Let’s change CU’s culture of isolation

Fifty years ago John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Although much has been written about his legacy, one component that remains as relevant today as it was 50 years ago is his call to service. President Kennedy understood that a society’s greatness grew out of its commitment to create a collective greatness. Success could not happen in isolation. And now, 50 years later, CU must confront its own internal commitment to collective greatness. Specifically, the CU faculty must address whether we are going to continue to build a culture of isolation or if we are going to choose to build a culture of engagement.

The CU community is composed of many hard-working, dedicated, and noted individuals. I am proud to be a part of this community. However, there is also a fatal flaw in our community. Facing a new education reality of reduced state funding, increasing competition for students, and shifting preferences for majors and delivery mechanisms, CU must rethink its future. Specifically, CU must collectively address what education success will look like for the next generation of students.

Unfortunately, as we all know but are hesitant to discuss openly, we work in a culture of isolation. We work in a culture that often values individualism and personal achievement over institutional achievement. We work in a culture where positioning for retention packages or expanded lab space receives more attention by faculty than how to contribute to the overall success of the campus. We live in a culture that divides rather than unites. This is not the fault of a specific individual or even of today’s campus. Rather, this is a result of long-held cultural norms that have shaped the growth and success of CU, but which threaten to hold us back from achieving collective greatness.

What I am putting forth is intended to be the start of a discussion. It is a charge to the faculty to start discussions with your peers, with your department, with the CU community at large on how to change our culture of isolation. Faculty need to challenge the cultural norm that says individual achievement is worth more than spending extra time with students contemplating their future plans. Faculty need to debate why success is equated with the number of graduate students, the amount of lab space, the size of a start-up package or the ability to command a retention package. I want faculty to engage in discussions that address the dichotomy of how higher education today can succeed as a business, but remain at its core a service to the next generation of societal leaders.

Changing cultural norms will not occur overnight. However, we are at a crossroads and we cannot make effective decisions by ignoring critical questions. We are an institution that challenges students to question why norms exist. I am asking faculty to respond to these same challenges. History tells us that excessive individualism ultimately leads to a decline in any society. So I put forward that the time has come for CU faculty to come together and build a culture of engagement. We need to remember the JFK legacy and establish a focus on collective greatness.

Paul Chinowsky
Chair, Boulder Faculty Assembly