In an era where change occurs rapidly and is only accelerating, it can be easy to lose sight of what universities are at their core: diverse communities who are trying to impact society in beneficial ways. Universities do this through many different methods, but we should embrace the overarching idea that universities are and should be success centres.
I use “success” broadly. It doesn’t mean that everyone should automatically get As or Nobel prizes. It doesn’t mean that a degree should automatically lead to a particular job. But it does mean that universities should be more focused on being people-centred communities. It also means helping community members succeed in their own ways.
For example, from the perspective of someone who has been outside of universities for a while, I primarily remember the people, the interactions, and the experiences from my time at McMaster and the University of Victoria. I learned so much from advocating with many student leaders and university administrators about university issues. That advocacy became a fundamental part of who I now am and how I now act as part of broader society. On the other hand, most of the specifics from my classes are now long gone. The university environment can thus be key as to what impact each of us has as citizens.
We should be better at creating environments and opportunities that incubate and foster success for the short-, medium-, and long-terms. By being involved in their success, students and alumni become more engaged and personally invested over time. We also need to be better at explaining and understanding how small parts integrate with the whole. After all, none of us want to lose sight of the forest by becoming too focused on the trees.
Diversity is our strength, and we should be promoting and protecting it. There is a reason why there are multiple faculties and schools at universities. We bring different backgrounds and experiences. We don’t all think the same, and the different approaches and perspectives we bring are invaluable to how we are going to deal with our world’s problems.
Inherent in that diversity is that we each take away different things from universities. That’s a good thing because universities should be encouraging creativity and variety as much as possible. Universities have a great potential to adapt and change, and we should not be afraid to change to promote a variety of our community members’ successes.
We must also not forget that universities are fundamentally communities, and every community is ultimately only as good as its people. We must also not forget the large ranges that make up that diverse community, particularly given the different stages of life that different community members are at. It is thus important to always think about how something will affect a person rather than thinking about it in detached isolation. People know when people care, and it makes a huge difference.
We must also encourage more interaction within our communities. I’m not talking about networking for the sake of networking; I’m instead focusing on the good connections that naturally arise in vibrant communities. It can be comfortable to just stay in one’s silo, but there are tremendous benefits from creating opportunities and incentives to stretch one’s self and go outside of comfort zones.
We should thus be focused on building and nurturing people to succeed in various ways over the long-term. By focusing on communities and the success of its people, we also help universities improve and stay relevant in tomorrow’s world. After all, when tied together, all of those individual and varied strings of success can become rather formidable, and the benefits will help us all.