A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
September 7, 2006 Volume 37 / Number 1


Lessons We Teach

As those attending Opening Convocation this year filed into Harlen Adams Theatre, they were greeted with a slide show that made them beam with pride. For the images on the screen were those of our students, triumphant in what they have learned and achieved in the company of Chico State’s faculty and staff.

Our Human Powered Vehicle Team, best in the nation; the staff of The Orion, the best weekly collegiate newspaper in the country; our “Final Four” women’s basketball team; the World Series finalist baseball team; a whole galaxy of intercollegiate All-Americans in cross-country and track and field; our nationally recognized Model UN; steel bridge building and SIFE teams; and fellowship winners and academic honors recipients from all of our colleges.

Each picture communicated energy and joy. Each emphasized how we are sustained as a community through the accomplishments of our students. Each reminded us that their success flows from many sources—a lesson effectively taught, a word of advice wisely given, a hand warmly extended, a gift generously provided.

Yes, we teach lessons through disciplinary mastery and pedagogical skill. But we also “teach” through kindness, decency and civility, personal integrity, and intellectual honesty. We teach, in other words, through the force of personal example. These are the lessons that enable our students to achieve excellence beyond GPAs, GREs, awards won, and jobs secured.

For no matter what the endeavor or where the setting, there are “secrets” to success that hinge on hard work and hard thinking, patience, persistence, perseverance, passion—and high expectations. The latter, especially, contributes to high performance that goes well beyond academic records. These include the expectations we have for the kind of work ethic our students will embrace, how deep a sense of personal integrity they will form, how great a desire to contribute to the larger community they will develop, how seriously they will respect the perspectives of others, how effectively they will discover their own voices, how passionately they will want to shepherd our fragile environment, and how kindly they will respond to the needs of the weakest and least fortunate among us.

Every day, and in myriad ways, those who teach our students through professional expertise and personal example influence our students’ values, attitudes, and habits. In so doing, we define success through how well our students are prepared to become responsible members of a democratic community and global society.

Our Mission Statement emphasizes that we seek to provide our students with the knowledge, skills, and moral and intellectual virtues for lifelong learning, civic engagement, and enlightened service. The extent to which we succeed in this work is the extent to which we succeed as an institution. For just as we aim to be the university of choice in attracting those who share our vision and values, we know that for which we stand, and that to which we aspire, will be represented through the character and conduct of our students and alumni.

Yet, sometimes, we are discouraged in this pursuit. It pains all of us when student conduct fails to meet our expectations, intellectually, socially, morally. The “party school” label continues to plague us. Too many of us spend too much time addressing alcohol abuse or threats to personal safety or upset neighbors. The Fifth and Ivy scene at its worst is neither amusing nor attractive. In fact, it’s frightening.

But we must continue to articulate high expectations and hold our students and ourselves accountable to them. There’s just too much at stake to not do so. And when we see ourselves reflected in the triumphant performances and proud smiles of our students, when we see the good they do for others—whether caring for hurricane victims in New Orleans or tutoring migrant laborer children in our own backyard, whether raising funds for children’s cancer research at St. Jude’s in Memphis, Tennessee, or raising hopes for the children of the Boys & Girls Club of Chico, California—we know we get it right more often than not.

As we begin the new academic year, thank you for the success stories that we enable, that sustain us, and thank you for the commitment to getting it right.

—Paul J. Zingg, President