There are many perspectives that you can take of our university, ways to see it, ways to engage it, ways to experience it. I have had, over the years, a number of opportunities to talk with parents of students. They fall into many camps. Some of them have been wide eyed at what our university offers in the way of opportunity. For me this is always gratifying as I share a kind of wonder about how much is here.
For others, there is the continuation of a tradition. I was in Harrisburg one night talking with a group of people and a gentleman came up to me after my talk to point out that he was a third generation graduate of Southern, and in each succeeding generation of graduates the pride in the institution grew. Some have a tradition… not as deep… maybe they were a first generation student, but their view is very important as a first taste of university life that lingers into adulthood. They remember ideas introduced to them by teachers, and fellow students, a place of making new friends, parties, and sports, the student center, and for me, most importantly the library. Parents always remember the library.
Some parents remember the place, Southern Illinois. I laugh to myself when people from Chicago get down here and they have this “By golly, they even have running water down here” look on their faces. I have been around quite a bit but the view of those who visit Southern Illinois for the first time, especially when they are used to denser metropolitan areas, always surprises me a bit. I want to tell them to get out more.
Parents tend to be interested in the quality of living places on the campus, I can’t say much about the places off campus as I don’t engage in discussions with parents about them as frequently. They want to know if the dorms are safe and if they provide the opportunity for interaction and most importantly, quiet places to study and sleep. They are curious about the food. I always tell them the story of the fellow I saw one day in the dining hall with three plates of stuff piled high on a tray and how much some of the students eat – even though I am not a connoisseur – that says something to me about the quality.
Parents also want to know about teachers, are they good? Do they care about students? Are they available to meet and give advice and counsel? Are they understanding? I think to myself…too many questions and I don’t know all the answers and then realize, I am a parent, I had these same questions. I had them as a student although I expressed them a bit differently. I was probably more interested in the social life, but that was eventually overpowered by a concern for the intellectual life of the places I looked at, as both parent and student.
Addressing these views of our university is good medicine. They are common to university life in every place, at every time. When the answers are correct, meaning that the place is good for students, the result is always the same. The parents are pleased, and eventually, so too will be the student.
Our university needs to be a place that parents view positively.