Service presents itself in many ways at public universities. Members of university communities understand the three-legged stool of responsible teaching, scholarly work and service. I recently reflected on the power of customer service, and while students are not considered traditional customers, they pay for and receive a unique service. Faculty members provide varying degrees of professional service to communities, professional organizations and national, state and local governments. They also seek other opportunities to apply their skills and insights to a broad range of service commitments.
Over the past few decades service learning has become an important concept on university campuses. WT established the “President’s Experiential Learning Fellowship” to encourage students to participate in projects benefitting their home communities. Engagement through service leads to grounded, effectual learning. Campus staff of every walk of life provides service to other staff, faculty and students. These examples of service represent an important part of university life.
One aspect of such service commitment is the concept of corporate citizenship at work in the universities. Citizenship in any political or corporate configuration has value to the individual. Effective citizenship also carries with it a responsibility for positive action. Universities that embed this notion into regular activities and experiences for students will produce graduates more likely to become successful in the workplace, and they are 27% more likely to find employment according to Forbes. By successful, I do not mean they have the highest paying jobs, carry the most responsibility, or achieve the greatest admiration from coworkers. Rather, they become part of something larger than themselves while making valuable contributions. That’s ultimately service’s reward.
In order to create a service mindset, service values must be recognized, appreciated and promoted by the University. Five are important.
First, a successful enterprise should reflect on this ancient Asian proverb: “The mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master.” Universities challenge the faculty, students and staff that populate them to develop their minds. To solve problems. To apply ingenuity to resolve complex, often conflicting, circumstances. And this is as it should be. An active mind, driven by a heart of service, produces positive results. One without the other is a glass half full. The concept of servant leadership, often associated with New Testament theology and the model of Jesus Christ as a leader, has been absorbed into general service thinking such as social exchange theory and reciprocity. Dan Cable in the Harvard Business Review classifies this as the concept of “humble leadership.”
Second, help all members of the community develop a mindset of service: appreciate diverse perspectives, cultivate trust, develop others, help others address life (not just work) issues, encourage those with whom you come in contact and work to instill a sense of humility and respect. In essence, this idea treats employees as customers. Effective organizations recognize this and embed service into day-to-day corporate thought and action, according to Forbes.
Third, recognize the interdependent aspect of teaching and learning. In virtual settings, the idea of teamwork and co-creative activity between teacher and student as the center of the learning environment are critical. Interpersonal communication puts teamwork in the learning environment and is most challenging in the digital modes of teaching and learning. Dr. Flo Falayi suggests five ways to increase productivity among virtual teams, teacher and student, by seeing the teacher through the lens of a facilitator: offer opportunity and space, manage from behind, empower students to support each other’s strengths, try out diverse perspectives and work hard for your audience. These actions help create a service mindset.
Fourth, service will grow in an institutional setting that is passionate: People will like what they do and have a sense of urgency about it. Bureaucracies kill such commitment. Hiring in any setting should be focused on finding people with passion. In addition, students who possess passionate determination will contribute directly to a sense of service. Passion breathes life into any goal-oriented environment, including West Texas A&M University.
Fifth, create in the organization the belief that failure should be celebrated rather than tolerated. Taking a chance to do something better is the ultimate form of service. It allows organizations to grow by pursuing significant commitments. Avoiding risk will never provide a framework where service can flourish. Annabel Acton claims that creative enterprises celebrate risk and do so by actively killing ideas that don’t work.
Combined, these support the core value of service—central to WT.
Walter V. Wendler is President of West Texas A&M University. His weekly columns are available at http://walterwendler.com/
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