The pursuit of excellence in higher education

Thomas L. Keon

Dear Friends,

I have given a great deal of thought, of late, to the concept of excellence and how it most beneficially relates to higher education.

One could make a case, I suppose, that from a perspective of sheer academic performance, excellence translates to an “A.” If we embrace that logic, then likely we can argue that pretty good equals a “B.” (I can almost hear some parents lecturing their B-student sons and daughters, You know, there are a lot of pretty good graduates walking around unemployed.”)

But that is not where I want to go with this. Nor do I want to journey down the path of the late educator, orator and leader Booker T. Washington and, more recently, former Indianapolis Colts Super Bowl championship coach Tony Dungy, both of whom approached excellence from the standpoint of doing common things uncommonly well.

In my ponderings, I have become ever more convinced that excellence manifests itself more richly in the commitment to its pursuit than the fruits of its outcome.

Definition of Excellence

If you look up the word, “excellence,” in a dictionary, amidst its multiplicity of definitions you will find this two-word summary: “valuable quality.” I like that, and particularly as I see it relating to higher education.

If we can agree that the pursuit of excellence is the effort and dedication of continually focusing on and advancing toward those qualities that are valuable, consider what that means. Students would settle for nothing less than the best they could be. Faculty would partner with students in that noble quest. Administrators and staff would unite in maximizing the effectiveness of the university as a vital resource of support and enlightenment for students, faculty, community, and society.

The pursuit of excellence within higher education is truly a partnership. It calls for a recipe of such value-driven qualities as vision, effort, decision-making, follow-through, collaboration, accountability, and commitment.

Indeed, that is the recipe many students, faculty, administrators and staff use to pursue excellence—many, but not all. Please join me in the pursuit of excellence at Purdue Calumet.


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Thomas L. Keon,