The college experience of a lifetime

Robert Valentine Senior lecturer in advertising

As defined by Murray State’s official website, a residential college is “a small, faculty-led community of students where there is an incredible opportunity for personal growth and educational development.”

The definition is probably true, as far as it goes. What the definition doesn’t tell you is that most of the benefit is shared equally between the students who are active in the college, and one other person: the college head.

Everyone thinks of the head as someone who is sacrificing everything in life to serve the needs of students, but that is hardly the case. The job isn’t easy, but the rewards are unavailable almost anywhere else.

I know this because I invested about 7 years of my wife’s life in the cause of the RC, specifically at Elizabeth Residential College. Vicki probably appreciated the many evenings of quiet, and she never complained about my absences, but we’ve been married quite a while; she probably needed a break.

To be a head of college is to immerse yourself in the lives of students. Those lives are complex. The remarkable power of youthful endeavor is always evident; the innocence of young men and women who perceive our society as something that works because of its design is as inspiring as it is fictional. The wonder of their achievement when they decide to make things work is heartening.

As the Council of College Heads told President Bob Davies when he arrived, “After two decades of achievement, this is no longer an experiment.” Likewise, it is far from finished. The campus community is still trying to figure out what a residential college is and how it fits into various lives and missions. As one essayist put it, “No generation has ever needed so desperately the sense of community that the colleges provide so well.

No group of students has ever so needed the opportunities to test ability, to learn friendship or to stand together with kindred spirits in the cause of learning and growth.”

This is where you come in.

Three of the colleges will need a new head this year. Tough financial times have eroded some of the support the colleges needed – and still need. If Murray State wants to celebrate its unique contribution to student life, it needs to hold its banners higher and, perhaps, buy a new banner once in a while.

Family demands, academic requirements, retirement and physical health are often the triggers that call a head from the college, but it is rarely a departure of anything but body and labor; for most of us, the connection of spirit and communal achievement is permanent and meaningful.

So, from where will the new heads come? If you’re a student, you could suggest to a favorite teacher that they might enjoy the experience.

If you’re an experienced faculty member, this could be a new approach to teaching for you, or you might encourage a younger faculty member to bring fresh insights and energy to one of Murray State’s most important institutions. Tell someone.

Murray State is considering a new Honors College, and that’s an evolution in the right direction. Still, there is work is not done.

Look at the list of things that need doing:

Greater opportunities for faculty to participate in the lives of students;

Achievement of the greatest possible retention rate for Murray State, thus preserving more human potential for the coming generation.

To make real the dream of a true community of scholars that will be an example to American educators for a generation.

“Nothing that’s any good works by itself,” warned Thomas Edison. The same is true for human institutions. Good people make good ideas live and bear fruit. We need those people.

Who will answer that need?

Column by Robert Valentine, Senior lecturer of advertising