This week I was lucky to find myself sitting around a table with other Emerson College professionals in a meeting called “Conversations on Creativity.” As a college that prides itself on innovation, it’s important we create a common vocabulary about what creativity means and how it impacts us. Together with tenured faculty, adjust instructors, entry level student affairs administrators, deans and Vice Presidents, we would start a meaningful conversation.
A colleague threw down the gauntlet early in the conversation and it changed how I thought – he took a deep breath and said:
Creativity is a privilege.
Higher Education is a conservative beast. Many of our offices, and many of our own leaders, call for us to be forces of creativity, to use our ideas to further the scope of the college, to push boundaries, to break down walls and to challenge others. But are we really allowed to do that?
Are faculty willing to try innovative teaching strategies and curriculum that may leave students feeling unsettled? Will faculty be willing to try to teach difficult material when their salaries and jobs are directly tied to assessment provided by those students?
Are students willing to create ground breaking projects and challenge academia when their grades are tied to the success of an assignment? Are they willing to challenge convention when scholarships and internships may be impacted by their grades?
Are young student affairs professionals really allowed to create new and exciting initiatives, or does campus tradition and pressure from alumni force new pros to recreate the same programs that have been occurring for decades? How many #sapros are told “But we always do it this way.”?
True creativity comes with failure. Higher education, being a conservative beast, is not okay with failure. We don’t allow ourselves to spectacularly fail. We aren’t given permission to watch a pet project sputter upon launch.
In an exit interview from a job early in my career, a Vice President once apologized to me. She said it was a shame the institution couldn’t appreciate new ideas and she sincerely hoped I would find an institution that valued progress, that valued creativity.
The words didn’t make sense at the time, but today, I understand. At my current job, I’m fortunate to sit on the privilege to create, to change, to modify and to take risks. I have been given permission to push boundaries and to fail in the most spectacular ways. I’m one of the lucky ones.
Creativity is a privilege.
The future of higher education is dependent on innovation and creativity.
Are we willing to change the system… change how we assess our faculty and staff for merit raises… change how we grade our students?
Until we are willing to do that, none of us will truly have the privilege to be creative.