Monday, December 14, 2009


It's not from Ben Franklin but, nevertheless, I like the quote "Risk-taking is inherently failure prone. Otherwise, it would be called sure-thing taking." (It might have been said by a Chicago Bear quarterback!) For most of us, taking risks and making mistakes are part of normal life. At MVCC how we go about choosing our risks and dealing with our mistakes often defines our ability to meet our responsibility to our students, the community, and ourselves.

Recently, as an institution, we took a risk that worked out very well. We approached the United Way of the Valley and Greater Utica and asked if we could combine our internal UW campaign with the College Foundation's Annual & Access Fund campaigns. This kind of request hadn't been entertained before as it goes against the traditional "blackout period" of not intentionally raising money during a United Way campaign. Our belief was that, in these hard times, it would be best to lay "all our cards on the table," asking faculty and staff to consider the whole package of needs, allowing them to make their giving decisions with a lot of good information. The results of this risk exceeded every expectation. Together, we increased the number of faculty and staff participating from 76 to 116 (52% increase) and raised more than $14,000 (37% increase). The "risk" of being honest, open, and comprehensively transparent made a difference - and for that we are most appreciative to those faculty and staff who chose to contribute.

Sometimes risks don't pay off the way they are planned. In lieu of a gala dinner and silent auction as a major fundraiser this year, we partnered with the Stanley Theatre to bring nationally known comedian Brian Regan to town this past weekend. We reserved the date early and made the calculations - hoping to split excess revenue with the Stanley to benefit the MVCC Presidential Scholarship Fund. However well intentioned, we couldn't have predicted Mama Mia at the Stanley and an even more well-known comedian Jim Gaffigan playing the Turning Stone on the nights immediately preceding our event. We took the risk and, although we came close to break even, didn't meet expectations. On the plus side, however, we did bring a great show to the community, welcomed hundreds of students into the Stanley for perhaps the first time, provided the College with much publicity, and learned a great deal that should lead to future successes.

Observing the behavior of some here on campus, one might conclude that the College is an environment where taking risks should be minimized; where trying something new should be discouraged or, at least, an activity engaged in as a last resort; and where making mistakes should be avoided and criticized. That conclusion is wrong-headed and we need to work together to address that impression whenever it occurs.

If we are to develop MVCC's full potential - to facilitate our students reaching theirs - that mindset cannot prevail. Instead of finding fault, we need to model behaviors that communicate a willingness to accept responsibility, explore possibilities, discuss differences, and work together for the common good. The only way we individually can't make mistakes is if it's perpetually someone else's fault, which means the perpetual avoidance of taking responsibility. Sometimes things work out in our favor and sometimes they don't. Some plans work out while others result in mistakes. The best anyone can do is work hard; make the best decisions possible; take calculated risks; own our mistakes and learn from them; communicate effectively and frequently; and try to do better next time. To do any less would be to fail in our mission as a community college.

If you have any thoughts on this, please contact me at presblog@mvcc.edu.