A couple of weeks ago, I shared some of my “take-aways” from the Dalton Institute on College Student Values. Today I want to share some thoughts from the keynote speech I gave at the Institute.
Of the four keynote speakers, I was the only one who was a university administrator. So, I spoke from that perspective on the topic at hand – “Promoting an Ethic of Care: Student Well-Being as a Priority for Higher Education.” I started by sharing the story of being completely stumped as a new Dean of Students when someone asked me what I did. I didn’t know how to answer the question at first. “I go to meetings” didn’t seem like a very satisfactory answer. After thinking about it I realized my job was to make sure the university worked for every student.
When I became a vice president, I learned that my job was to make sure the university worked for everyone who was part of it – students, of course, but also staff, faculty, alumni and community members. For me, a university “works” for all of us when it is a good place to spend so much of our lives, when it is a place where everyone has an opportunity to learn and grow.
I shared Robert K. Greenleaf’s definitions of leader-as-servant and institution-as servant. Both have always seemed to me to define what education should be about. Here’s Greenleaf’s definition of institution as servant: “Caring for persons, the more able and the less able serving each other, is the rock upon which a good society is built…. If a better society is to be built, one that is more just and more loving, one that provides greater creative opportunity for people, then the most open course is to raise both the capacity to serve and the very performance as servant of existing major institutions by new regenerative forces operating within them.”
So how do you do this? I’m convinced we start with faculty and staff. If we create a caring, healthy environment for people, if we are clear about our purpose, clear about how we work together (collaborate rather than compete) and if we provide people with the tools and resources to enable them to have a reasonable chance of success at their work, then the student experience will be taken care of. Working together as a community we can reach new levels of achievement.
I then shared a number of stories of people on various campuses who took care of students. One story was about a vice president, one story was about a housekeeper in a university center, one story was about a faculty member. Caring for students includes caring for staff, faculty and the health and welfare of the entire community. All of the stories I shared were about people who saw a need and reached out to help. It didn’t matter what their job title was, all of them understood that they had the same job – to help make their university work for everyone. We do that by caring about each individual student and the entire student body and by caring for the staff members we supervise and every university employee. We care about everyone’s experience large and small. Caring for students means speaking up for the programs that make a difference in students’ lives whether it is your program or someone else’s. Caring for students means there are multiple ways to define and support student success. Caring for students means becoming full partners in the work of the university and going the extra mile to make partnerships work.
My thanks to each of you for the care you give to our students, each other and the many members of our university community. Keep up the wonderful work.