Lessons in Leadership
As we move toward Meliora Weekend, with its timely and appropriate theme of "leadership," it is worth pausing for a moment to consider the exact relationship between higher education and leadership. We at the University of Rochester obviously believe there is such a linkage -indeed, we see it in such diverse areas as the Simon School (now using the tag line "Where Thinkers Become Leaders") or the new Institute for Music Leadership at the Eastman School of Music.
Nor is this belief in a tight relationship between leadership and higher education at all limited to those of us at Rochester. It is entirely expected that, by and large, the nation and world's business, political, educational, artistic, scientific, and medical leaders will hold degrees from higher educational institutions such as our own University. Yet that observation does not, itself, identify the causation or the correlation between what we do as an educational institution and the special talents of society's leaders. What is the true relationship?
While my thoughts would be applicable to each of our six schools, and to graduate and professional programs as well, let me focus on the nature of undergraduate education as practiced at the College.
I believe there is a profound-and, indeed, intended-correlation between the goals of a liberal arts education, as advanced by the College, and the idea (and ideals!) of leadership. The "ownership" of one's own educational pathways-a key feature of the Rochester curriculum -prompts students to discover what truly motivates them. One cannot easily lead without passion, and the best way to discover passion is to learn for oneself what ideas, modes of thinking, and fields truly excite the imagination. (Part of the genius of this nation's best institutions is that we identify and nurture inquisitiveness and skills, rather than "force fit" our students into a paradigm or program.)
At the same time, through curricular devices such as "clusters," Rochester ensures that its students understand and appreciate a variety of modes of reasoning, discourse, and discovery-giving true meaning to the concept of "breadth" of education. The education we engage in with our students is not so much about what happens immediately upon graduation, but what happens over a lifetime of learning and living.
During the four undergraduate years, we provide (to the best of our abilities) the basis for an entire life, and all its vicissitudes, uncertainties, and changes. Few of us know at age 20 what we will be doing when we are 40, 60, or 80. Indeed, I am fond of telling those with whom I am privileged to work, when discussing career options or changes, that I still do not know what I will be doing "when I grow up." When I was in college (or, certainly, law school!), I had no way of knowing that I would be president of the University of Rochester. Now, age 52, I find that my life at age 65 is still not mapped out. And yet the education I received in college between 1968 and 1972 still has relevance and meaning to the life I am living today-and, importantly, my professors expected it to have precisely this kind of direct bearing on my life so many years later.
This has always been the goal of a genuine liberal arts education, I believe, and it is what motivates our Rochester Curriculum, as well as the entire educational and residential experience provided at the College. It is the ideal described to our 2002 graduates by our honorary degree recipient, James Freedman, president emeritus of Dartmouth College and past president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, when he observed that a liberal education "must lay open the minds and souls of its students to the wondrous possibilities of growth." As important as that goal has been in the past, it is clear that the enormous changes, controversies, and challenges of the 21st century-now measured, more than ever before, on a global scale-make the potentials for lifelong growth and leadership embedded in that education more important than ever before.
We hope you can join those of us-current students, faculty, and staff who have the fortune of experiencing these principles on a daily basis-at our Meliora Weekend. This is an event that celebrates not just the enduring importance of leadership, but also the contributions that the University makes to that fundamental goal, throughout the course of a lifetime.
Indeed, I am convinced that "leadership" is a defining characteristic of our campus. In every corner of the University and among our alumni body, in a remarkable variety of contexts, you will find leaders (and future leaders) of every age and occupation. It is part of the reason why our collective investments in higher education are so central to the higher aspirations of our society.
Thomas H. Jackson
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