One of the best things about the way we’ve organized education is the distinct starts and stops that allow us to begin anew. In the K-12 world, there is that excitement that focuses on those first days after summer. Back packs are filled with pens, paper, and expectation. In higher education, we do this at least twice a year, organizing around semesters, with new texts, challenges, and new chances to get things right.
As a student, I recall the many times I committed to being better at taking notes. Each new semester, I dreamed of perfect, efficient records of my classes. I never succeeded. Entropy or confusion would set in and eventually the neat outlines became less orderly and more grasping for the point. My notes were a record of the class of course, and it was more accurate, I think, than the dreamed for perfect outlines. It showed my struggles to understand, my doodles of disconnection, and an occasional “aha”! I had learned something and that was enough.
So here we are on the eve of 2019, and I am pondering the joy of some fresh blank pages. What will they be filled with this time?
I know there will be some of the usual tasks. As provost, I spend a good deal of time trying to make order out of processes so that faculty, staff, and students can easily understand how things work. Each of the rules and guidelines by which we operate was created to support reasonable academic standards and paths to success (graduation, tenure, etc.). Yet, when combined, that list of rules and policies is sometimes confusing and contradictory. I try to see it as a whole and work to reduce confusion and contradiction. This is the ongoing and usual project I set for myself. My efforts generally start out nice and orderly, like my course outlines, and as they wind their way through various reconciliations, tend to become less so. Still, the effort toward clarity seems worth it, so I persist in the task.
Then there are the opportunities for new initiatives. As an academic leader I am bombarded with pitches for new technologies, data on student success initiatives, and demands for better outcomes. I wade through these ideas and efforts, dismissing most as just too much clutter without enough benefit. But, there is room for improvement in any organization, so I am likely to find one or two ideas that could help WCSU. These potential initiatives must be evaluated and pursued in ways that do not overwhelm everyone involved.
Finally, there are those areas in which I feel I need to improve. I reflect on what I have and haven’t accomplished in the last year. Did older initiatives pay off? Should I stop doing some of them? Should I change a strategy? Have I gathered enough information, listened closely enough to my colleagues and students, to make my efforts productive?
This process of reflection an renewal feels right to me. It gives me the opportunity to re-imagine my efforts and my role on a regular basis. Like my life as as student, I know I’ll face entropy and confusion and some inertia as I dive into the next semester, but that is as it should be. It is the process of renewal and goal setting, part of the very DNA of higher education, that is so valuable.
So here’s to new notebooks, laptops, and ideas. May all your resolutions be useful.
Happy New Year.