Core Institutional Values

It’s hard to believe, but we’re approaching the midpoint in our five-year Strategic Action Plan. Although I’m proud of the significant progress we’ve made on all five initiatives (to review them, click here), we’ve only just begun to gain momentum on one that has been the most difficult to realize: Fostering a Quality Workplace.

Many of you will remember the employee satisfaction study we conducted last year in partnership with ModernThink. (See my follow up letter about that here.) Beyond ongoing salary and workload concerns, deeper analysis revealed that we’ve never articulated a clear statement of shared institutional values to complement our vision, mission and manifesto. It made me wonder: How can we foster a quality workplace if we haven’t identified our highest guiding principles?

To help answer that question, I hosted a group of campus representatives over the summer to begin a working draft, or at the very least to come up with some words to describe the values we hold dear as an institution—you’ll see some of the language we developed in the above illustration of our meeting notes. Our Quality Workplace Committee (QWC) will now work with all of you to consolidate this information, and your feedback, to develop a formal values statement. I strongly encourage you to contribute to this discussion through your representative bodies. Think of it as an expression of our collective conscience, a shared set of ideals, a stand on what matters most in this purpose-driven organization borne of a belief in the transformative power of art, beauty, and creativity. It’s that important.

To explain why, no one said it better than Gandhi: “Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behavior. Keep your behavior positive because your behavior becomes your habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny.”

Our values dictate our behavior. They prescribe how we hope to treat others and how we expect to be treated. As individuals, we all live according to the values we learned from our parents, friends, teachers, spiritual leaders, and other influencers. We’re taught to value honesty so we tell the truth. We learn to value wellness so we eat right and exercise. If we value faith, we pray or meditate and we attend church or mosque or synagogue.

We bring our own values to this place we inhabit and to the work we do while we’re here. Our values aren’t all the same, because each of us is unique. For starters, we’re not all artists. We’re also accountants and philosophers and counselors and electricians and educators and we play all kinds of other vital key roles to keep this campus up and running. For all our differences, which we honor and admire, we must also identify and celebrate the common values that bring us together at UNCSA, and make us more than a collection of individuals. These shared values make us a community. Our shared values tell us not only how to act and how to treat one another; they must govern our ethics, inform our code of conduct, and serve as the framework for our policies and the foundation of our campus culture. So by all means, we should write them down—even inscribe them on a wall somewhere—and uphold them with pride.

Many universities have values statements. Some administrative departments here on our campus have them. Our own school had a collection of words representing values on the old website, apparently from previous strategic plan discussions. We’ve collected many examples of values statements as a starting point. But our values statement will be different from what already exists, because it will come from you, the faculty, staff, and students who know us and mostly love us, “warts” and all. (That’s a pickle reference, in case you’re wondering.)

The Quality Workplace Committee will be reaching out to the Faculty and Staff councils, and the high school and college Student Government Associations, to determine what it is that makes UNCSA the unique and precious place that it is, and to put forth our guiding principles. The committee will engage these groups in an exercise to gather input and insight on values we see as core to our community. We’ve selected three prompts for you to think about, to help identify our values:

  1. Complete this sentence: In the pursuit of meaning and to create an exceptional workplace/educational environment, we value _______.
  2. Think of a time when you’ve experienced UNCSA at its best. What were the underlying values demonstrated?
  3. Think of a colleague you hold in high regard. What values do they demonstrate that have earned your admiration?

The stories that you remember and relate will illuminate the tenets that we model as a community and will inform our new statement of core institutional values. Together with our mission and vision statements and our manifesto, the values statement will spell out in black and white what it means to be a Fighting Pickle.

Please give some thought to your own personal values, and the values we embrace as a community. Thank you in advance for your thoughtful engagement with this exercise. I look forward to sharing with you—by year’s end—our statement of core institutional values.

Until next time,

Lindsay BiermanM. Lindsay Bierman


August 15, 2017