A century ago the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead critiqued the state of higher education as suffering “from a lack of definite aim, and from an external machinery which kills its vitality.”
That warning rings true today, and discovering and nurturing the antidote is the fundamental mission of Naropa, its faculty, students, and administrators. In our relatively brief four decades of work, Naropa provided the conditions for the evolution of a contemplative pedagogy—one in which rigorous mindfulness, body-mind awareness, and compassion training integrate with strong academics to train the whole person.
The point of it all is to offer the training and support to a new generation of leaders. I think it is not debatable that polarization, aggression, and apathy are sadly omnipresent. No university can “fix” this problem, but we can honestly name the challenges and offer the tools to support both the development of compassion and skillful actions that will allow our graduates to make a difference to a world in need of healing. Our students want an educational experience that prepares them for service. The Graduate School of Counseling and Psychology has had a demonstrable impact on mental health care in our region and beyond. We are planning to launch a new bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education in the fall of 2018, addressing the shortage of qualified teachers in both urban and rural communities and graduating teachers who have deep grounding in mindfulness, contemplative and compassion training along with their academic education. Our graduates will also earn an endorsement in Cultural and Linguistic Diversity. Schools across the country and beyond are actively seeking teachers with such credentials.
Traditional indicators of success of college graduates are being seriously questioned. In 2014, Gallup and Purdue University studied thirty thousand American college graduates to see if traditional quantitative data about post-college jobs, graduate school placement, and high salaries, continue to be the definition of success held by the graduates. The conclusion was surprising to many—that “feeling supported and having deep learning experiences means everything when it comes to long-term outcomes for college graduates.” And these outcomes include looking at “hard measures,” including financial and physical (health) wellbeing along with purpose, social, and community wellbeing. Despite the clear link between support and deep learning and wellbeing, only 14 percent of the graduates interviewed felt that support from faculty and their university. That support has been at the heart of our mission from the onset.
We believe, as our mission proclaims, that infusing knowledge with wisdom, through an academic and co-curricular journey in which self-inquiry, service, and study are co-equal components, creates the conditions for Naropa’s graduates to thrive. And as you will read in the feast we have set before you in this magazine, thriving they are.
Our current strategic planning work, which will result in the Create Naropa 2022 document, is built around student outcomes and success. Our deepening commitment to creating a more inclusive and responsible community—through improved diversity, reduction of economic barriers for lower income students, and a re-affirmation to meet climate and sustainability goals—are the practical and essential actions needed to enhance our vitality.
I welcome your support and suggestions. Thank you for sharing time with the extraordinary Naropa community.
CHARLES G. LIEF
PRESIDENT, NAROPA UNIVERSITY