by Dawn M. Brandon
On a frosty December night, college students and professors gathered to light candles and sing songs. It wasn't a protest. It wasn't a rock concert. The glow of solidarity that night arose from shared grief over the loss of a fellow student. It was an offer of sympathy and support to that person's family and to each other. Sentiments that can only be felt among family and close friends - because at Drury, that's exactly what students and faculty feel they are.
Those sentiments, in light of all we see on the evening news of impropriety and dishonesty, are worth noting. In a society marked increasingly by scandal and well-deserved distrust, Drury is a shining example of an institution and individuals building an atmosphere of trust. Careful integration of scholarly integrity and campus community are the keys to the university's success.
Students who come to Drury (and the parents who send them) do so because they trust the university to prepare them for life and for productive and fulfilling careers. Drury takes that trust seriously, as is evident in its faculty and programs.
To maintain top-notch faculty performance, Drury professors are evaluated each semester using a nationwide system. They score well above the national average, due in part to a constant striving for excellence.
Each year, faculty members present a plan for growth in their teaching, scholarship, administrative activities, relationships with students and community service. At the end of each year, professors are evaluated based on their growth plan success.
"Much of the trust which exists at Drury occurs because people have committed their lives to education in a way that shows they have a vocation ... a sense of call," says Peter Browning, Ph.D., professor and chaplain at Drury.
Browning believes that professors must perform academically in order to elicit trust from students and parents. "I have to continue to be current with the literature in my subject, to constantly be a learner myself," he says. "If I'm going to ask my students to write papers, then I must constantly be writing papers as a scholar ... When students feel that the professor is well prepared in her or his field, that creates a high level of trust."
Students at Drury are also expected to live up to the trust placed in them to perform. As Professor Emeritus Ruth Bamberger, Ph.D., explained, "faculty look at the syllabus as a kind of contract that they and the students make." She said the documents are lengthy and detailed about expectations, including the consequences of plagiarism, a growing problem in colleges across the nation since information, and even entire papers, are readily available via the Internet.
But students aren't expected to achieve academic excellence in isolation. The faculty at Drury actively participate in students' academic lives. Bamberger said one student visited her office before each test and spent about 45 minutes talking with her to be sure he was preparing adequately.
Browning reiterates the importance of individual attention. He believes it's important for professors to know their students well enough "that you know what their challenges are, and when they don't do well in your class, that you make a point of taking them aside, having them come into your office, having them submit papers early, take home tests early, so that they can get information and do better."
Drury places a heavy emphasis on community, which faculty and staff agree creates an atmosphere of trust. According to Browning, "the Drury family" is not just rhetoric: "There really is a Drury family - people who have been working here in many cases for decades and students who know that if they're in a crunch, they really can get special help."
Faculty members are encouraged to participate in students' lives in and out of the classroom. In fact, for students' entire freshman year at Drury, they're assigned a faculty mentor (15 to 20 students per professor). The goal of this program is to help students get to know each other and to create a bond between students and faculty. The program includes a budget for each professor to use for activities with students, such as attending concerts, theater events, or picnics. Bamberger said the program is a "very effective anchor."
Browning agrees that Drury is a "nurturing community." He explains, "In all the different departments, little communities develop and the students really are encouraged and nurtured. The faculty go out of their way to do things to support the students ... This is not an empty or sterile environment in which people come in to take classes, pass tests, and get diplomas. There's a lot more going on here."