This weekend the Vice President for Student Affairs for the University of West Florida was in town for a friend’s wedding and he wanted to get together for a campus tour. I completely understand why he would add this complication into his busy weekend. I love touring university campuses, too!
It’s always fascinating to see how many different ways there are to provide what are basically the same programs and services and to find what is truly unique to each campus. The same is true of the facilities. Every university needs classrooms, labs, a library or two, and places for people to eat, gather in groups and find solitude — yet every campus has its own look and feel. Some of that difference is due to architecture and landscaping of course. Spanish moss in Tallahassee and tall palm trees in Boca Raton make Florida State and Florida Atlantic Universities look very different.
But no matter how gorgeous the view books, that’s never the full picture of a campus. Even more than the architecture, it’s the people – the energy of students who hurry or meander across campus, the sounds in the hallways as classes change, the way people passing acknowledge or ignore each other – it all adds to the feel of a campus.
As members of the UT Austin campus, we have the wonderful opportunity to be part of shaping our campus. We shape this campus every day in numerous ways, both large and small. Completing our mission, vision and new strategic plan are one way we shape our Division and through our Division’s work, our campus.
As you think about the future, it’s important to pay attention to sometimes contradictory ideas. What should we keep that makes UT Austin unique? What is unique to UT Austin but makes no sense for our future and needs to be left behind? What strengths do we capitalize on? What do we do well but no longer meets the needs of our campus? What are best practices we should emulate? What is something no one else is doing that would be perfect for us in the future?
These are big questions, big ideas to consider that will help set the course at our university for years to come. The campus Master Plan, enrollment management initiatives, housing needs assessment and strategic plans are all part of the big picture.
But just as important are the small things. Margaret Wheatley in Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World brings the science of fractals into organizational life. While it’s too complex to fully describe here, the short definition of a fractal is “any object or form created from repeating patterns evident at many levels of scale.” (Emphasis added.)
Wheatley goes on to say, “I can’t think of any organization that isn’t deeply patterned with self-similar behaviors evident everywhere. I am often struck by eerily similar behaviors exhibited by people in an organization . . . . These recurring patterns are what many call the culture of organization.”
Every day we create the ‘shape’ of UT Austin by our small actions and interactions repeated by us and replicated by others. Few of us get to decide the architecture or landscaping of our campus. As we think, talk and plan, many of us will be part of discussions about the big picture questions. But all of us — as we move across campus greeting or ignoring others, as we work with others in a friendly or curt way, as we take time to connect to many or just favor a few — all of us determine the feel of our university.
So what is our campus today and what should it be tomorrow? These are important questions to keep asking ourselves because everyday our answers and our actions create the complete picture of UT Austin.
All the best,