It’s Our Fault

I don’t want to get caught up in a blame game or anything, but lately I’ve been wondering  about the concept of “fault,” as in “well, they can’t blame us; it’s not our fault!”

There is plenty of “not our fault” to go around at the start of any semester.  Textbooks not in stock?  Not enough parking? Printer not working? … Not our fault!

Bumps in the road are just the way things are, right?  Maybe that’s it, then.  It’s not “our” fault; it’s “the way things are” fault. In the university environment, the way things are fault sounds like this: “I don’t know why they are doing it this way”; “this would work if they didn’t get in the way”; and “they are always messing things up around here!”

The thing is, in a community, they is actually us.  When we assign fault to someone else, we cede power along with it.  Frankly, the loss of a little power may seem like a good deal to avoid having to accept fault. When we look at big issues like quality in education, providing an excellent student experience, and changing real people’s lives, it might seem like a good deal to assign away much of the responsibility for real change.  Doing what’s right in front of us seems like enough without also doing their job for them.  And if things don’t work out…it’s not our fault.

It is, of course.  We can’t get away from responsibility for our university community.  Even those of us who choose not to participate have an effect on the system.  To paraphrase a timeless rock lyric, if you choose not to engage, you still have made an impact. Every time we opt out and avoid trying to solve the problems we see on our campus, we become complicit in those problems. By letting it be the way things are fault, we make it our own fault, fair and square.

Like a fractal, patterns of behavior and success repeat themselves at every scale at a university.  If we can change our own views of the community and make the way things are our personal responsibility, we can change the whole system.  Our university can truly become a leader in higher education and a force for innovation, and along the way we can make it possible for our students to change their own lives for the better too.

But in order to do that, we have to be at fault. Without owning the fault, we don’t have the power to act.

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