Friday, 7 August 2009

Academic Integrity vs Pastoral Care

Where does one draw the line between upholding academic integrity and exercising pastoral care? I have been pondering over this question for some time now. For me, the emotional agony always surfaces when the complex issue of exercising academic integrity and providing pastoral care collide.

Sometimes, I wish these two issues are mutually exclusive. This makes decision making much easier. If I am a pure academician, it is easy for me pass or fail a student's paper or thesis simply based on objective academic judgement. But it has always been said that a seminary is not purely an academic institution. It is also a place for the training of pastors and church workers, and as such, the duty of pastoral care is naturally demanded and expected from the students. As such, the role of a lecturer in a seminary is not simply the impartation of knowledge resulting in passing or failing a student. A seminary lecturer is expected to coach the students and be a role model or example to the students to be like Christ.

What if students turn in a piece of work that does not meet the basic academic requirement? If I fail them, I would be said to judge them purely based on their academic capabilities and ignore their divine calling to be a minister of the gospel. If I pass them, I would be said to compromise my academic integrity.

I know the real issues are always much complex. But where do one actually draw the line?


jmsykv said...

I agree on it. It's always a stuggle between them.

Lord, have mercy on us.


Lee Chee Keat said...

Hmm..not sure if it helps to help students patiently to look at God's word that both (academic integrity and pastoral care) are demanded. I think the academic integrity has to do with handling God's word accurately and watch out for our doctrine closely and pastoral care is about living out on the basis of doctrine. Both are related. So, if the student is failed in academic integrity, that would mean he did not get the doctrine right and in danger of leading the congregation astray even he has a loving heart. Even Jehovah Witness or Mormon has a good pastoral care. What's the difference ? So, I think if we could help a student to understand from the Scripture patiently and pastorally, we have done our job. If the student does not agree, it would be the student who does not agree with God's word. Anyway, juz a thought...

sp lim said...

Failure sometimes may be helpful to some people. The Chinese has a saying that failure is the mother of success. Imagine a pastor who has not faced any failures in life. How can he/she empathize with a members of his/her congregation who have failed in certain areas of their lives?

As a lecturer, I guess it's easy to fail someone but difficult to provide pastoral care afterward. It can be time consuming and emotionally draining. I don't envy the dual role lecturers at STM have to play.

But I think academic integrity can never be compromised. STM will be doing the Malaysian church a disfavour if that happens. Already because of economic reasons academic integrity has been compromised in some universities and colleges. We don't wish to see the same happening in our seminaries.

I believe if God has called a person to ministry he will see that person through though the path may not be a smooth one.

Lee Chee Keat said...

Just a wild there such a thing for a student to fail the lecturer due to their lack of teaching integrity? Not deliver according to the course outline requirements, not doing what they teach (telling students to be patient yet they are not patient or not setting eg), plagiarise what they teach, Not citing footnotes or give references on their lecture notes, students couldn't grasp the teaching materials presented even they attentively listened to it, etc. Perhaps this may provide a fair mechanism for both lecturer and student if done according to God's word.

Sceptics 不肖生 said...

so far, almost all of the seminaries just pass the students, so that they could graduate and become ministers, thus ,there is no quality assurance for seminary graduates.

that's y, I do meet many practising minister,graduated from seminary,yet, just dont feel as if they had studied theology before,then interacting with academic issues. This is fact, not just sarcasm.

Sceptics 不肖生 said...

STM being the ecumenical, ATESEA affliated seminary, must not compromise the academic quality, giving way to pastoral concern. or else, you may lose the "branding" of quality institution,that lures people like me,haha!

STM must unphold your competitive niche. If anyone wish to pass easily, let him choose the ATA 's institutions...

Paul said...

My 2 cents.

1. One does not need to be a seminary graduate to be in ministry.

2. If a student cannot handle the acedemic level of a particuloar programme, he or she can opt for a less vigorous programme.

This is different from given special allowance (say a chance to retake a key paper or exama etc at a later date) for a student who is struglling due to some personal crisis.

Alex Tang said...

I believe there must be a level of professionalism and academic integrity in an institution of learning. Otherwise, one should not call oneself an institution of learning.

While there is room for grace or pastoral care, a teacher should be aware that in lowering his or her standards is itself a message to the students.


Kar Yong said...

Hi James,
Yes, it is a real struggle. Much wisdom is needed to strike a balance.

Thanks for dropping by. Hope you are fully rested after a long day yesterday.

Kar Yong said...

Hi Chee Keat,
Thanks for your comments.

I wonder how far does one go to being "patiently and pastorally"? I guess this is a hard decision to make.

As to your question whether students can "fail" a lecturer, I think the answer is "Yes". I think it is the duty of the student to give objective and fair evaluation of the lecturer by the end of every course. While I must admit that our current evaluation still has much room for improvement, it does not mean student should fill up the evaluation form as just another necessary evil.

As a lecturer, I welcome any fair, objective and constructive criticism from my students. I think we also seek to improve ourselves all the time - be it in terms of the lecture content, delivery method or personal development. None of us would dare to claim that we are perfect.

Kar Yong said...

Hi SP,

Thank you for your input. For me, it is always difficult to balance between the student and the church at large. Sometimes, I do really wish some of the students I have taught in the past would never enter ministry as some of them would have done a disfavour to the church. But again, the question is this: who am I to judge them? Am I saying that these students are completely beyond redemption? I wish I could have some prophetic insight to look into the future - that might be of some help.

I guess fundamentally, it is one's character I am looking for. For example, if one who had plagiarised still believed he/she has done nothing wrong, then the issue lies in the character formation of the student. Would we want such people to be the shepherd of the church? I think the answer is obvious.

Kar Yong said...

Hi Sceptics,

Thanks again for your input. I would echo what you have said - we must uphold our academic integrity.

However, having said that, I think I do have to differ with your statement that "If anyone wish to pass easily, let him choose the ATA's institutions." There are a good number of great ATA accredidated seminaries in the region.

Kar Yong said...

Hi Paul,

I do agree with you that there are different levels of programmes catering for different needs. But sometimes, the denomination does dictate certain requirement for ordination. By doing so, it may disqualify some for ordination if one does not have the academic requirement stated by one's denomination.

Perhaps what is also important is that we as individuals should recognise our capabilities as well. I have had a student who told me to my face, "Are you doubting my capabilities in doing NT exegesis?" when, in fact, this student clearly does not have any concrete grasp of Greek and NT background. How do you expect one to do NT exegesis without such crucial knowledge and skills?

Kar Yong said...

Thanks, Alex, for your comments. I find much comfort in your words of wisdom. What you have said has always been my struggle. How to balance academic integrity and pastoral care?

I hate to have a reputation of one who promotes mediocrity. I strongly believe as Christians, we should strive to give excellence, not mediocrity. But sadly, as in mamy cases, we compromise excellence by using the name of religion.

Sceptics 不肖生 said...

one seminary dean publicly confessed,of which I too agree;

he said"my brilliant students usually do not excel in pioneering churches and growing churches,but rather the less academic students perform well in this respect...

but we are at the mission zone, we need people who can pioneer churches.and if we set seminary standard too high, this would shun the less academic students from entering ministry,,,,"

so dilemma...

Sceptics 不肖生 said...

I insist on my distinction between ATA and ATESEA, tho knowing that this is not PC.

I speak from observation.

Paul said...

Thanks for the info on denominational requirements. Does make things tougher ...

Sze Zeng said...

Once upon a time, there was this father who loves his son very much. One day, the son needed the father's signature on his result/report card to acknowledge that the father knew about his son's academic progress.

It was the results of Form 5 mid-term exam, which served like a foretaste of the national exam SPM, which was at the end of the year. The son did very badly in that mid-term exam. Out of ten subjects, he failed eight of them.

When the father saw the results stated in the report card, he threw it on the floor. He thought to himself, "If my son failed even the school's exam, how can he pass the national exam which is more difficult?"

The son picked up the report card and went back to his room saddened by the fact that he has disappointed his father. He remorsely thought to himself, "I should had work harder."

And when SPM nearing, the son spent two months doing revision day and night. And so, he sat for the SPM.

A few months later, when SPM results came out, he brought that result slip back to his father. And not only his father but also his mother were very glad to see that the son's result surpassed their expectation.

Let those who have ears, hear.

(If you think the parable is fictional and hence barely implicate the real world, well, it's real history happened ten years ago.)

Kar Yong said...

Dear Sceptics,
It's true that sometimes the best pastors are those who are not academically inclined. We used to joke that the best valuer in town hardly passed his/her degree.

As such, it goes back to what Paul mentioned - different programmes for different calling to ministry.

Kar Yong said...

Dear Sze Zeng,

Thank you for sharing your story. I am very encouraged by the fact that this boy did not allow failure to rule the day. He picked up the pieces, resolved to work hard, and he reaped a handsome reward. That's the attitude I am looking for. But sadly as in the many cases I have witnessed, we are quick to blame others for our failure instead of admitting that we are primarily at fault. Instead of working hard, we blame other for lack of pastoral concern.

blogpastor said...

The academic integrity must be maintained and as this is a good model of integrity that students who are future pastors can observe and learn from.

But the struggle you raised certainly cannot be ignored. And since lecturers like you have to function pastorally as well, people who set lecturers' salary should note the extra duties on lecturer's shoulders. A 20 % increase in salary would be a good starting point.

Edward Pothier said...

I remember reading an absolutely great anecdote about the two poles of study and Spirit, in several places. The first one I could find is in a book about preaching by the Roman Catholic (Jesuit) priest and patristics scholar Walter J. Burghardt which follows:

To me, the unprepared homilist is a menace. I do not minimize divine inspiration; I simply suggest it is rarely allocated to the lazy. Here I resonate to a story told me some years ago at Belmont Abbey by the famed Baptist Biblicist and preacher Dale Moody. A student in his Spirit course at the Louisville seminary wasn't meeting the professor's expectations. So Dr. Moody called him in and (in a delightful drawl I cannot reproduce) said: "Son, you're not doin' all that well in my course on the Holy Spirit. You been studyin'?" "Dr. Moody," the young man replied, "I don't have to study about the Spirit; I'm led by the Spirit." "Son," Moody asked, "that Spirit ever lead you to the library? If He doesn't soon, you're in deep trouble." [Page 10 of Walter J. Burghardt, Preaching: The Art and the Craft (Paulist Press, 1987)]

Sivin Kit said...

sometimes I wonder why "being pastoral" is often perceived as being nicer to people or in this case "students' in terms of academics?

If a student fails (or even scores excellent marks! - the temptation of pride and overcertainty in one's theological positions is real)

... then the pastoral care is on how the lecturer or perhaps another lecturer helps the student process the success or so called "failure". That's part and parcel of spiritual and ministerial formation.

I'm no academic (in the strict sense of the word) so I would imagine there is an agreed "standard" which those engaged in theological studies would agree to. If one misses that "standard", then perhaps the most "compassionate" thing to do for a lecturer would be to recommend what the student could do, correct or to add in order to meet the requirement.

some random morning thoughts! :-P

one last thing, having a "pastor" or chaplain in the seminary probably is one of the better ways forward. One whom is not "politically" aligned with the nuts and bolts of the academic stuff.

Kar Yong said...

Dear blogpastor,
Thanks for your suggestion. But since we are holding 2 jobs, perhaps 100% increment? :-)

Good to have you back in blogging!

Kar Yong said...

Hi Edward,
Thanks for this - I really like it!

Kar Yong said...

Hi Sivin,

Thanks for your input and the issue raised. I strongly believe that a chaplain is very much needed.

Also your suggestion that in the event "If one misses that "standard", then perhaps the most "compassionate" thing to do for a lecturer would be to recommend what the student could do, correct or to add in order to meet the requirement" is something that I believe all of us on the faculty subscribed to. But sometimes, the students just simply refuse to listen and do what is necessary, as recommended or suggested by the lecturers. This is where we agonise as well.

Morgan Raj David said...

Greetings Kar Yong
Most of us can understand your dilemma as an academician and as a clergy you have dual role, both to uphold the academic excellence as well as developing pastors for God’s ministry. It takes a lot wisdom and discernment when you make such a decision, because at the end of the day each one of us is accountable to our Creator, not the Institution or the Organization. How would it benefit us, if we please the world and not the Lord? Of course, anyone who appreciates the quality of education will not condone compromising the academic excellence. But the pertinent question is – at what cost? Are we obsessed over the academic excellence at the expense of Christian virtues? Are we obsessed with the number of word count, grammatical errors, sentence structures, punctuations, number of reference books (approved by the lecturers) etc?
Academic integrity is one of the principles, but there are many other Christian principles we may oversee when we become too zealous over the grades and marking scheme. Do we practice other Christian principles such as compassion, fair, justice, care, love etc when we nurture the students who aspire to become pastor? It does not mean lowering down the marking scheme, but has the lecturer given the benefit to students to ‘redeem’ to do better by nurturing, coaching, teaching, helping, encouraging, motivating, praying, and counseling the students before marking them down? Aren’t the students supposed to emulate the lecturers in the seminary as role models?
As seminarian, do we impart Christian virtues to these students who come to study the word of God, so that each one of them can experience “grace” during the course of study? We discuss so much of “grace” in the seminary, but there is a marked difference between intellectual discourse and practicality. If it is true, then the seminary may deem to be a mere an ‘ivory tower’ and distanced itself from reality, just like many other secular colleges and universities. The question that always linger in our mind – will a 10 or 20 A students will make an excellent pastor? Many would say it is indeed subjective, and from our experiences many mediocre students while in the seminary make better pastors. The question is between IQ and EQ, some may have high IQ but not necessarily high EQ. Research shows that those with high EQ are the ones become successful in both secular and church leadership. Thus, one wonders whether the core purpose of the seminary is it to churn out biblical scholars or church pastors, scholars who become like “Greek philosophers” or pastors to shepherd the sheep.
Perhaps, if anyone of us were to face this dilemma, the best thing we can do I suppose to seek His counsel, and His wisdom to guide our judgment and decision. After all, aren’t all of us supposed to be doing His work? Because at the end of the day, it is between me and Him!
Morgan Raj David

Kar Yong said...

Hi Morgan,

Thanks for your sharing.

Just one note. I am not too sure there should be such a strong dichotomy between "scholars" and "pastors". Why can't there be pastor-scholar?

I am of the view that there could be a healthy 'marriage' between a scholar and pastor. I have seen seen and also nurtured by people who are scholars in their own right and yet who are pastors as well.

Morgan Raj David said...

Hi Kar Yong
I hope I am not misunderstood. I strongly agree there should not be any demarcation of roles between a biblical scholar and pastoral function. We all yearn to have biblical scholars who are pastoral in nature and nurturing the students. The Apostles with their teaching in the form of Didache and the Early Fathers were both church doctors as well pastoral in nature. Unfortunately, with the advent of Enlightenment period and the post-modernism, the ‘reason’ supersedes metaphysical constructions with cold analytical reasons, now we have the products where in the West, theologians and biblical scholars can claim as Christian theologians and still dispute Christology and Jesus’ divinity. Thus, scholars do not need to be pastors. As a matter of fact, the dichotomy between “scholars” and “pastors” are more significant in the West.
Perhaps, within our Malaysian scenario, we have not come to that point; we are still clear about “heresies”. But the sad thing is that some of our local scholars forget the role of pastor, though they can be pastoring a church. For instance, it is unthinkable when a NT Scholar within the seminary who can challenge seminary students that “if one wants to score an A, you must be better than me (or my professor). And another OT scholar remarked, “who can mark stricter than me?” Maybe, these scholars are required to be reminded that they have dual role, to be a pastor who is Christlike in nature. Therefore, I certainly agree with you that every biblical scholar to be a pastor, and a healthy marriage between a scholar and a pastor.

Kar Yong said...

Hi Morgan,
Thanks for your sharing once again. I am not too sure, though, about your remarks on the grading. Ultimately, I think it goes both ways. Are the lecturers being more pastoral if they give more As? And as a student, I also need to ask myself - am I here just here in the seminary to get an A?

Just my thoughts...

Morgan Raj David said...

Greetings Kar Yong

It's not a matter of A or B. But what matters most the scholars can be more pastoral by the way they treat the students. I am only afraid that what if the scholars forget to be pastors.

BBee said...

Erh... the theological education and requirements therein are the path to realisation of that calling within the context the student is in. So, student has to get it right and meet the requirements. Well, to be pastoral is to extend grace in allowing student to repeatedly do it until he gets it right. Look, we need to inculcate discipline as a 'called' minister, ain't it? Don't you go feeling guilty about it...(if you are, good for you if you aren't). By the way, I enjoyed reading the comments; they are all kind of cute in their own way. Cheers!

Morgan Raj David said...

You are absolutely right BBee. Students need to meet the requirement, and of course we wouldn't condone mediocrity to be rewarded. Perhaps, Kar Yong missed my point, as I was pointing out that some of the scholars do give "un-pastoral" comments which many students find it is offensive. It is not a matter that pastoral scholars to give A's freely to students. If anyone who is the recipient of such comments, will understand what I mean. Experiences vary from one another!

Kar Yong said...

Hi Morgan,
I don't think I miss your point. Personally, I don't find the comments given by scholars you highlighted offensive at all. If it is offensive to me, then I must ask myself why it is offensive.

I guess we do have different expectations on what it means to be pastoral. To some - it means giving me an A. To some - it means you are there for me when I needed help. To some - you are to exercise grace, and not discipline.

It all goes back to what we understand by being pastoral. But can we be pastoral without discipline?

Kar Yong said...

Hi B Bee,
Thanks for your thoughts.

I like what you say: Well, to be pastoral is to extend grace in allowing student to repeatedly do it until he gets it right.

That's my philosophy too - to allow students the opportunity to improve.

But the problem is this: there are students in my previous experience that just refuse to listen and do what is necessary, and yet still expect you to pass them, no matter what. After all, I have heard students said before: "Lecturers won't fail students."

And when lecturers DO fail students for failing, we are always labelled as not being pastoral.

Paul said...


If you have such students who consistently refuse to listen, then it is a good pastoral thing to fail them so they cannot graduate. To have such a person graduate to meet the requirements and be placed in a church as a pastor is a scary thing.

To fail usch students is being "pastoral" to church members who may end up with such pastors.

Kar Yong said...

Hi Paul,
Thanks for these thoughts. It's true sometimes it can be rather tough when you have to deal those kind of students you mentioned. Some years ago, I failed one of them, and found out later that my decision was over ruled and he was passed by someone else. Students also know how to play the game - they would look for sympathetic party that would give in to them.

theCongregation said...

Greetings all,

Hi KY, the issue is not supposed to be highlighted as "Academic Integrity VS Pastoral Care" but "Academic Integrity + Pastoral Care". The QUESTION is "How can we have both of these qualities?" and not to argue over them. Perhaps, A pastor, should open his heart to listen over opinions rather than to argue about it. That would make A PASTOR - a Pastor.

As a teacher myself, I don't feel good over failing my students. To me,that would be an indicator that I have failed to be a good teacher. Of course there are factors which are out of my control but as long as i play my role as a teacher - the best that i could, then i fulfilled my part. Secular education system is very objective. If the answer is "A"... so "A" lah the answer. If a Pastor look at their student the way, I look at my student, then I Am afraid that someday, Pastors become like any other teachers/lecturers who are more concerns on grammatical & spelling errors and assignment formatting + becoming OBJECTIVE towards SUBJECTIVE matters. Do give a thought....

Oh ya...if you failed someone who is your student, there is nothing wrong with seeking for 2nd or 3rd opinions right? Its subjective. And if even the 2nd person actually over ruled your decision, then you should not question the student, but the person who over ruled your decision. Does it mean, that your answer is the ONLY answer to the question given?? hmmm Do give a thought...

I strongly believe that we should not directly compare a Seminary institutional with Secular edu system. Why don't we look from the perspective of other Christian institutional in terms of values? Or perhaps, A perspective from a seminary to other seminary or to other monasteries around the world? Do Give a thought...

Suddenly, I am wondering...if "" Someone received a call from God, walks to the Seminary to learn and to understand about his religion, to share the good news with others but then walks out from the Seminary frustratedly"", - i do feel that something which is not quite right there. If 'Pastoral Care' is really applies, will this situation happen?? mmmm i dont think so. We are dealing with mature student anyway.... Do Give a thought...

Anyway, Whatever it is, most importantly is what kind of pastors that will come out from an institution later. Pastoral Care should be above the written/edu/exam qualification (watever they call it). This will be the indicator that differentiate between a Seminary and a Secular institution. Otherwise, the title "Pastor" is no different than any other employment terms that we use in corporate world...and soon, being a Pastor will no longer be a "call". And, it is Sad to say that, it is happening now.

Anyway, who are we to judge but God. I pray that there will be more Pastor with 'shepherd heart'. Amen.