A University of Compassion Provides a "True Education": Teaching Personal Development and Ethical Responsibility as Part of the Learning Experience

Article excerpt

"The function of education," according to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character--that is the goal of true education." While in their mission statements many universities aspire to be leaders in scholarship and ethics, too few institutions try to give equal weight to both sides of Dr. King's equation. Service-learning projects, for example, are excellent but they are usually "add-ons," and not part of a broader university strategy to blend intellectual and character leadership.

At Western Connecticut State University, we are weaving together the two parts of Dr. King's "true education" equation through the concept of compassion.

I feel fortunate to work at a university where some organizations are created with the purpose of fulfilling principles that also reflect Dr. King's ideas: "Empowering students to attain the highest standards of academic achievement, public and professional services, personal development, and ethical conduct is our fundamental responsibility." Recently, we formed the Creativity & Compassion student club and established the Center for Compassion, Creativity and Innovation, which will act as a research and resource hub for our local and national communities.

As one of two universities in the United States recognized as a compassionate university by the international Compassionate Action Network (the other is Spalding University in Kentucky), we are fulfilling our mission of providing a "true education" for our students. This goal has also become a source of intellectual, financial, and communal strength for both our institution and partners.

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PATH TO COMPASSION

We decided to apply to become a University of Compassion during an interdisciplinary conference examining the nexus between creativity and compassion. At the end of the conference (part of a six-month prelude of activities leading to the Dalai Lama's visit to our campus last October), two students asked me if we could lead an effort to designate us a UoC. The question was the start of not only our UoC journey but also several intellectual ventures intricately involving students.

One was a book entitled "Creativity & Compassion: How They Come Together" that included student works and articles by experts. …