I was reading the other day about the death of Jimmy Moreland. It came as no surprise, as he passed away nearly 60 years ago, but it showed me how much different higher education was in the bygone era. And perhaps, in some ways, better.
Moreland died young in 1950 after 15 years teaching, recruiting and advising at Oswego. Er, sorry, make that Jimmy. He asked everyone to call him Jimmy. He was a revered English professor, a chief recruiter, advisor for 300 to 400 freshmen, and even director of public relations. In his spare time, he advised the fledgling Hillel club and volunteered in the Oswego community.
Jimmy “taught his classes, not from a textbook, but rather from his great wealth of knowledge,” the student body president recalled. The president of the alumni association valued how Jimmy’s “informal talks in the co-op, in the halls, on the front steps or anywhere that a group of students would gather helped to mould the thinking and philosophy of students and teachers alike.” Jimmy “imparted a great love of learning, he imparted some of his own goodness, he imparted his own unbounded curiosity and optimism to his students as they learned with him in his classes,” said then-president Harvey Rice. “As freshman advisor through the years he, more than anyone else, helped youngsters to find their bearings away from home. His friendship won them, his understanding comforted them, his love sustained them.”
In short, Jimmy wore a lot of hats well, and he never looked at his watch and declared his day done, knowing any time he saw a student provided an opportunity to connect. He recruited students, advised them, taught them, excelling in all areas. There were no silos, cubicles or boundaries to what we would, and could, do to serve students.
In contrast, recent trends in higher education bend toward staffing many specialists, while spurning the benefits of being a generalist. When we develop a mentality we can only help students with x but not y, we see them less as humans than checkmarks on a report. Anyone who knows me would attest I’m one of the busier folks around, but I never mind helping one of my students with something that falls outside my so-called job description. Why? The Golden Rule. I appreciate all the people who helped me as a student, treated me as a person and not a category.
I can’t see Jimmy poring through the pages upon pages of policies, procedures and precedents we’ve foisted upon higher education governance. If he had a mission statement, it would likely simply read: Do the right thing. Maybe we’ve made this business a lot more difficult than it should be. You see how one man, one incredible man like Jimmy Moreland could follow his head and his heart and serve as educator, inspiration and friend to thousands of students, and you wonder.