May 2013 Cover
Volume 81 | Issue 3
May 2013

President's Column: Ask Yourself …

Mark Guthier

The end of the semester, particularly the end of the academic year, is a time of great reflection for me. In particular, I ask myself three questions:

What kind of experience did the students have this year?Guthier
This question pops into my mind for a variety of reasons: The final meeting of Union Council happens this time of year, and we get to hear the student leaders put into words how their year at the union has affected them. Student employees who have been with us for their college careers start to schedule their last shifts at the union, some with a good dose of melancholy. And our semi-annual promotion of lifetime union memberships gives us some idea of how much students at large feel connected to the union. Each of these annual rituals is a reminder to me of what should be the central focus of my work: enhancing the student experience.

I can do this in big ways and small. During my one-on-meetings with the union president, I usually seek to determine whether she achieved the goals she set for herself in September or whether she found the right balance between learning something new about herself and his larger responsibility to the campus. With student employees, I recognize the ones who are willing to work right up until the end of the semester, even if they’re graduating the next day. This is definitely a sign that they’ve enjoyed working at the union with their classmates—and that we’re a respected part of their college experience. And finally, I pay attention to the students who visit the union with their family and friends during those last days before commencement. Are we one of their “photo op” locations on campus? Do they spend a few of their last hours that final week in the union? If so, I know we’re one step closer to being the first place they’ll return as alumni.

How well did the staff come through, given everything we accomplished?
Even though my first thoughts at the close of the semester are about the students, immediately afterward I think something along the lines of: “If we just get through the next six months, things will calm down and the staff can get a break.” However, as most of you are aware, it seems we are in a perpetual age of doing more with less in higher education. And while resources continue to decline as greater scrutiny is applied regarding efficiency, the demands from students, faculty, and alumni seem to be going in the opposite direction, becoming ever more sophisticated and specialized. Now more than ever, taking care of one of our greatest assets—human capital—has become a top priority. So even though we may declare a particular semester or year successful from a “student experience” perspective, we realistically cannot produce many of these semesters consecutively if we aren’t taking care of our staff.

Therefore, the end of the academic year has become a good time for me to reflect on this important resource. How is the staff really doing? Are they just telling me what I want to hear, or could I do something to make their work experience more enjoyable, more meaningful, or less hectic? The few weeks at the end of May, before summer session begins, necessitate the staff taking a collective breath and recharging a little. But we can’t wait too long to ask this third question …

Are we ready to make a difference again in three short months?

I believe one of the great things about working in higher education is the cyclical nature of things. With each annual cycle comes an opportunity to work with new students and staff and, in some years, even new faculty and administrators. Our actual business cycles may not change significantly, but we have the choice to approach those cycles with either a time-tested method or an entirely new perspective. If I don’t remember to think ahead, the chances are that the staff and I will employ the same approach in September that we used last year. And sometimes, that is just fine. However, in those years when I remember to be purposeful in May (instead of mid-August), the student experience is a lot better … which brings me back to why I reflect on the last academic year in the first place.