Copyright © Louis Schmier

Date: Thu 11/2/2006 2:53 AM
Random Thought: Campus Leadership

Went out early, real early, this balmy morning. Couldn't sleep. Had to burn off the ravages of my birthday gorging. Need I say politics are in the air? Maybe that's what's not allowing the autumn air to remain cool. Anyway, at this time of the year, it's all we can breath. So, as I walked the pavement, I was inhaling thoughts of a conversation I had only yesterday with someone most people would call a student leader. As we chatted, he asked me, "What would you say to a group of student leaders?"

I answered, "I'd start off asking them a question. I'd asked them, 'What have you done to justify the label "leader?"'"

That started an interesting though brief conversation. He looked at me in disbelief. "Well, they were elected or appointed to some office. Doesn't that make them leaders?"

"Does it?" I asked him in answer to his question. "I'm sure a lot of people would agree with you without batting an eye. They'd say that their official position in a fraternity or sorority or club or student government showed they were leaders. Faculty might say that having a Ph.D. or tenure or a long resume makes them classroom leaders. Administrators might say that their appointment is proof that they are leaders. I'm just not one of those 'agreers'"

"Well, aren't you a leader if you hold an office or have some authority?"

"I suppose. But, if position, authority, and status aren't used in serving others, what good are they? Unless a person sees her/himself as a servant, as a servant leader, if you will, that person is merely an officeholder, not a leader, and not much leadership as I understand it will be going on."

"What, then, is an administrative or political leader to you?"

Ah, I saw an opening. I told him that to me an administrative or political leader is the same as a teacher in a classroom: a person with a deep-seated will, a deep-seated passion, a tender compassion and empathy for every person, a deep-seated vision, a deep-seated set of values, a deep-seated love and caring for every person, and a deep-seated drive to serve beyond her or his self-centered and self-serving goals; a person who teaches, persuades, encourages, and inspires; a person who is a mind-changer, a soul deepener, an attitude alterer, an action mobilizer; a person who is a catalyst for purposeful action or meaningful change; a person who wants to make a positive difference and leave this world a better place for having been here. Then, I hit him with it: "And, maybe even a spiritualist."

He was taken a bit aback. "A spiritualist? A leader? On an academic campus? In politics? You've got to be kidding!"

"Yeah, a spiritualist," I asserted.

I went on to explain that since my epiphany in 1991 I've come to see that in teaching is my joy of serving, of serving more than my reputation or furthering my career. In the last fifteen years, it has become my spiritual practice. When I had cancer and was recovering from my operation a year and a half ago, and when I was struggling to help my Susan struggle to care for her dying mother this past spring, serving the students was extraordinarily therapeutic. I don't think anyone should teach who doesn't wish to help others help themselves become better persons. And, I told him that I meant that such help should go beyond the mere transmission of information and acquisition of credentials. I take spirituality out of the heights of the clouds and into the depths of myself and weave it tightly into what I do. Nothing invisible about it. I don't hide that. It's quite in the open. I wear on my sleeve. If you want to jargonize it, call it "depth pedagogy." I've been here at VSU for forty years, and I find that outstanding student leadership is as rare as outstanding administrative leadership or classroom leadership. I do think there is a spiritual aspect to being a true and sincere classroom or administrative or student leader if you think of spiritualism in terms of something bigger than you, and of being a leader in terms of someone who sees beyond her/himself, and being someone who is in the service of the campus community, whatever that particular campus community may be: the institution as a whole, the student body, the general faculty, the staff, a classroom of students, whomever. Yet, too often those who are seen or see themselves as leaders are too often into themselves. By "into themselves" I explained that I meant that they're focused on the quest of self-advancement and personal achievement at the expense of serving others. Too often they're more concerned with their own resumes, too often concentrating on their own reputation, too often taken with their own image, too often worrying about what other people think, too often unwilling to take the risk of taking a stand. There is little or nothing transcendent about them, little or nothing about them that has to do with truly serving others. Too often they tend to be preoccupied with "small potatoes."

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"Well, for example, as a classroom teacher should be prepared for insignificance if all he or she does is impart information--or think about workloads, getting tenure, a promotion, or class schedules--rather than helping each student help her/himself to become a better person. A student leader should be prepared for insignificance if all she or he does is focus on parking or on providing weekend entertainment or being represented on this committee or that one. An administrative leader should be prepared for insignificance if all she or he does is worry about clean dorm rooms, building buildings, adding academic programs, and increasing the size of the student body. There are bigger and more important issues on campus than finding a convenient slot for your car when you come on campus or providing something to do on the weekend or sitting in a meeting or building a building or getting a program approved or policing student dorm rooms or creating a street crossing. Not that these things should be ignored, but there's more to being a leader."

"What do you want them to do?"

"Publicly address the heavy stuff. Vigorously take things head-on that truly are important as well."


"God, it was just Halloween. You should have read the student journal entries I read about rampant binge drinking much less widespread underage drinking at the frat houses, not to mention at private parties. And, no one really enforced our published and official alcohol policy. They just stood by with a "kids will be kids" abandon. Then, there's substance abuse, physical abuse, date rape, pregnancy rates, STD, cheating, racism, genderism, maybe even indifferent and incompetent teaching. Those things for example." "

Wow. You ask a lot."

"If I or you don't, if we don't demand quiet but significant service, if we don't demand noisy speaking of truth to power even when the power is powerful, all we'll get are narrow minded, small imagination, little creative, small office holders or degree holders or resume getters instead of leaders. Gotta run to class."


"Think about what I said. You don't have to agree. Just think about it."

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
                                 /     \__/         \/  /  /\ /~\/         \
                          /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\
                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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