bulletin cover march/april 2015
Volume 83 | Issue 2
March 2015

My Last Column

Marsha Herman-Betzen

You can’t imagine how many times over the last 20 years I have groused about having to write a bimonthly column in The Bulletin. I dally, gripe, and procrastinate until I finally sit down and the words mysteriously travel from my mind and land in a somewhat orderly fashion on the computer screen in front of me. The next process is filled with unease as I forward that personal piece of me to the magazine’s editor by the deadline that I seem to miss many more times than I make. As I wait impatiently for the document to be returned, I hope the editor’s marks will be simple like: “Insert quotation marks,” “Shorten that ridiculously long sentence,” or “Great job, you had only one sentence fragment.” Mostly I get, “You need to strengthen the ending,” because when I tire of writing I just stop, leaving the reader hanging off a steep precipice. What I never want to happen (which I am happy to report has only occurred a handful of times), is when Elizabeth the Editor walks into my office with pen and paper in hand to interview me about what I had written because she has no idea what I was trying to say. 

This is not the case today. In recent months, I found myself thoughtfully composing this departing view, a burning notion rattling around in my gut that I’ve wanted to share before losing this sacred platform. 

2015 marsha herman-betzen mugshotThere is much to love about the culture of ACUI. Our core values mean something to us. Unconditional human worth, joy, learning, caring community, innovation, diversity, and integrity are not just “feel good” words. They hold great intrinsic value and prominence to each of us and are essential to ACUI as an organization.

Yet, an annoying behavior often seems to arise among some members of our ACUI family, who, when confronted with something they don’t like, choose the most circuitous route to address their grievance. Instead of going straight to the perceived perpetrator to engage in honest and open communication, it is discussed with colleagues and then tried and convicted in the court of public opinion without due process. This comportment is contrary to everything we teach our students and staff about the professional and appropriate way to voice a complaint.

Do you ever wish you were given the opportunity to state the facts and clear up inaccuracies before the student newspaper published its account of a disturbance at a peaceful demonstration outside of the college union? Do you remember the collateral damage done to a supervisor on your staff when a disgruntled employee wrote a letter to the university president before giving you a chance to adjudicate the matter? How frustrating is it to hear about a problem only after a game of telephone has promulgated misinformation and hindered any sort of timely or direct response? So many times we read in a letter of complaint, “I may not have all of the facts but…,” or “I am not an expert, but…,” or “I wasn’t there, but I heard…!” Or “Things may have changed since I was involved, but….”

There is no such thing as “innocent until proven guilty” in today’s 24-hour news cycle or social media arena. The rush to judgment and the backbiting response are not only disturbing but also go against several of our core values. No good can come from making accusations first and finding out the facts later. The damage is done, especially if you are wrong.
As an association, we are so much better than those occasional lapses. We need to keep reminding ourselves to honor each other by assuming the best intentions. When we have a complaint or feel wronged, we need to promise each other to take the time to find out the whole story, to make sure our facts are right by communicating in an open, honest, and direct way with those involved.

We need to take personal responsibility for our portion of the misunderstanding. It is rarely one-sided. We need to correct our missteps without being defensive, without blame, and certainly without throwing each other under the bus. We have to remember what it feels like when this happens to us on campus and not only how hurtful it can be but also how time-consuming.

We are flawed human beings who collectively make up imperfect organizations. Most people I know are constantly striving to be better than they were the day before. Some are more successful than others. But I have believed in ACUI since the beginning, and with that undying faith comes the personal responsibility to honor each other by assuming the best intent, even when our actions may fall short.

I, like everyone, have flaws. Unfortunately, this column, the last one I will write as executive director, has missed its deadline again. Honest to goodness, I really, really tried to get it to the editor on time. Thank you for allowing me to humbly serve alongside you as a volunteer, as a staff member, and as executive director, despite my imperfections, for close to 35 years.