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Insights on Recreation from New England “Assistant Dean on Tap”

Posted: February 19, 2021

An annual tradition took place on the New England campus last week as Dr. Patrick Gardner held an “Assistant Dean on Tap” forum, during which he fielded questions from students on subjects of their choosing. Topics ranged from residential life and the campus chaplaincy to the academic degrees of incoming tutors. The discussion also covered certain unique aspects of the College’s academic program, especially in regards to the unified and focused nature of the curriculum. 

One recurring theme in the conversation was what kind of leisure is proper to students during their time at the College. Dr. Gardner recalled that, during his days as an undergraduate, many of his successful peers adopted the mentality of “work hard, play hard,” which leads to “an unintegrated life,” he said. “I don’t mean to suggest that to have an integrated life means that you don’t relax, that you don’t have true recreation, as if you had to be in some way working on your studies at all times. If recreation means letting go of the rule of reason — which you impose on yourself when you’re working, so that you will get everything done that you need, be successful, move on to the next stage — if you discipline yourself for that and then, when you recreate, think, ‘Now is the time not to be disciplined,’ that is opposed to the notion of virtue. It’s in the end an unstable arrangement.”

There are several forms of recreation that do enable one to retain and even strengthen discipline, Dr. Gardner continued. “I think that organized sports have a pretty natural relation to the pursuit of the intellectual life as a student, because you need to complement a pursuit that is largely sedentary with the exercise of your body in some way,” he explained. “They are a natural way to build courage, to build fraternity, to learn to moderate one’s temper, to work as a team and to be both a leader and someone who follows leadership and does so quickly and without quibbling.”

The topic of video games as a form of recreation also came up in the discussion. “Some people are quick to get hooked on them, and will have a hard time letting them go when you have other duties or you ought to be spending your time otherwise,” said Dr. Gardner. “That’s for each to judge. I think they have a value as recreation, but generally speaking I think you’re going to get more out of the recreation that’s going to take you out, get you exercised in some way or another, and involves more direct interaction with other human beings, unmediated by technology. I think the more you can do that, the healthier you will be.”

“If the main thing you’re doing here is largely sedentary, well, so are video games,” he added with a chuckle. “They can draw you in and draw you away from the things that you’re supposed to be doing here. That could be the case for organized sports too, but all things in moderation.”

Dr. Patrick Gardner at Assistant Dean on Tap (2021)

“With an academic program as rigorous as Thomas Aquinas College’s, and with a long line of successful alumni, Thomas Aquinas College is essential to the health of our Church in the United States and beyond.”

– The Most Rev. Thomas Daly

Bishop of Spokane

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