Words of Praise

Richard Leitch, Political Science Professor

Let's face it--as much as Admission staff, administrators, and faculty would like tobelieve that Gustavus students arrive at Gustavus because after a long, thoughtful searchfor their "perfect" college Gustavus was the perfect fit for them, few students spend anytime at all thinking about WHY they want to really go to college, and how those collegeyears will relate to the rest of their life. As high school students, many haveconcluded that college attendance the following fall is expected of them, or that if they don't attend college they are destined for a life of minimum wage jobs and social failureas merely a high school graduate.

I write from the experience of teaching seven classes'worth of FTS students, and hundreds more first year students in my eleven years ofteaching introductory-level courses at Gustavus. The dozens of doctors-in-training whowill never become doctors, the intended Physics majors who fail Calculus I, the highschool star athlete who won't ever become a professional.....but who sleeps throughclasses yet never misses practice....the imagined lawyers of the future who not only lacksome sense of "justice" but who can't think analytically or write clearly orconcisely....I have had all of them in my office at some point during their four yearGustavus career. But I also know that my voice is only one, and I don't have the formaltraining to get students to ask the significant, "big questions" that should be guidingtheir decisions. Thank goodness for the CVR, because that is where I end up sendingthem. And I never see them in my office again for that type of chat.

Each year in early October, I invite Chris Johnson to visit my FTS to get my students tothink about their "life's calling." Those thoughts--and their link to all the componentsof their Gustavus experience--take the form of their "vocation project." Many studentsend up visiting with Chris one-on-one to help them sort out some of the issues they arewrestling with, and many continue to wrestle with those issues during the next 3 1/2years. "How can I lead a meaningful life? What IS a meaningful life? How can Ibalance my expected responsibilities with my passions to do what I want with my life?"And on and on. As a group those students see Chris again a month later, when he visits my class on the final morning following their Sleepout experience. After spending 3 days and nights with them, there is no way they want to hear me, and there is no way I can help them put that experience in perspective. Each year, in their anonymous journals, at least a few students specifically write that until Chris's visit that morning, the Sleepout experience made no sense to them, and they didn't understand why they were required to do it. But it is as if he knows how to get them to figure out things without force-feeding them answers, by asking the perfect questions to get them to see beyond the obvious. I am not sure how he does it, but however he does it he does it well.

The same goes for the range of programs offered by the CVR. I have nominated several of my students for those reflection sessions on and off campus, and they are perfect for those students, and a perfect fit for this school. Some very bright, personable students in need of guidance were a bit reluctant to attend--"Why me?" they asked--but all commented after the fact that the experience did wonders for them. Never a criticism, and only genuine praise.

In an era of private versus public college education and what "goods" does a "consumer" receive for dollars expended, from a purely (or grossly) pragmatic perspective we need the CVR because it is a "value added" office that delivers on our implicit "contract" that we will shape students during the four years we have them. Whatever we might think of the misplaced market mentality metaphors, we have to admit that is how a segment of the population thinks. More importantly, however, the CVR embodies the Mission Statement of the college, and it is indisputable that it is helping shape students for lives of leadership and service in society. There should be no discussion about whether the CVR should continue at Gustavus, but rather we should be discussing how we can ensure all students will benefit from its many programs.