Guiding Principles for Higher Education
Problems, challenges, controversies: small or large, they form part of the landscape in which a college or university leader works. So how can these leaders best respond when a problem arises on campus? Roland Chin, who has been serving as president and vice chancellor of Hong Kong Baptist University since 2015, relies on a set of guiding principles to ensure that his response is consistent with the values of higher education. “We need to remind ourselves and our colleagues that the main purpose of the university is education, so that we don’t forget what really matters,” President Chin said in a recent interview. “When students are emotional or frustrated, or when there is pressure from parents, donors, or politics, we need to remind ourselves of our basic principles.”
Over the course of his leadership tenure President Chin has relied upon five such principles:
· We must remember that education is our mission.
· We must maintain academic freedom.
· We do not accept violation of the law.
· We must make sure we don’t infringe on the rights of others.
· We must uphold human decency.
Holding fast to these core principles, he has found, “we can put aside pressure” and find appropriate, considerate ways to respond.
Communication is an important piece of leadership, and even during tranquil periods on campus, President Chin encourages college and university leaders to invest time in communication. “This means listening to students or to the public and then trying to explain the university point of view,” he said. “It means clarifying misconceptions.” These steps are an ongoing responsibility, particularly in the era of social media, when so many voices are straining to be heard and news and opinions travel quickly. “Listen, explain, and clarify – it’s important to engage in continuous dialogue,” he said.
For committed educators, responding to complex problems creates opportunities for teaching and encouraging greater understanding. “The campus is a small replica of society,” President Chin pointed out, “so it also is a training ground that helps prepare students for the larger world.” That includes lessons in how to raise issues and express opinions. “I try to communicate to students that they have the right to express their views,” he said, “but they must also respect that people with opposing views have the same right.” For young adults, these first-time lessons in making their voices heard, being open to new ideas, and accepting both victory and defeat with grace, can ultimately have lasting effects on their professional and personal lives.