Quigley Will Miss You
Written by Bwog Staff
Outgoing Dean of Columbia College Austin Quigley has just issued a goodbye letter to the students of Columbia College. He wants us to know what an impact we have all made, “individually and collectively,” on his life in the past fourteen years, and so he has copied and pasted his own statements from a previous interview published in Columbia College Today. To great effect, Bwog might add.
The self-plagiarism not withstanding, Quigley has been well-loved and his comments in the letter and interview certainly come straight from the bottom of his adorable little British heart. But who could have predicted he express them by quoting his own interview? Bwog congratulates the writers of the 115th Varsity Show on their incredible powers of divination.
Full email after the jump.
Dear College Students and Young Alumni,
As you know, I will be stepping down this year as Dean of the College and returning to the Columbia faculty.
Though I am always pleased to talk with each and every one of you whenever opportunities arise, there have been nearly 20,000 of you passing through the College in my time as Dean. I will not, therefore, have the chance to say goodbye to each of you in the way I would wish, by letting you know in person what you have, individually and collectively, meant to me as Dean. I signed up for four years and stayed for fourteen, in significant part because it has been so personally rewarding for me to spend so much of my time working for and with College students.
As there will not be an occasion when I can tell you directly why that has been so, I would like to draw attention to some remarks I made in an interview, just published in Columbia College Today . I was asked several questions about students, one of which ran as follows:
“Columbia College students are known as active, involved students who think for themselves and readily voice their opinions. You seem to enjoy interacting with students, and judging from the reception you get at events such as the Senior Dinner or Class Day, the students enjoy this interaction as well. Please talk about this aspect of the job.”
I responded as follows:
“Though you’re dean of a college of 4,000 students, your work with students is always one at a time. You shouldn’t be in a job like this unless you find young people really interesting … in fact, unless you find people in general really interesting. Interacting with College students is a privilege, a challenge and a joy not least because Columbia students traditionally tend to have independent views and very strong opinions. It’s not going to get you very far if you enter conversations with your mind already made up. A conversation really does need to be a genuine exchange. That doesn’t mean that every time you talk to a student you are going to change your mind on something, but it does mean that you have to be open to changing your mind, that you are ready to be influenced by a better argument than the one you began with. That respect for students and their views is essential in dealing with young people, and it isn’t something you can readily manufacture or adopt as a pose or deploy as a strategy for conversing with students. They’ll see right through it. You really do have to be genuinely interested in what they have to say, to have the readiness to disagree when you feel there is something they need to hear, but also to have the willingness to listen attentively when they disagree with you, to understand that, besides being deeply engaged with the world you share with them, they are preparing themselves for a world in the future that they will shape together long after you are gone…
We all have values and beliefs and convictions, and we don’t hold them lightly. But the world keeps changing and moving along, and the world that young people are growing up into is going to be their world, and they have a right to define it eventually on their terms. We must, of course, make sure that, as students are exercising their right to take increasing responsibility for their own future, they are very well informed about what people have learned before them. But in the last analysis, it’s going to be their world, and you need to be listening very carefully and making sure that you try to move with them to wherever that future is going to be. For all of us, being ignorant of the past is a serious disadvantage. But being governed solely by it is a serious misjudgment. Making sure we are in a position to be guided but not governed by the past is essential if we are to bring about a better future, and that is what grounds our intellectual relationship with our students, along with the respect and admiration they so regularly earn.”
These words, along with some of the other remarks I make in the interview about College students, serve, in their own way, as my personal tribute to every member of the College classes from 1995 to 2012, whom I have had the honor to serve as Dean. Should you wish to read more of them, they can be found at: http://www.college.columbia.edu/cct/mar_apr09/features1 .
I very much want you to know that you have played such an important role in my life, and I would like to think I have played some small role in each and every one of yours.
With fond and enduring memories, your Dean,
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