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Thursday, January 28, 2021

Best in the world, best for the world

 Recently, I listened to a TEDx talk on “the purpose-driven university.” The basic premise of the talk was that colleges and universities should not occupy themselves only with being best in the world, but also best for the world. 

At an institution like the University of Minnesota, that sense of the connection of the University to the state and world around it is central to our identity. And it is central as well for CLA, embedded in the Roadmap’s commitment to deepening the college’s culture of engagement with communities from the local to the global and with our alumni and friends around the world.

Looking at our collective work through a “best for the world” lens highlights the importance of both the research and teaching occurring in the college. The two main “products” of the college are research and creative activity on the one hand, and those students who we graduate into the world. 

As an R1 institution we appropriately focus a great deal on excellence in research and the impact of that research. Excellence in our educational mission, our instructional mission, is also essential as our former students move into the world guided by the knowledge, habits of mind, and career and civic readiness that we provide them during their time in CLA. Our social impact as a college is measured by the research and creative activity we conduct and by the undergraduate and graduate alumni who translate their education into leadership across numerous fields, sectors, and communities. 

The college’s impact is also measured by how our research and instruction drives the highest quality engagement at the local, state, national, and global levels. And there is much to be proud of in this regard, as faculty, staff, and students in departments across the college engage beyond the boundaries of the campus to partner in transforming the lives of individuals, families, and communities, and in turn transforming the college and University. In the TEDx talk it was noted how wonderful it would be if community groups and organizations had space to work on campus with members of a university community. I couldn’t help but think of the CLA Liberal Arts Engagement Hub, which is premised on doing exactly that. 

I often say that we seek to be a destination college not to pat ourselves on the back, not just to say we are the best, but to fulfill our purpose to do the most good we can for others. The better our research, the more prepared our students, and the deeper our engagement, the more good we can do. That is the formula for a purpose-driven college. And it is a formula that also helps us think about and imagine the future: what do we do differently, less of, or more of, to be a college that is “best for the world”?