On the back cover of the North Central Now, there is a simple statement: “North Central College prepares students to be informed, involved, principled and productive citizens and leaders over their lifetime.” This is our mission, our reason for existence.
Many years ago, I taught a course called “Just Leadership.” I thought then, and continue to believe, that leadership isn’t just a set of skills and abilities, taught out of some sort of “how to” manual, as important as such skills may be. Leadership without values, without ethics, without a sense of larger moral purpose, is hollow. “What does it profit a man if he wins the whole world, and loses his soul?” And where does that “win” leave the world?
But lofty rhetoric does not answer the fundamental challenge of how you educate young men and women to be honorable and effective citizens and leaders. This has been a concern of mine since I first read Plato’s The Republic and Machiavelli’s The Prince as an undergraduate. During the Watergate era, when I worked in Wisconsin state government and led a state agency, it became something of an obsession.
One of the great attractions that brought me to North Central College in 1991 was the Leadership, Ethics and Values (LEV) program established by my predecessor, President Gael Swing. I was skeptical that any one course, or sequence of courses, at a comprehensive liberal arts college could provide the all-encompassing commitment to leadership training of a West Point or a Harvard Business School. But the linkage of leadership, ethics and values (since expanded to include service), built into the fabric and culture of a small college—the classrooms, library and laboratories; the residence halls, the field house, the athletic fields; the chapel, and the offcampus work, service and study abroad opportunities—seemed to me to be just right. Seventeen years later, I know it.
In remarks to new students, I always refer to editing my undergraduate newspaper as “the most important learning experience (about leadership) in my life.” At North Central, students learn about leadership by “doing it”. They learn about it from Professor Tom Cavenagh, the director of the LEV Program and a faculty mentor, from the Mimi Rolland Professor in the Fine Arts, Ramona Wis, and faculty in every academic division.
But they also experience and absorb the lessons of honorable and effective leadership from staff members like Mike Hudson. And that witness—perhaps the most powerful way to teach “just leadership”—extends to North Central’s Board of Trustees, whose philanthropy and ability to mobilize community volunteers for good is an enduring presence in the life of the campus and to alumni who have demonstrated their spiritual leadership or built impressive enterprises in the not-for-profit as well as the for-profit sectors.
This special Annual Report issue of the North Central Now celebrates our mission, and some of the leaders who embody that mission … in their teaching, their example and their lives. It is a mission worthy of a great college, and a legacy we can all cherish.
Harold R. Wilde
North Central Now, Annual Report 2008