75 Unbalanced Love

Alison Buchholz

Spring 2022

I sit here reflecting on the keynote presented by Kathleen Fitzpatrick, and I am thankful that I had the wherewithal on Friday afternoon to jot down a few notes while participating in the webinar. Several of Dr. Fitzpatrick’s statements had meaning to me; having taken time to consider them in the context of PSU, my perspectives and understandings have been both challenged and solidified. I am completing my eleventh year at PSU and during this time, I have witnessed a great deal of change at the institution. While change is healthy and part of growth and evolution, to me, this change has felt fraught with pain, fear, and the undertone of desperation to keep the institution alive. I love PSU and hope to continue growing as a professional here for many years, but at times it feels personally destructive to dedicate my life to an institution that, as Kathleen says, “can’t love me, like I love it.” Her statement makes me consider the emotions I have had in response to the actions taken by the university over the years. I am certain that the decisions to let go of faculty and staff, and shut programs down, where not made lightly, but rather out of financial necessity. That said, it has created, what I see as an us vs. them mentality; everyone is on the defensive as we shuffle to gain traction and the momentum necessary to keep PSU alive. Internalizing Fitzpatrick’s, “unbalanced love” statement has brought me peace, and feelings of forgiveness for our beautiful little university tucked in NH’s White Mountains. I am hopeful that releasing the anger and sadness created by the past difficulties will free up mental space for me, so I’m more available to help create the changes needed at PSU.

To make the type of systematic change we need at PSU will take time, but I believe that changes have already begun to happen. We have hired our first CDO, and we are looking for a new Academic Provost; both huge opportunities to start fresh, make change, and come together to create new norms and policies. Additionally, our community has developed a wide range of new skills in response to the Covid outbreak. Through connection and reflection about our shared experiences, we are beginning to see that the “old way” of doing things is not necessarily the best way. A greater number of individuals are voicing their concerns about unhealthy and inequitable practices at our institution; matters that had previously been unchallenged or “under- challenged.” Faculty, staff, and students are coming together through shared learning opportunities provided by the Co-Lab. This leadership has united our community, and is providing us the with the skills, knowledge, and confidence necessary to move forward as a united front to make the changes we desire for our learning community.
Unity and “generous thinking,” a term coined by Fitzpatrick, are the keys to making PSU the place that people want to come and stay. With a singular focus and shared values, the cultural norms will begin to shift. If every task, project, initiative, and assignment created or completed was considered through that lens, change would occur.
Taking time to discuss a few of the points made by Fitzpatrick as a community would go a long way towards change. Some of her points were directed specifically at the team of professionals who receive credit for their educational contributions to the institution, the faculty. The following questions are some that Fitzpatrick mentioned that I think should be discussed and addressed early in the work towards a paradigm shift at PSU.
  • Does research pull us away from our work as a collective?
  • Is merit associated with individualism?
  • Do your accomplishments come at my expense?
  • Why don’t all faculty and staff have the same rights and privileges that tenure track faculty have?
  • Should the evaluative process of the tenure and promotion process be changed from, “you have done enough……” to, you are valued and “we want you forever?”
  • What would happen if we changed from “more” to “better” (better =slowing down, engaging, sharing, time, connecting)
  • How can we create change that builds equity and not continue to support privilege?

Modifying or changing the policy regarding these statements would likely result in a loss of members of the community who were not able to fully embrace the changes that were occurring. And while that is unfortunate, ultimately everyone would be happier in the end. New community members, willing to adopt a philosophy framed by unity and generous thinking, would be embraced and supported by students, staff and faculty that had institutional history. The necessary change would happen…

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