Our University – Calcification

Calcification is what happens to soft tissue when it is taken over by calcium.  It gets hard. It is no longer resilient.  It becomes immobile. And eventually, it cannot work or act the way it was intended to.  While I can’t describe what brings calcification on in an organism, I know exactly what brings it on in an organization.  When we fail to change, we stagnate, and eventually calcify.

It is sad, but I have seen people calcify, not literally of course, but spiritually, emotionally or intellectually.  I have seen families calcify and not show love one toward the other.  I have seen organizations calcify, when they lose the sense that their mission is high or important.

They stop progressing.

You don’t have to be a plant expert to understand the importance, or centrality, of the xylem and phloem to a plant.  Just looking at old drawings in that botany or biology textbook will let you know these are important to the survival of the plant.

When you see these highways you sense their importance. You have some idea about how the plants woks.  They are what keep the plant living, supple.  You might say they represent the mission of the plant, for without them, the plant perishes.

Ceaseless flow.

And these parts of the plant are not new either.  They have been seen in fossilized remains of plants that are estimated to be 400 million years old. I grew tomatoes one time that looked like they were 400 million years old.  They even had the appearance of fossils, calcified, and unfortunately tasted like a fossil looks like it might taste.

Mission is that idea or concept, or vision… the crux of what any organization is about.  When a mission has the importance to an organization that it should have, it will be evident in everything that happens, and expressed in any and every view of the organization.  It will nourish it, like xylem and phloem.

A ceaseless flow of people and ideas.

A university should be just like that.

In 1088 a university was founded in Bologna, Italy.  The University of Bologna, as it has been called for nearly 1,000 years is still in existence.  The oldest in the Western World.

Its business plan is remarkably unchanged.  Students come, tuition is paid, instruction provided, and degrees awarded upon the completion of a course of study.  And, faculty are appropriately skeptical of the administration as healthy skepticism provides a homeostatic environment.  A place of stability in a changing world. So the university can remain active, and achieve its mission, and not calcify.

For all the ups and downs,  nuances of political regimes,  changes in culture,  needs of students and families, explosion of knowledge, the printing press, and 1,000’s of other inventions, conveniences and contrivances, that university has been doing roughly the same thing for the past millennium.

It has not changed much, yet it lives in a sea of change.

Why it that?

It is simply that Bologna’s mission was clear and evident, and it kept changing to sustain the mission in a liquid world.  So too must our university always be supple and resist clutching the past and indifference to new ideas that sustain mission.

Heraclitus knew it 1,500 years before they got it at Bologna.  He said “All is flux; nothing stays still.”

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