Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Coming Home

Lynn and I recently celebrated our first homecoming at URI. Practically every moment, except for the disappointing outcome of the football game, was engaging and fun. The weekend culminated in the presentation of the Distinguished Achievement Awards, one of the most enjoyable and inspiring events that I have participated in since coming to Rhode Island. The night celebrated the achievements of many alumni from all across the university, and I could not help but be amazed at their commitment to excellence, their dedication to making a difference in our world and what they had accomplished. At the heart of their terrific work (and for some the foundation of their families) was an education at URI - an education that had prepared them for a lifetime of achievement. Their stories - their testimonies - are, by far, the most compelling evidence to the quality of the University of Rhode Island and the great value of an education here.

Over the course of the weekend, we met many alumni, spanning several decades of URI's educational mission, all of whom were enthusiastic about the university, what it meant to them, and its future. A common element in all their testimonies was the lasting value of the relationships they had built here and the sense of community that existed during their years at URI. I have been thinking about that: how important it is for education to be centered in a community, and the value of the relationships within that community to learning and growth.

I also attended my first Faculty Senate meeting last week, and that meeting reinforced an early assessment of mine about some of the internal issues we must face at URI. Those issues also involve community - it appears to me that our sense of community has been fractured at times and that there is a lack of trust, and a lack of confidence in the institution and among ourselves. Some of the underlying events occurred years ago, and we need to let go of those. Members of a vital and supportive community must be willing to forgive and be willing to allow members of the community to make mistakes, to fail - and to learn from those mistakes and failures. The flip side is mutual accountability - we must be willing to be accountable to members of our community, willing to admit our missteps and to be corrected, regardless of our position. I see very encouraging indications that URI is moving in that direction.

If we succeed in strengthening our community, our trust in one another, and our confidence that we can resolve whatever problems and difficulties that we face by working together, the University of Rhode Island will be even more successful, and the value of an education here will be even higher.