It is that season of the year, when the smell of turkey and Christmas tress is in the air. It is that time of year when finals occur. I really have never liked to think of final exams as final. I like to see them as turning points, initiation of a new phase of learning.
Every teacher who administers a final examination has predetermined what the students should know at the end of the class. They have a plan. I knew a faculty member who gave his students the final exam the first day of class. No one passed. He then proceeded to teach the unwashed masses. At the end, on the last day, he artfully gave exactly the same final examination, unbeknownst to them. Remarkably 95 percent of the class passed and not a single student knew the final was the one used to initiate the class.
This is called planning.
Thankfully organizations that are trying to move themselves ahead must have a plan. They must know where they are, and then must assess the progress towards achieving the goals of the plan through some kind of assessment.
A final exam. A turning point.
Southern Illinois University Carbondale has an excellent plan, Southern at 150: Building Excellence through Commitment, prepared by over two hundred and fifty people, who painstakingly decided what this university, our university, should be. It is unique and distinctive for Southern, it was no other institutions plan; it was created by people who shared a developing passion for excellence and academic commitment at Southern. It was imperfect… remember it was made by men and women, flawed by human nature… but no theology today.
Just the hard core reality of final examinations.
In a few years there will be a final examination. We will look at the plan and look at where we are, where we were, and decide whether or not we have been successful. There will be intermediate steps too. Accrediting agencies will come in and determine whether or not what we have accomplished is consistent with the goals of the accreditation processes.
This is a bit like a midterm examination.
Our university is not unique, although the kind of planning process that we used was as intense and thorough as any. It was excellent.
These kind of final examinations and planning processes are not only important for universities, but they also are also important turning point for communities. Many of our communities in Southern Illinois could benefit greatly from an inclusive, thorough assessment of where they are and where they want to be. Sometimes these turn into efforts to create jobs, and for a community little is more important than overall employment for creating family lives that work.
In addition, the community needs a destination, a dream.
Now don’t let me even try to fool you. I look around the campus and see the looks of challenge and anxiety on the faces of students, and they could hardly be convinced that the final examinations they are immersed in are part of a turning point for their future, a dream.
Maybe a nightmare, but not a dream.
I have a word for the student, the university, and the community. Absent that final exam, that turning point, all driven by a plan, hopefully an artful one like Southern at 150: Building Excellence through Commitment, any destination will do.
And having any destination be acceptable is the real nightmare.