John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

College as Lab for Real Life

John Gardner
President

When I look back on my own college experience and ask myself in what context did I learn the most that influenced how I practice my profession 4 decades later, my answer is: student government! I learned that my small, liberal arts college was a lab for real life. I learned about how organizations function; how decisions are made; how and why conflicts develop; how vested interests get pursued; what brings people together to do the right things. As I look back, particularly in contrast to what I just saw the British government doing during my visit to the UK in June, and now what my own government is doing—or not doing re the crisis around raising the US debt ceiling—I realize that I learned adult behavior.

And I am desperate to see some adult behavior in our Congress. I bet even some of our students are. This makes me wonder what we can teach our new students this fall as they join us about adult behavior. How are our colleges and universities models for adult behavior, unlike our Congress.
What will our students see the adults doing?
Will they see the adults putting the institution’s (country) ahead of more parochial interests?
Will they see examples of civil discourse?
Will they see examples of reasonable thought and action, based on evidence and facts as opposed to ideology?

Will they see ideology trumping all reason and pragmatism (e.g. we cannot absolutely and under no circumstances raise the organization’s revenue stream—we can only cut expenses—can any of our students manage their own personal budgets his way?)


Will they see any examples of real statesmanship?

Will they see examples of leaders saying “I won’t come to your meeting for discussion, or stay in your meeting, unless we refuse ahead of time to discuss certain topics!”

I learned a long time ago that there are many big things in life I do not and cannot control.

So I have to focus on what I do control. I can’t control what happens in Congress but if I were still on a campus I could influence, and even control in some ways, what my students would see us adults doing.

I so hope my colleagues on campus will welcome our students this fall to a bastion of civility and rational discourse; and to a community that is as generous as possible to all and lacks the mean spiritedness we see so prevalent in Congress.

What our students will see this fall is up to people like you who read this blog. Please let
them  see us acting like adults.

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