I failed in my attempt to blog every day from the Puebla conference simply because there was too much going on! A great sign that a Conference is successful is that you find the sessions stimulating and the coffee breaks full of exciting conversations. What a privilege to talk with colleagues from the Carribean and Latin America, Africa, South Asia and East Asia and Australia.
There are still lots of things to process but my initial reflections are about the sorts of people attracted to these gatherings. It seems to me that they fall into two broad categories: those that come to sell something - a course, an idea, an institution - and those who come to offer something. The former are interested in the gathering as a potential consumer base and treat every encounter as a transaction. The latter come to listen to others, to receive as much as to give, to build relationships and see how they fit into the wider picture.
Of course, this is symptomatic of the current state of education more widely, where particularly Higher Education has become a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder. Faculty are rapidly finding themselves service providers with an ever more demanding set of customers. Insitutional survival is about market-placement and a set of metrics designed for supermarkets and not universities.
Organisations life IAMSCU affirm that there is another way, if we are prepared to risk it. Instead of competition, we embrace colaboration, recognising that the enormous inequalities in our world are reflected in our education systems. So the stronger will have to help the weaker, but as brothers and sisters, not donors and clients. IAMSCU affirms that our first responsibility is not attracting students and money to our own institutions, but reaching out to offer something that will help us all. If Global Methodist Education is about anything, it is surely about the principle of Connexionalism, embodying the notion that we are better only because we are together.
So Puebla leaves me with lots to think about, with a number of unfinished conversations to follow up on my return to the office, and with a renewed sense of mission, to make sure that the education I am responsible for is both empowering and generous. This is the heart of connexionalism for me - a set of relationships that empower the weaker through generosity and empower the stronger through humility and mutuality.
All this reminds me of the words of Jon Sobrino, the Latin American Liberation Theologian:
Solidarity is another name for the kind of love that moves feet, hands, hearts, material goods, assistance, and sacrifice towards the pain, danger, misfortune, disaster, repression, or death of other persons or a whole people. The aim is to share with them and help them rise up, become free, claim justice, rebuild.