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A University President’s Advice During Challenging Times

August 25, 2020

By: President Thomas J. Botzman, Ph.D.

Over thirty years ago, when I first began teaching at the college level, I was fortunate to receive a few pieces of sage advice from my more experienced colleagues. While the advice was given in the context of how to effectively teach and mentor students, I have found much of it useful as we move through a most challenging time in our neighborhoods, communities, states and nation. My hope is that today’s students have a positive experience as they move into the next phase of their lives.

“Don’t worry as much about being fair as being objective.” 

We have all heard the complaint that some decisions are not fair. Our world, and our communities, have seen too much behavior that puts self above others. Or, in many cases, we lose our objectivity based on an emotional response. Yes, we need to listen to the emotion first, then turn to an objective analysis of what faces us. It amazes me that we will pore over analytics at work and in study of financial markets, rank anything and everything from music to movies to sports, and revel at the explosion of data available through the Internet, yet we will avoid rational analysis that doesn’t fit our emotional or experiential frame. I am quite sure that my life experiences, both positive and negative, are different from yours.  However, we all live in the same world. To move forward, we must have the empathy needed to take someone else’s view.  Try to argue the view that appears to be opposite from yours and you may find a common ground for a conversation. Better yet, try to make the case for a compromise and you may be the one who leads us to a better path forward.

“Just because something is urgent doesn’t mean it needs to be done right away.” 

Our world calls for urgency, be it looking at our phone to see the latest fascinating message or meme, eating way too many fast food meals on the way from here to there, or simply not taking the time to engage fully with others. Learn what is vital, what is life sustaining, and put your energy there. Take a few minutes each morning to plan what you will do today that is most life sustaining. Yes, you will still check your cell far too often, but that is okay as you will have already completed what comes first. College has many wonderful experiences waiting for our students. The students should be sure to choose some that are new and that will improve both their personal life and the life of those they meet.

“Save your mercy for the end.” 

This was a way of saying that a class or activity needed to have rigorous standards right from the start and the effort needs to match. Students will work toward an aspirational goal, sometimes one that appears to be unreachable. Our very successful athletics coaches aim to win it all every year. The student-athletes must believe that they have it within themselves to do what must be done to succeed. Faculty work with new first-year students and four years later they have transformed into graduates and leaders ready to take on the world, perhaps in a career or service opportunity. This year, many doubt that students can keep a proper physical distance, wear masks and keep the spread of the coronavirus limited on college campuses. Indeed, we have seen the videos that show that the returning behaviors are not what they need to be. My view is that students can, and will, learn. We must choose a path that is both safe and moves forward the educational process. To our students, know I will not give up on you, so please do not give up on me. You were chosen, and you chose, to be a part of our academic community. Choose to stay.