Unity, not Uniformity

I recently interviewed the academic dean of our fair university about something called the Success Initiative. It is a concerted action by faculty and administrators to direct the efforts of students toward “success”–that is, their ability to become the adults they should be when they graduate. It involves CORE–a series of classes that intentionally establish their mindset and the university culture in the direction of spiritual, intellectual and emotional maturity.

That’s all well and good. I applaud the dean and the Taskforce that is working on this Initiative. I do know that changing corporate culture is not something to be taken lightly. In fact, in most cases, an institution’s efforts to change its own culture usually fail. The only way they succeed is if the people involved–ALL the people involved–buy into the change.

That’s the thing about organizational culture. It’s organic. It consists of unwritten rules and mores established by those who consider themselves part and parcel of the culture. We had a university president who came to the school a few years ago (not the president we have now) who didn’t like the way things were done. He determined to change things–and it was duck for cover time for the rest of us. Three years later, he was being shown the door, and the organizational culture went back to being the way it had always been.

And so I tell the academic dean–and the Taskforce–”Good luck.” Their intentions are meritorious. I hope they succeed. I’ll do what I can to help them. But there are no guarantees.

One phrase that came out of the interview with the dean stuck with me. Maybe it did because it was one I liked, one I firmly believe in. He referred to the University supporting “unity, not uniformity.” Well said.

I live in the Bible belt. I have always attended relatively conservative churches, some more conservative than others. Some of my fellow church members considered me liberal. My own children consider me conservative. And I consider myself a moderate. The reality is, like most everyone, there are some things I am pretty liberal about and others I am conservative about. I read science fiction, am a pacifist and listen to NPR, which some Christians would consider pretty liberal. I listen to classical music, own two shotguns and am relatively pro-life, which in itself can be considered conservative. And so, I don’t think it’s fair to peg me in one camp, just as I hesitate to label others “liberal” or “conservative.”

I have no problem with conservatives–or liberals. I do have a problem with closed-minded people. I feel sad for those who feel a certain way, and are so convinced that their way is right that they just know that anyone who believes otherwise needs to be corrected–or stoned. Maybe it’s my education that has taught me to be this way. It’s a term I call pluralism, a dirty word in some people’s vocabulary. But to me, it just makes sense.

I am a firm believer in unity, but not in uniformity. I don’t believe in cookie cutter religion, or politics, or education. I do believe in values. My wife and I are vastly different people. But we do share common values about the importance of family, and putting God first. We respect our differences. We cherish our commonality.

I’m glad we have an academic dean who can promote and proceed with a policy that establishes values for our school. I wish him luck and will pray for his success. In the meantime, I applaud the call for unity. Unity without uniformity.

Way to go, Dean.

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