“A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist in one who makes opportunities of his difficulties.”
Harry S. Truman
Recently, I had the pleasure of facilitating a day-long workshop for UTSA’s research division. While their work is often very different from our work in Student Affairs, we share some common challenges. One of these challenges is finding our way through the paradox of delivering efficient and effective service to people with many ideas and needs while following rules that range from Federal law to Regents’ Rules to internal policies. It’s a truly difficult task. We need to say, ‘no’, with respect. We have to enforce rules that don’t make sense to us, let alone to the people we’re trying to explain them to.
We may not have the authority to make exceptions. When we do have such authority, it’s hard to know when to make the exception and what factors to use when deciding. Even the “simplest” job is challenging in environments like these.
As a result, we are often paralyzed. It can be easier just to say ‘no’, to think that the rules make it impossible to be innovative, to get frustrated with the process and each other. But, it is possible to be successful in the environment. We can choose to see the “Rules” as constraint or as boundaries within which we can be creative. We can choose to say a flat ‘no’ and be the brick wall. Conversely, we can choose to enter into a partnership with the requestor to understand what they want to accomplish. Then perhaps we can move from that flat ‘no’ to ‘we can’t do it this way, but maybe we can do it another way.’ Once we understand what they want to accomplish, we have a better chance of finding a way to be creative within the rules.
This is important because it seems to me that the job of administrators who are educators is to open doors and create opportunities. That means we look for ways to help others be successful. Sometimes, where we can, we make that exception. Sometimes we take a calculated, educated risk. And yes, sometimes we say ‘no’. But, let’s not make it our first option.
I was reminded of the benefits of this today when I received an e-mail from a new UTSA graduate. It’s too long a story to share, and I want to protect the student’s confidentiality, but I had to make an exception for this student to even re-enroll at UTSA. I made the exception although a couple of people thought I shouldn’t. It was a risk, but several staff members worked with me to mitigate the risk and support the student. Our new graduate is now married, gainfully employed, and ecstatic about being a Roadrunner.
That’s our challenge every day—how do we follow the rules in ways that create possibilities? I know we all have success stories (and some lessons learned). Most of us have stories that include someone taking a chance on us. I hope you will find time after you read this to remember such a story and share it with someone else.
Sharing our stories helps us all in finding opportunities among the difficulties.