Learning Matters: The Importance of Relationships

Chancellor Carrell 

On the brink of a new decade, let’s admit - it’s been quite a year for the reputation of higher education: Admissions scandals; safety concerns; student loan debt framed as a national economic crisis; continued decline in financial support for state institutions across the country; and more.

In the meantime, day after day, devoted educators of all types – faculty, student development staff, residence hall directors, financial aid officers and more – have been using their expertise and energy to advance student learning and development. Most are tired this time of year, ready for a shift in focus from the intensity of their roles to the rejuvenation that extended conversations with family, or reading for pleasure, or napping in front of the fire can bring. I love these colleagues. There are thousands of them spread across this country, doing their honorable work in the midst of it all.

I find it perplexing to deal with the dissonance between the negative perceptions of higher ed I see routinely bandied about on social media and the reality of the commitment educators bring to their work. And yet, if change is to occur, we in higher education must listen to understand and we together must generate good answers to real questions like, “why does college cost so much more than it used to?” and “will I be able to make a living (and make a difference) when I finish this degree?” Traditionally, time spent in undergraduate study was set apart from such questions, an almost sacred space in which young minds could explore ideas, ways of being, and each other as they continued to develop toward adulthood. Not so much, anymore. Even as the value of our enterprise is doubted and our cultural context continues to change at an accelerated pace, educators need to somehow avoid discouragement because our task is so essential to human progress. And, though challenging, we must do even more than simply continue our current, good work. We are being called to consider how we might lead change from within.

To begin such systemic revitalization, I have two suggestions that may surprise my colleagues in higher education. The first? Attend to your own wellbeing by continuing to learn, staying open to discovering something new. And second, engage in conversation with each other across roles, disciplines and even campuses. Our resilience and relationships are crucial to what happens next, on our individual campuses and across the entire enterprise of higher education. You matter. The quality of your relationships with colleagues matters. And yes, your learning matters. Wishing all the best, to all of us, in this fresh decade.

Read more of Chancellor's Blog -Learning Matters, linked here