Outtakes: The times, they are a-changin’

The times, they are a-changin’

Retiring Prof. John Mitchell has been  a professor from September 1, 1964 until August 31, 2012. At age 22, beginning as an assistant professor at Pacific University in Oregon, following moves to the University of Oregon, University of Alberta and to the Faculty of Education at UBC’s Okanagan campus, he has built a career as a global authority on child and adolescent psychology.

During the ’60s he shared an evening of conversation with Bob Dylan (“He has influenced my understanding of how genius expresses itself in different ways in people”) and another in the company of psychedelic drug guru and university professor Timothy Leary (“I talked to him just after he was fired from Harvard. He was radical beyond my comprehension”).

Over 48 years, Mitchell’s accolades have been many for teaching and research. He has authored 14 books on psychology with a 15th soon to be published. On one of Mitchell’s final days on campus, he shared perspectives on more than a half-century of university life.

“Since I began more than 50 years ago, university today is far more similar to what it was in 1959, than it is different.

You basically go to classes, you read books, you think, you write. You get taught if you are a student. With minor differences, we have kept the same general paradigm of what is expected of a student and what is expected of a professor.

The most radical transformation for the university has been the ease of access to information and knowledge. It used to be people like me would travel to a major university, literally camping out in the library for six and seven days at a time to access periodicals and obscure journals. All of that has changed.

The average Grade 12 student today has more information at his avail than Charles Darwin or Sigmund Freud or Albert Einstein accumulated in their lifetime. Only 30 years ago, people who could explain Einstein’s theory of relativity were rare, maybe one or two at any university.

Students today don’t need information as much as they need wisdom; and what is true for the students is even more true for their professors.”