St. Paul was a brave man. He summed up the purpose of the Christian Church in ten words uttered to the Church at Corinth:
“Be imitators of me, as I also am of Christ.”
The simplicity of this idea is powerful. In the Greek, the word imitators actually flows from the word mimetos. We say mimic. All faiths have simplicity of purpose, whether or not they are believed or accepted by others not of like faith, which can be expressed in a few words.
It is purpose. Glue.
I say St. Paul was brave because he told people to be like “me.” I know very few thoughtful people who would admonish others to copy them. I know too many of my own faults to suggest that anyone should copy me. I believe this widely held realization gave birth to the famous adage, “Do as I say not as I do. “ Paul’s qualification to blatant, abject, shameless imitation was critical. He directed the faithful to copy him only as he copied Christ.
The State University of New York has a motto as almost every university does. Learning institutions define purpose simply so that all may know with clarity and conviction the point of the organization. It says without qualification or apology,
“Let each become all he is capable of being.”
Purpose is that idea or concept, that view or vision, the crux of what any organization is. When purpose has the importance to an organization that it should it will be evident in everything that happens and expressed in any and every view of the organization. Now I believe the State University of New York nailed it down very nicely. These nine words on the one hand and ten on the other are about being or becoming. In both cases the ideas expressed as purpose resonate with a common theme of our day.
I have argued that the single purpose of the university is to help people change and become something they were not.
Universities are often at war with themselves because of the variety of changes demanded by the students who study there, faculty who teach there, and administrators who lead there. All want to change yet no two want to change in exactly the same way. The clarity provided by St. Paul is harder to find in the academy.
The university must provide opportunity for all to change that is different for each.
This should never be inferred to mean that a university “should be all things to all people.” That will kill it with purposelessness. As with the qualifier of Paul, “as I also am of Christ,” the qualifier for the university is “all to change.” This may come as a shock but not all students, faculty and administrators want to change. Education may be unique that way – some people pay much and demand little.
If the university is excellent that variety of opportunity for change must present itself in every aspect of university life. At the library the strains of books must be many; in the classroom the variety of ideas ever present; at an athletic event the sense of engagement diverse; and in the people themselves the purpose always the same but never repeated; change.
In an excellent university this is they way it must be – and our university should strive to attain that purpose.