Three Cups of Coffee

February
2008
Beth Smith, Executive Committee member

One of the many tools that a senate president needs is a gift card to the local coffee house. It's not the drinking of coffee that makes this tool important, it's the act of getting a cup of coffee and sharing it with a colleague that makes it valuable. Senate presidents need organizational skills plus the ability to both take initiative and follow through, but it is also critically important that faculty leaders are able to communicate and negotiate-hence the coffee house becomes a valuable asset. For nothing sparks a conversation quite like meeting for a cup of coffee, or simply the offer to do so.

Senate presidents meet with other faculty leaders, college leaders, district leaders in multi-college districts, board members, and community leaders. And in all those meetings, sharing a collegial conversation can be as important as any final results. Gaining trust, sharing perspectives, and listening can all occur over a cup of joe, typically off campus where there is a level playing field. If the meeting occurs at the coffee house near campus, then it's also possible that students and colleagues can react to the positive image of leaders working together to solve problems where only the cups emit steam.

In Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin's book, Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace.One School at a Time, another champion of education is attempting to bring about change in places filled with mountains of obstacles, literally and figuratively. Mortenson observed early on that learning and adapting to the culture of the Middle East peoples is the first step in solving problems.

"Here (in Pakistan and Afghanistan), we drink three cups of tea to do business; the first you are a stranger, the second you become a friend, and the third, you join our family," Haji Ali, the Chief of the Korphe Village, tells Mortenson.

Though a primitive village, the people of Korphe taught Mortenson that success is possible-even in the face of the Taliban and Mother Nature-when relationships are developed first. The lesson is valuable to senate presidents and faculty leaders too. Building relationships takes time and a commitment to learn about the priorities, strengths, and interests of those working toward similar goals. Mortenson, like senate leaders, wants to bring education to those who crave it, and by focusing on common goals, he has brought future generations hope.

The account of Mortenson and his schools half-way around the globe parallels the work of local senate presidents who search for funds, face naysayers, seek support, and find success against impossible odds. His work gives hope to anyone in search of change.

Whether it is three cups of tea or three cups of coffee, the goal is to begin conversations that become the foundation for solving problems in the future. Whether in a primitive culture or modern society, the basis for building relationships continues to be sharing food or drink. And whether the guest is a person of like mind or someone who appears to be thwarting progress at every step, an invitation to "get a cup of coffee" sends just the right message-that communication and finding common ground are priorities.

The articles published in the Rostrum do not necessarily represent the adopted positions of the academic senate. For adopted positions and recommendations, please browse this website.