The Voice: Winter 2002

The Voice

As others see us

It was the 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns who said it best: “O wad some Power the giftie gie us to see oursels as ithers see us!” Or, in loose translation, “O would some Power the gift now give us, to see ourselves as others see us!”

Burns wrote his poem, “To a Louse,” after being struck one Sunday by the fact that even an extraordinarily well-dressed woman sitting in front of him in church had, unknown to her, a little louse crawling through ribbons of her hat. Indeed, while this matron had done her best to look just a cut above everyone else, what others sitting behind her noticed most was not her finery, but the same sort of louse that would afflict the most ill-clad beggar on the street.

Robert Burns then observes that if only we could see ourselves clearly as others do, that in itself would “from many a blunder free us.”

Actually, that sort of wisdom lies at the heart of the educational process. That's one reason why evaluation and assessment are imbedded throughout our Dordt College community. Professors assess and clarify for students their progress_or lack of progress as the case may be. Similarly, students are given opportunity to assess professors and their work at the end of every course. Student Services staff call students' attention to areas of growth needed in their personal and social development. And an extensive program of staff evaluation ensures that every administrator and staff person, including the president, gets at least an annual review of how their efforts are perceived by those around them.

Another opportunity for us as a college to see ourselves as others see us comes through regular external review by outside accrediting agencies. The most significant of these is a once-a-decade review by the North Central Association that gives us our overall and nationally recognized accreditation as a college. This was the year for our decennial review.

And, although the review team has made its visit and is now completing its work, the regulations governing the process prohibit the college from publicizing any of their conclusions until the report is reviewed and made official some months from now. However, I can give you the (really big) hint that I am very pleased and actually pretty excited about the general observations and outcome of the report as it is being proposed.

I can reflect also on some general thoughts and impressions that the team shared while they made their visit. True, they found what Burns described as a “louse” here and there; that is, aspects of our college life that we really do need to improve. At the same time they observed that most of the problem areas they identified were areas to which Dordt College had already alerted them in the reports we wrote in preparation for their visit.

And what gratified me most was their evaluation of the sense of mission and common purpose that they found among the faculty, students, staff, administrators, and alumni of Dordt College. In fact, that was all the more remarkable because the evaluators themselves did not necessarily share Dordt College's conviction that biblical perspective must pervade all we do. For instance,

none of the evaluators came from other Reformed institutions nor were any of them affiliated with any evangelical colleges or universities. Yet they all were struck that to a remarkable degree Dordt College is a community with a common vision and purpose_and extraordinarily dedicated to seeing that purpose carried out well.

To be sure, we ought not to ignore the flaws they found. After all, we surely wouldn't want some contemporary Robert Burns looking at us from behind and missing the strong quality of our college just because of some little bug crawling on our clothes.

But still we should take heart that when a team of higher education experts makes a visit looking for the bugs at Dordt College, they leave having seen the greater purpose for which we exist and being genuinely impressed with the quality of a college that really is dedicated to the glory of God.

So, even though assessment and evaluation are part of the routine in any institution of higher education, when those assessments turn out to be encouraging, we need to celebrate and use that encouragement as an impetus to do even better in the future, always remembering our college motto, Soli Deo Gloria_to God alone be all the glory.