As I sit writing this, we are having our first day this winter of the phenomenon referred to as "freezing fog" in Walla Walla, which (as most of you know from personal experience) brings with it unpredictable patches of slippery pavement. Yesterday, I was enjoying temperatures in the 70s down in Santa Barbara, where I was visiting with friends of Whitman. It would have been a beautifully sunny day had it not been for the dense smoke from the wildfires burning just south of where I was. Uncertainty and unpredictability surround us, no matter where we are or what we are doing, and I am convinced, now more than ever, that we do our best work in the face of that metaphorical "slipperiness" when we work together, when we collaborate, when we bring a smart group of people together to strategize about next steps.
How does that play out on a college campus? One example is how the senior leadership of the college works together as a team. We meet together weekly, sharing challenges and opportunities in our work, with the expectation that each person at the table knows enough about the entire institution and about the work of every other person at the table to contribute thoughtfully to the discussion. Nobody is expected to have all of the answers, and nobody gets a free pass from thinking about the issues at hand.
In our effort last year to develop a set of strategic imperatives to guide the work of the college over the next five to seven years, a smallish group of faculty, staff, students and governing board members met weekly to brainstorm and develop initial ideas. Then, those ideas were "tested" repeatedly with faculty, staff and students; with our full governing boards; and with alumni and friends of the college all over the country. Because of this collaboration, each iteration of the priorities was stronger than the last, until we arrived at the set that was approved by the board of trustees late last summer.
Nearly every day we read about challenges on college campuses around issues of freedom of speech. The senior leadership team spent time this past summer thinking about how best to help the Whitman community prepare for and deal with these tensions. We decided it would be best to engage the community in a yearlong series of conversations focused on freedom of speech and its implications for our work together. Beginning with the convocation that welcomes our new students to campus in August and continuing through most of my public appearances throughout the fall, I have shared four basic principles that I hope will guide these and other difficult conversations we may have this year: 1) We want more speech, not less. 2) Silence, and especially silencing others, is antithetical to intellectual inquiry. 3) We want dialogue, not monologue. Listening is as crucial a part of dialogue as talking, and we expect speakers to create ways for other people to speak. 4) We want intellectually responsible speech. Assertions need to be supported with evidence, and other speakers' evidence needs to be considered.
These principles were meant to be the beginning of the conversation, not the end. I have been very pleased with the level of discourse around these issues in the fall, and more events and opportunities for conversation are planned for the spring.
This issue of Whitman Magazine is filled with other examples of powerful collaborations within and beyond the Whitman community. Enjoy!
Kathleen M. Murray