Our University – Mission Integrity

Seven in a series on integrity

The fundamental purpose of the university, its reason for being, is to change the way people think.  This sounds torturous but it is the root of what universities do.  In order to fulfill that mission, tenacious focus is required.  There are too many distractions, too many opportunities to wander, and too much pressure to lose focus.  Pressures for the university to be a jobs bank, a social service agency, or a political machine are real.

The primary mission of helping people change the way they think is always undergirded by academic excellence.  Anything that gets in the way of academic excellence should be addressed or eliminated.  Some suggest that athletics get in the way of academic excellence, and I would agree, except for the many examples of excellent universities that maintain competitive athletic programs at competitive academic institutions.

Stanford comes to mind, as do Michigan, Berkeley, UCLA, North Carolina, and a number of others.  I would argue that there is no conflict here when priorities remain focused. 

Other aspects of campus and student life can also get in the way of academic excellence.  One of the great distractions from purpose is alcohol abuse by students.

I commented on this issue on September 5, 2008. 

“According to a Harvard School of Public Health Study, nearly half of all college students who abused alcohol during the 1993 academic year experiences five or more serious problems including missing class, physical injury, arguing with friends and engaging in unprotected sex which could lead to HIV infection.” From “Binge Drinking on America’s College Campuses,” Harvard School of Public Health, Henry Wechsler, Ph.D.

…in plain language, the more you drink, the lower your GPA.  This is not a casual relationship.  It is profoundly frightening to understand the implications of alcohol consumption on intellectual acuity and academic performance.”

Universities concern themselves with safe sex so students avoid the deleterious impact of sexually transmitted diseases on academic progress and excellence. Public universities hold no moral perspective regarding sexual relationships between consenting adults, other than consent justifies anything. 

That irresponsible foolishness aside, universities should do everything possible to discourage the use of alcohol in settings where underage students are present – almost every conceivable campus event, academic, artistic, social, and athletic.  The message is simply that it is possible to have a good time without consuming alcohol and avoid the downside of irresponsible alcohol consumption – impeded academic performance.  No morality here any more than the morality implied in advocating for safe sex.

I know many campuses feel compelled by donors to serve alcohol at events. 

Blather.

Decades of fund raising experience at some very good universities prove to me that donors do not support a university because they had a glass of wine, a few beers, or a highball.  Donors contribute to a university because the institution helped change their life. 

Frequently, life changing experiences were grounded by faculty members and leaders encouraging, cajoling, demanding, expecting and rewarding excellent academic performance, or at least holding it up as the coin of the realm, usually when some not-yet-but-soon-to-be successful graduate won fame and fortune through some combination of a keen mind and a work ethic that was nurtured in a university setting. 

A university sponsored or condoned beer party has nothing to do with excellence or academic purpose.

As the school year begins, the marching band cranks up, and the footballs fly, our university and all others should relentlessly focus on mission. Activities that might be seen to be helpful to the cause by the naïve, but are hurtful to those we serve, should be reviewed on instant replay.

2 thoughts on “Our University – Mission Integrity

  1. Dr. Wendler,

    I’m sure you are aware of this book…

    The Rights and Responsibilities of the Modern University: Who Assumes the Risks of College Life?

    “Bickel and Lake’s facilitator model is both an adaptable social vision for modern universities and a legal model for the courts and college administrators to work with.”

    “Bickel and Lake re-imagine the role of law in university/student relations. Picking up on recent court decisions and legislative initiatives, the authors describe a new legal paradigm for college safety – the facilitator university. The modern college is not a baby-sitter or custodian of students: but it is also not a mere bystander to student safety. The facilitator university balances the rights and responsibilities of students and institutions and envisions campuses which feature shared responsibility for student safety. Law can be a positive tool for improving safety and community on modern campuses.”

    Now from the Southern Illinoisan…
    Salukis Stadium…”to be a financial and athletic success, two things need to happen – the Salukis have to play well and the fans have to embrace the new stadium with the grasp of a loving grandmother.
    The presence of alcohol in suites [STUDENTS WILL NOT BE IN THE SUITES] will help slightly to that effect. Alcohol creates rowdy fans, and rowdy fans are great in any sport, except maybe golf and women’s tennis. Rowdy fans are a distraction to the opposing team, rival fans, other team’s mascot and yes, birds too.
    Alcohol can have some side effects – including pregnancy, jail time and the desire to raid the fridge – but in a sports setting, alcohol-fueled fans have no shortage of entertainment value.
    I’m not going to expand on the debate between college athletics and psychoactive drugs, but SIU and Carbondale’s decision to allow drinking in selective areas of the stadium definitely represents a power shift in progressive thinking at the university.”

    j

  2. While I don’t have the same concerns for the availability of alcohol at sporting events I do have a concern that the university’s attitude to restricting alcohol sales to those in the suites is an extension of their isolation from the Carbondale community and from the University community. The administration takes for granted that the Carbondale community and the University community will always be there for the University no matter how they are treated. The admistration thinks it knows best and can take whatever position it sees fit without regard to what the people of Carbondale or the University community think of their actions. It fails to understand that both communities see the administration as isolated, unresponsive to their concerns and uninterested in the academic quality of the institution and therefore in it’s long-term future .
    The administration has for many years put enrollment numbers ahead of academic standards giving the university a reputation of falling academic standards which directly impacts on the likelihood of attracting quality students and their parents. Last year the university in its focus on enrollment over ability admitted so many students with below minimum ACT scores that the Center for Academic Success (a misnomer if there ever was one) could not accomodate all of them and many were dumped into the general admission pool with the results one would expect. This is likely to be repeated this year. If the university is going to admit substantial numbers of students with ACT scores of below 18(in my view ACT scores of below 21 are an indicator of academic hazard) then it must accept the responsibility of supporting these students effectively in terms of bringing up their capabilities in English and Mathematics to an acceptable level and in educating them in effective time management and study skills. The administration in failing to do this(the Center for Academic Success is an academic joke on this campus) exhibits a serious lack of integrity as well as guaranteeing the failure of large percentages of the student population

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