Me, too… until last week.
On Monday, September 9th, I sent a campus e-mail announcing that the campus flags would be lowered to half-staff on Wednesday, September 11th. The ROTC unit was to ceremoniously lower the flags at 8:46 a.m. while taps played on the campus tower chimes. Then, the chimes would play “God Bless America” in tribute to the lives lost and to those who continue to defend our freedom today. I encouraged the campus community to “pause and reflect, while also rededicating ourselves to service to our communities, our nation, and the world”.
Then, on Tuesday September 10th, I received the following message from a non-degree seeking graduate student in response to that campus announcement:
“I consider your message inappropriate. In my opinion patriotism should be a low order of priority for a university president.”
Despite my highly tolerant world view, it took me a while to craft a suitable response to this student. All that initially came to mind was something a University President shouldn’t put in writing.
With the help of a talented staff member, I wrote a respectful, but firm, response explaining that supporting the safety and security of our students is of utmost priority to every University President I know. I reasoned that the members of our military have sacrificed their lives to protect our freedom and to keep our University community safe. I also explained that as a community, we needed to show gratitude to our veterans and the members of our military who are on active duty, and to show our support for the families affected by 9/11 by remembering those who were lost twelve years ago.
With the student response behind me, I then vowed to double down on our efforts to support our student veterans and strive to make our campus even more “veteran friendly”.
Coincidently, on September 11th, the American Council on Education (ACE) launched an enhanced online Toolkit for Veteran Friendly Institutions. This robust toolkit includes a set of strategies that institutions can and should follow to ensure service member and veteran success in higher education.
The strategies are not complicated or surprising – create a central point of contact; provide funds or obtain grant support; identify student veterans and establish an open line of communication with them; create a veterans’ lounge; consider credit for military education and experience; track student veterans’ admission, retention, GPA, and graduation rates and use the data to improve student veteran services and to make a case for external funding.
There are more than 2 million service members and their families who are eligible for benefits under the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008. All of them deserve the opportunity to fully benefit from the college education and career preparation that their military benefits provide.
We have an obligation to serve our student veterans well. And, in so doing we create a better educated workforce and a more globally competitive economy.
As with most campus initiatives, a successful “veteran friendly campus” program starts with top-down support, particularly from the President’s office. The President’s office can articulate a strategic commitment that gets translated into policies and procedures. The President can allocate space and resources to get a veterans’ success program going.
And, the President can call on the campus to reflect and remember the sacrifices and contributions our veterans have made for all of us.