Dear Friends and Alumni,
Let me begin my spring greeting by asking you a question: What do you believe is Finlandia's best self? What does that
look like to you? Take a moment. Consider an answer.
Over the past three years our successes have been measured by achievements in shorter-term goals related to institutional
moorings. We are meeting the challenge. This was affirmed during a recent team visit by our accrediting body.
Addressing these shorter-term goals is not complete. Rigorous work remains. However, Finlandia's best self is not to be
found in achieving or even sustaining these shorter-term goals. It lies elsewhere.
In last year's spring issue of the Bridge, I shared with you emerging reflections on Finlandia's re-ordering of her life as a
learning community. I shared with you my commitments to accompany students with uncommon attention. Over these
past several months, this yet-developing idea of uncommon attention is being taken up into a fuller, more developed
image of Finlandia's best self.
Now in my fourth spring as Finlandia's president, there is emerging for me, with others, a clearer, more coherent vision
that I believe will better define us, unite us, inspire us, and ultimately, I believe, set us apart. This January I led an
exercise with Finlandia's trustees entitled, "Imagining Finlandia's Best Self." During our exercise I introduced a
constellation of ideas that more fully express the convictions I hold in this regard.
Finlandia's calling in higher education and, I believe, her best self, will be most fully realized when we offer a higher
education experience that is:
• distinctly marked by whole and integrated learning;
• authentically delivered with uncommon attention; and
• well-regarded for graduates who flourish as persons and professionals, purposefully serving their communities.
This and similar language is also percolating among academic leadership. Last fall, I retreated with Finlandia's academic
leadership.We read and discussed authors who write of imagining how to creatively engage students in all their humanness.
Philosopher Tom Christiansen calls it "the education of whole persons;" educator Parker Palmer refers to is as "a
learning environment that reflects a holistic vision of humanity." We might call it human-centered higher ed or, my
preference, "human higher ed."
Whatever it's called, the critical test, the real opportunity is converting philosophy to practice. It is my conviction that
our best self will emerge, flourish, and endure because we achieve:
• precise and imaginative articulation;
• disciplined and innovative application; and
• rigorous and continuous assessment ... of a clear, coherent, and compelling vision.
When such is achieved, vision becomes our collective breath, our very life source. It also becomes an important
conversation partner in all deliberations, all planning, all budgeting. It vets all programs. It conditions personnel hires
and evaluations. It seasons all teaching evaluations and learning assessments. It guides orientation and mentoring
activities. It counsels on how we best accompany students.
It becomes, in other words, that singular lens through which we view the entirety of our life together. It becomes our
reason for being. This is the task before us. Please join me in this conversation. And tell me, what do you believe is
Finlandia's best self?
Philip Johnson, Ph.D.
Spring 2011 Bridge