Friday, August 20, 2010

What elements of your work do you want to leave as a legacy?

I have recently gone through a “transition” exercise that is called “succession planning.”

There is a school of thinking that argues that great organizations must attend to succession planning. Some organizations do much better at this than others. I didn’t want to leave this to chance.

In my case there was no urgency about this. As far as I know, I am well and I can continue to “work” as long as I want. About 3 years ago for our annual audit, I was asked by the auditor what my succession plan was. His question took me quite by surprise. And I was actually a bit offended by it. But I realized he was doing exactly what good auditors were supposed to do: assessing organizational risk.

We created a new non-profit organization in spring 2007 and with it executed a very deliberate decision to try to institutionalize my work and especially the values it had been built on, in such a manner that this line of work with which I have become so associated, will outlast me and flourish long, just as my work has at the University of South Carolina after my retirement in 1999 (most there would say that my work has been more successful since I left than when I was there!)

Anyway, our Institute then decided to appoint a successor in waiting, an heir apparent—or at least to try to move in this direction. So we have done just that. And we will have an announcement about this September 1.

But I want to suggest something larger about this idea and something that is directed to you, my reader. If you were to be so fortunate as to influence the selection of your successor, what would be your criteria?

In my own thinking about this process, my criteria were these. I wanted someone:

1. With whom I would be personally comfortable.

2. Someone who shared my basic values in life, many in a full range, from educational, to family, to politics.

3. Someone who had extensive experience in undergraduate student success/transitions work.

4. Someone whom I could honestly call an intellectual.

5. And a gentleman or gentlewoman.

6. Someone with a strong sense of moral compass and ethics.

7. Someone who shares my vision for supporting students in transition, and our higher education system in transition.

8. Someone who is a good writer, thinker, and creator of potential new lines of work.

9. Someone who is entrepreneurial but without the down sides for the people involved that often characterize entrepreneurial pursuits in the for-profit world. In other words, a person who will always put people before money.

10. Someone who would treat my subordinates with respect and be both a wonderful colleague to work with and for.

11. Someone who shares my passion for social justice.

12. Someone who can take my work to the next level of impact, replication, and institutionalization.

And just who have I decided meets the above criteria? Stay tuned till September 1 for an announcement.

What criteria would you chose to select your successor? What elements of your work do you want to leave as a legacy for your successor to carry on?

John N. Gardner

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Empathetic Recall

For 25 years at the University of South Carolina I was responsible for coordinating our twice a year University 101 Faculty/Staff “Teaching Experience Workshop.” The purpose of this was to prepare our next cohort of instructors for the first-year seminar course.

One of the exercises we used was called “empathetic recall.” It was really very simple. We would ask our newest “class” of seminar teachers to recall what they were like when they were a beginning college student; and then to contrast those recollections with how they see entering students today.

I continue to use some of the “trigger” questions we would use to undertake such a recall and comparison. I commend them to you now for your consideration as you prepare to greet this year’s crop of incoming students.

1. What year did you enter college?
2. How many years ago is that?!
3. How old were you when you started college?
4. Who was President of the United States at that time?
5. Did the occupant of that office have any influence on your thinking about the world, our country, and your purposes?
6. Do you remember any major world event that happened that same year that really impinged on your consciousness?
7. Approximately, what did you pay that year – for a haircut, cup of coffee, a beer, a movie?
8. As you entered college, were you asked to read anything as some colleges do now in a “common read?” If so, do you remember what you were asked to read?
9. Do you remember your orientation?
10. Your first advisor? If so, what about him/her?
11. Any courses you took first term and how you performed?
12. Your room mate if applicable?
13. How you felt about your new beginning?

For me, the year was 1961. That was 49 years ago.

I was 17.

John Kennedy had been in the White House about six months and I already admired him greatly. And I was thinking about what I could do for my country.

The Berlin Wall had gone up that year and the Cold War was in full force and fury. And this would lead me to having to register for the draft, which today’s students don’t even know the meaning of.

I don’t remember what I paid for any of those things, and I didn’t drink beer or anything else. I do remember that gasoline was about 35cents a gallon.

We did not have a common read. But I do remember Orientation, particularly a picnic where I was so lonely. And I remember how much older the senior RA’s looked, and wise, and suave and debonair. And I predicted I could never look like that. I also remember the orientation speeches punch lines, such as “Look to the left and look to the right and the two you just looked at won’t be here four years from now when you graduate!”

I remember my first advisor. At midterm he told me “you are the stupidest kid I have ever advised.” What prompted this were my mid-term grades: 3F’s, 2D’s, and 1A.

My roommate was a big strapping football player, from Boston who was homesick for his girlfriend back home (so was I). And he was mailing his laundry back to his mother in Boston. One day, about 6 weeks into the term, he announced to me: “I am leaving college.” And leave he did. I didn’t know you could leave college.

How did I feel at the beginning of college? Lonely, “undeclared”, homesick, anxious, depressed, lost.

College kids like me needed help from people like you.

When you engage in empathetic recall, how do your incoming students match up? That is a fair question.

-John Gardner