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What Does It Mean to Be Happy in Higher Ed?
Phi Kappa Phi Forum (2017)
  • David Silva, Salem State University
In higher education circles, happiness doesn't get much play. While there's plenty of talk about student satisfaction, parental expectations, faculty morale, administrative attitudes, and legislative resolve, we don't ask basic questions about what it means to be happy in academia.

Perhaps discussions of happiness in higher ed are misplaced. After all, were not here to make anybody happy; we're here to get stuff done. There's teaching and learning to accomplish. Scholarship to undertake. Committee work to endure. Policies to implement. Dollars and people to manage.

Furthermore, concern about what makes for happy students can lead us toward that education model most despised by faculty: consumerism. Whether it's alleged over-reliance on imperfect teaching evaluations or questionable prioritization of scarce resources (climbing wall versus biology lab), institutional attention to improving student satisfaction sometimes evokes faculty displeasure. The syllogistic snark might unfold thus: "If students are customers, and the customer is always right, then why bother?" Such cynicism would have us sidestep meaningful considerations of happiness in higher ed, returning us to more serious matters.

But if essayists are persistent and persistence is a virtue, then a virtuous essayist would encourage you, dear reader, to ponder your own happy times. As a student, they may have come when you aced a seemingly impossible exam, or earned praise from a respected professor, or were initiated into Phi Kappa Phi. For faculty members, happy times are associated with landing that first job, or getting that grant, or earning tenure. Happiness also pervades commencement ceremonies: students, faculty, administrators, parents, trustees - all are smiles and good cheer, celebrating the success of yet another class. …
Publication Date
Winter 2017
Citation Information
Silva, David. (2017). What Does it Mean to be Happy in Higher Ed?. Phi Kappa Phi journal. 97. 10.