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Crossroads:
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Why EMU is not Harvard or Duke
(And Why We Feel Fine About It)

Two years ago this writer was chatting with an EMU alumnus who is a bestselling writer of math textbooks and a major donor to EMU. His name is Robert Hostetler, and he had just retired from decades of teaching math at the Behrend campus of Penn State University. He still had an on-campus office, though, for revising his famous textbooks.

He spoke about an unusual sabbatical he took in 1997-98 during which he taught without pay at EMU as a way of “going back to my roots.” Hostetler had graduated from EMU in 1959 and married a fellow alum, Eloise Beyeler (C 61).

During his sabbatical year, Hostetler couldn’t help comparing EMU and its 1,660 students to his own Behrend College of Penn State University. Penn State has 20 campuses serving 83,000 students and is ranked among the top 10 percent of universities nationwide.

Hostetler found himself teaching comparably sized classes at the two universities - about 30 to 32 students per class. Using the same textbooks (his own), the same curriculum and the same grading standards at both universities, Hostetler found that the academic abilities of both sets of students were comparable.

The percentage of students at the high and low end of the grading spectrum was the same in his classes. It was the middle group of students that surprised Hostetler. “At EMU, the middle group of students went up in their performance (as the semester progressed); at Penn State, the middle group shifted downward.” Hostetler attributed the improved performance of the average student at EMU to “a more caring faculty, the work ethic of students at EMU, the community spirit that helped each student to feel valued, and the fact that EMU students act with Christian charity toward one another and help each other out.” At EMU, added Hostetler, “attention was given to all students equally, rather than just to the excellent or the deficient.”

Stepping away from the Behrend College campus of Penn State for a year also allowed Hostetler to see that the Behrend faculty members tend to compete against each other for merit pay, grants, promotions, recognition, and so forth.

By contrast, Hostetler noted that EMU faculty members demonstrate they are in service together to a higher mission by cooperating both within departments and across disciplinary lines, even routinely showing up to functions held by other departments and by the students.

“The faculty’s spirit of Christian service carries over to the student body,” said Hostetler. As a result, EMU operates in a spirit of “community rather than competition,” a spirit which Hostetler views as lamentably rare in higher education.

Hostetler did note one drawback of teaching at EMU. Due to financial constraints at EMU, professors here teach more courses than those at Penn State, and they get less release time for research and other scholarly pursuits.

All five of the Hostetler children chose to come to their parents’ alma mater, where their father says they experienced a “Christ-centered, whole-person education” and “academic excellence within a loving, caring, inviting community.” The four married children even found their spouses at EMU.

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Hostetler’s story was the launching point for the articles and chart that follow. Were his observations unique to himself, or do other professors and students coming from highly respected universities also find EMU to be different in a positive way?

We sought insights from three EMU professors, who have either taught at or obtained degrees from a total of more than a dozen universities, including Princeton, Stanford, Wake Forest, Duke and the University of Virginia. We also checked with two people who came directly from graduate studies at Harvard to study at EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. These five interviewees confirmed - or at least they didn’t contradict - Hostetler’s observations, but they also added their own strokes to paint a fascinating picture of the similarities and differences between EMU and other universities.

-Bonnie Price Lofton (G 04)