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LEAP into 2017

By Bethany Zecher Sutton

For more than a decade, AAC&U has advanced a vision for liberal education that embraces essential learning outcomes for students, educational practices that have meaningful impact on student success, authentic assessments that are grounded in students’ own work products, and intentional efforts to make excellence inclusive. We also have advanced a framework for students’ signature work that provides a focal point for the undergraduate educational experience. This vision and framework has fallen under the headline LEAP—Liberal Education and America’s Promise.

As we enter 2017, I am thinking about other ways to use the LEAP acronym that are responsive to the climate in which we and our students find ourselves—a political arena that is volatile and uncertain; a population that is divided along deep lines of race, religion, and ethnicity; communities that are riven by economic divisions that are ever more pronounced. How can leaders in higher education help advance a more positive environment? Recently I saw the use of LEAP in a customer service context—it stood for Listen, Empathize, Apologize, and Provide help. With just a single word change—apologize to advocate—I think that might work well as a strategy to carry forward with us in the coming months.

Listen. Listen to our students, our colleagues, those we agree with and those with whom we disagree.  Listen to understand how others are informed. And, ultimately, listen to our own values and commitments.

Empathize. Exercise active and critical listening, and then seek to genuinely empathize with others, with the goal of helping students experience a positive learning environment in our institutions. With empathy comes stronger relationships with others and the opportunity to grow our own ability to lead—which is critical for the following two goals in our 2017 agenda.

Advocate. In ways both large and small, we all have contexts in which we can be advocates. Advocate on your campus and in your community for students’ opportunities to learn, for civil dialogue, for evidence-based reasoning, and for social justice. Join with AAC&U as we advocate for our shared vision of the value of liberal education in our society and the larger public purpose of higher education.

Provide help. This one is important, because listening, empathizing, and advocating are best complemented by action. At AAC&U, this translates to service to our members and leadership within and outside the academy. I envision, in the coming year, we will do that by advancing designs for quality and commitments to equity, excellence in STEM education, best practices and new models to support student success, integrative designs for student learning, and meaningful assessment practices.

The AAC&U community is strong. We have a large and important agenda, a membership that is extraordinarily dedicated to serving our students and our society, a creative and thoughtful staff, and a steadfast commitment to making liberal education and inclusive excellence the foundation for institutional purpose and educational practice. In 2017, we pledge to listen, to empathize, to advocate, and to provide help. Will you LEAP with us?