudgingly and/or poorly attended at night or on Saturday. I thought of the difficulty of scheduling department meetings with our majors: no time. Yet, over and over I hear about our student retention problems, the need for student-teacher contact outside the classroom, and the need for regular unhurried student advising.

If time is money, then why don’t we put our money where our mouth is? Why is there no time within the master schedule, say an hour or an hour and a half once a week, to be used for student advising? All profs could schedule one of our regular office hours at that time. It’s not a very new idea. Many successful church-related colleges have it on a daily basis. It’s called non-compulsory Chapel. Surely, it shouldn’t be a problem of logistics, considering the capabilities of our computer. Perhaps, once or twice a year it would be possible during that time to hold a student faculty convocation so that our students would experience some the tradition and pageantry of the academic world before graduation (when it’s probably too late.) Let us hope we are not so busy producing credit hours that we don’t have time to meet with our students.

Pittsburgh has its own version of non-compulsory chapel—Steelers’ NFL games that most citizens attend, watch on television, or work in support of the games. During Steelers games traffic diminishes. Stores empty. Even the city sewer and water pressure fluctuate at the end of each Steelers’ quarter. Though RB LeGarrette Blount recently discovered the entire game’s attendance was compulsory, the rest of Pittsburgh’s citizens are free to use Steelers game time any way they please, even if it means not having much to talk about the next day.

I do watch most of the Steelers’ games on TV, but I’ve also discovered the pleasures of shopping in nearly empty stores with clerks so bored they are grateful to serve me. During Sunday afternoon games, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concert seats are easy to come by. I know young, working mothers who use game time to take their children to the zoo, museums, or libraries. It’s a good time to score a meal in what is usually an over-booked restaurant. And, during Steelers’ games, I’ve come to understand, various sorts of Pittsburgh alliances, both personal and political, are strengthened.  It’s a good thing for Pittsburgh to have a non-compulsory, regularly scheduled time for community building and/or reflection. Go Steelers!


Filed under: Prose