I spent a good part of the weekend on the East Coast at a meeting with faculty and administrators from 23 liberal arts colleges to talk about faculty and students doing research together. There were four of us from Oberlin. It was all very interesting, and we came away with some great ideas. But it made me realize once again how different Oberlin is, even among its "elite" peers.
At lunch we shared a table with a senior professor from a rival institution. He explained that he had been appointed by his dean to think of ways to improve intellectual life on his campus. "You know how it is when you teach," he said. "Students are only half there, it takes a lot of energy to get them even slightly interested, and once they leave the classroom they disengage completely from the subject matter. I want them to take what they learn into the rest of their lives." My colleagues and I looked at each other in astonishment. No, we mumbled almost apologetically, we're sorry, but that is not a problem we tend to have.
If students here are anything, it is intellectually engaged--intensely, and almost constantly. They're easy to turn on to new things. This also means that they are easily distracted, and find it hard to focus on just a couple of things at the time. This creates problems of its own, of course. But from a professor's point of view, it's a great problem to have.