John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

‘Tis the Season

December 10, 2012John N. GardnerInsights0

John N. Gardner

For those of us in the academic world, the end of the term is a good time for reflection and taking stock of the markers for our lives. And this particular time is marked also by the holiday season and the continuing settling of the dust after the presidential election.

It is a time to remind that students that miracles do happen at this time of year so they should not despair. Personally, I was the recipient of many.

It is time to remind students that the emotional, non rational holiday period is the worst time to make major life decisions. I made some bad decisions in my youth but none of them during this season.

It is time to bid farewell to some of our colleagues whose retirement we will be saluting, and thus an opportunity to contemplate our own. Personally, I am flunking retirement. I went to a pre-retirement seminar once sponsored by the South Carolina State Retirement System where we were asked to participate in an exercise where we had to write down the things we like to do outside our professional work. In pulling the activity together the facilitator told us that “studies have shown” that those who couldn’t list over 20 items were going to have a difficult time in making the transition. So I knew that was not a good course for me.

It is a good time to recall that in the four years prior to be electing Vice President of the US, Dick Cheney donated less than 4% of his 20 million dollar salary from Haliburton to charity. When you do so, ask yourself if you could have/should have given more, particularly this year in what may be the last year we get to claim charitable contributions as tax deductible expenses. When I learned about Mr. Cheney’s inspiring generosity, I resolved to do better than that…and I have.

It is time to think about a new year’s resolution. Yes, the concept is ridiculous when you look at the horrendous failure rates, even greater than those we tolerate in US higher education in our gateway courses! But I think we need to at least consider the idea anyway. I suggest it would be more meaningful, and more likely to bear some fruition if we considered other potential goals than those relating to dietary intake, weight, and exercise.

It is time this year to hope that by the time the New Year starts our minority political party and our President will have reached some grand bargain on debt and taxation levels. But I am a realist.  So I can only fantasize about what it might be like to have greater predictability as a consumer, investor, and taxpayer. So I am going to spend my time instead thinking about the things that I can actually leverage and even control.

It is a good time of year to give our students some special affirmation. Hey, what a way to end the term. Might even make some of them want to return. That could be your personal contribution to enhancing student retention.

And it is a good time of year to tell some of your colleagues what they have meant to you this year. Do it before you go out imbibing with them so they know that it is not the spirits talking. This would be in the spirit of the season.

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