Culture Transformation initiative raises concerns, contradictions

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President Julio Frenk is already making a distinct mark on the university with only one semester under his belt. Since his initial appointment last spring, he has often emphasized the importance of diversity, and this is one of several principles included in a new university-wide Culture Transformation initiative that officially went underway last semester.

According to the university’s SharePoint website, the initiative hopes to instill several key community values – diversity, integrity, responsibility, excellence, creativity, compassion and teamwork – through formal training. The website offers signups for “New Day” training sessions, perky videos about transforming lives and a set of listed “behaviors” corresponding to the university’s expectations. The initiative revolves around the belief that the university should be more customer-service oriented.

Some faculty members have expressed concerns about being required to adhere to “Disney training.” While the stated values are very positive, we must remember that the university, or at least the undergraduate campus, is above all a place of higher learning, not a hospitality service. Academia is founded on the basic processes of learning, teaching and discovery; the very use of a term like “customer service” taints this image with a commercialized quality that undermines the university’s ability to be taken seriously as a prestigious academic leader.

Some of the ideals touted by the initiative seem at odds with each other. In a promotional video, Emmy Award–winning journalist and alumna Jackie Nespral talks about “one consistent experience,” and yet Dean Leonidas Bachas speaks of the importance in having a “diversity of ideas, challenging how we think.”

To what extent can one idea limit the other?

Still, the ideals of the initiative are hard to contest. Everyone can agree that it is important for diverse students to feel like they can participate in intellectual discussion and discovery and that respectful relationships between faculty and students foster a better learning experience.

At best, this initiative can help bring about thoughtful, honest introspection. But at worst, it imposes more bureaucratic obligations that interfere with the duties of our faculty and staff. One would hope is that the individuals hired or admitted by the university have their own intuition to meet these expectations without requiring extra training.

Editorials represent the majority view of The Miami Hurricane editorial board.

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