Underestimating the value of excellent faculty and students is impossible. They are the substance of the university and what separates the good institutions from the average ones. Otherwise what is excellent is ordinary and that is impossible by definition.
Likewise, excellent staff members are rare.
The very best staff members have a different set of qualifications than excellent faculty or students. Faculty and students can come from anywhere and bring a world view, passion, dedication and ideas that will light fires in a good university.
Staff members are frequently different.
Ingenuity and vision, as with the best faculty, are required. But a special love of the place accompanied by ability and deep-rooted care for the local community is necessary. It is common for the very best professional staff to have grown up in the shadow of the university at which they work. It is less common for the very best faculty to have done so.
Faculty members sustain a campus with teaching and disciplinary excellence and ideas. Staff members sustain a campus by supporting the development of ideas. The common denominator to both pursuits is the commitment to building something that is bigger and better than before, and bigger than self.
A vision for progress.
A local girl from a farm family, with an education that started in public schools of our region, continued to community college, and concluded at our university, recently retired. Throughout her continued commitment to becoming a partner in building our university was alive, as was her sense of purpose to support the intellectual work of the place.
I have seen this kind of commitment in some people, in some places, with various mutations and iterations. Dedicated, intelligent, thoughtful people who desire to make our university better, leading by helping.
People like this are invaluable for two reasons. First, they are qualified and have the requisite skills that it takes to make the place go. Second, and of equal importance, they have a deep affection for the university because they may have watched it grow. They may have lived with it all of their lives.
Pride in place drives a deep commitment to excellence.
The power of such a commitment cannot be overstated. When a strikingly good scientist comes to a campus, identification with the community and an appreciation for it may occur over time. The community may even become home, but it did not start that way.
Our University will never reach full potential if staff of every stripe don’t own our mission.
This week, our university marks the departure of Susan Ferry, who is central to the present excellence of our campus, and will have an impact on its quality into the distant future.
You probably do not know her name, but you can see her work.
As Assistant to the Chancellor, she labored to support the vision and direction of the institution with intelligence, foresight, and a deep appreciation for the organization. She possessed vision herself, and we are fortunate that she is representative of others who populate offices and administrative subdivisions of the institution, from accountants to zoologists.
Max DePree, a respected advocate for excellence in leadership, thoughtfully quipped,” The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” and in so doing defined the contribution of Susan Ferry to our University.
Thankfully Susan is not alone, but she is a shining example of excellence at work.
And we are in her debt.