President Edward Burger

Higher Ed Episodes

President Edward Burger and Jennifer Stayton of Austin National Public Radio affiliate KUT explore topics of higher education, lifelong learning, and exercising the brain in this lively and entertaining weekly podcast.

President Edward Burger and KUT's Jennifer Stayton


Posted: February 17, 2019 at 6:00am

Earth’s millions of years of existence are divided into different time periods that chronicle its geological development. You may remember studying those in school (Cenozoic era, anyone?). But what is impacting earth right now? In this episode of KUT’s podcast “Higher Ed,” Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT’s Jennifer Stayton discuss the call for an “Age of Humans” designation to acknowledge the impact of people – and how to study that.

Southwestern University is getting ready to host its biannual Brown Symposium later in February. The topic this time around is “The Anthropocene.”


The idea is to discuss the profound changes the Earth is undergoing right now at, for the first time say some scientists and historians, the hands of humans. Because of that, there is a push to call our current times the “Age of Humans” (a.k.a the Anthropocene).

Ed says the main idea of the symposium is to look at the impacts humans are having on the planet and to take an  interdisciplinary approach to exploring questions and looking at solutions. Some of the disciplines represented in the symposium include Environmental Studies, Religion and Art.

Does the very word “symposium” bring about a wave of yawns?

Ed encourages people to resist that antiquated thought about academic gatherings. He says they are a time to congregate, share ideas and learn about points of view different from our own.

Listen to the entire episode for more on an interdisciplinary approach to studying the “Age of Humans” and the impacts on learning when people gather to share thoughts and ideas outside the classroom.

This episode was recorded on Jan. 25, 2019.


Posted: February 10, 2019 at 6:00am

“Teacher’s pet.” “Know-it-all.” “Brown-noser.” These are just some of the terms students lob at each other in (and out) of school – especially at students who demonstrate strong mastery of a subject or are enthusiastic in class. In this episode of KUT’s podcast “Higher Ed,” Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT’s Jennifer Stayton  explore how and why those labels are used and why they might not pack the punch they used to.

One of the assumptions underlying the use of labels such as those is that it is not cool to be smart or active in class discussion. Ed remembers that was certainly the case when he was in school.

“It was definitely…. ‘you’re teacher’s pet, you’re a brown-noser,’” says Ed. “And therefore you’re now ostracized because you’re not cool.”

Ed says labels – either positive or negative – cannot help but impact students’ learning and experiences in the classroom.

“If someone is looked at as ‘wow – that person is so cool, that person knows everything’ then I think it actually amplifies that and encourages them to go on,” says Ed. “And when you have a student who is called ‘oh, that person is dumb and doesn’t know any of the answers’ or that person is just trying to impress the teacher – and is a ‘teacher’s pet’ – then it actually I think stifles that creativity and that potential intellectual growth, which is really, really sad.”

Those labels may be losing some of their impact, though, as Ed sees a trend toward more appreciation of participation and engagement in the classroom.

“At all grade levels now, knowing the answer; raising your hand; engaging with the teacher or professor or instructor; is actually kind of a cool thing,” says Ed. “I think this is one of the few directions where I think we have actually evolved and made forward progress in how we view…. being engaged and trying and being open to learning.”

Listen to the full episode to hear more about the evolution of labels and attitudes about learning and classroom engagement. There is also a new puzzler that will require your active participation to solve.

This episode was recorded on Jan. 25, 2019.


Posted: February 3, 2019 at 6:00am

What comes to mind when you hear the word “mentor?” Perhaps a bespectacled older teacher or other professional offering sage advice to a younger student? In this episode of KUT’s podcast “Higher Ed,” Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT’s Jennifer Stayton  discuss what makes a good mentor (and it doesn’t necessarily have to do with age or specific experience).

Ed wants to make a few things clear about mentors and mentoring up front.

First of all, mentors and role models are not the same thing.

“When I think of a role model, that person can be far away, could be someone who I don’t even know but I aspire to be, or I see and see elements of that I want to replicate, ” says Ed. “A mentor is much closer. There is a person who not only do I know, but the person has taken the time to know me and then to offer wisdom, counsel, advice, guidance and so forth.”

Secondly, mentors of any age – not just more seasoned teachers and other professionals – have something to offer.

“I don’t think that a mentor necessarily has to be someone who is older than you,” Ed believes. “It’s the perspective they bring and the questions they ask and the inspiration they offer.”

Ed believes a strong mentor-mentee relationship entails much more than the exchange of information and advice.

“It’s a safe relationship where no one’s going to be judgmental,” says Ed. “But in fact, listen – ideally open mindedly – and then ask questions. Then start to say ‘Okay, let me probe you. If you really want to do that, what about this? Why are you thinking that way?’ Then all of a sudden, it provokes thought, which is of course what all things should do.”

Listen to the full episode to hear about some of Ed’s experiences being a mentor and having a mentor. He firmly believes people can benefit from a mentor’s guidance at any age or stage of school and work. It is also time to gear up for the solution to the most recent puzzler.

This episode was recorded on Dec. 4, 2018.