Gracious Professionalism – 1.8.21
Letter from Dean Sive - January 8, 2021

Dear College of Science Faculty and Staff,

I hope you had a refreshing and peaceful break.

This has been a mostly difficulty week to return to work. COVID rates are up, and masking, distancing and hand-washing remain absolutely essential for every member of our College. The one sunray is the arrival on campus of 200 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, with recipients including our deserving testing staff.

But the events on Wednesday, in Washington DC, and elsewhere, and the lead up to these have been shocking. That the President of the United States would incite violence, based on lies and untruths, is horrifying. For me, the events highlight the importance of competent leadership, that transcends political leanings. An effective leader sets a good example for others, listens to advice and opinion, makes considered decisions, and inspires followers to a productive and forward-looking course.

The storming of the Capitol was extraordinary both in that the President encouraged this type of behavior, and in that it was possible to so easily breach security. It was extraordinary, but consistent with our history of white supremacy, that the police were so gentle with the mostly white protesters. We have seen the violence consistently inflicted on Black protesters by police. There is no doubt in my mind that had the storming been carried out by Black people, the outcomes would have been far worse.

For me, these events also highlight that being a good loser is a useful part of life. Losing is a tough and frequent life lesson, that we generally have to politely accept, and try to learn from each instance. Mr. Trump unfortunately, seems not have learned this lesson.

My former colleague Professor Woodie Flowers coined the term ‘Gracious Professionalism’ as a way of working. It’s an ethos that teaches one to be a good loser. He was a creative educator, a mechanical engineer who pioneered robotics competitions, and understood that being competitive and being kind do not have to be separate notions.  Prof. Flowers wrote “Gracious Professionalism is a way of doing things that encourages high-quality work, emphasizes the value of others, and respects individuals and the community. With Gracious Professionalism, fierce competition and mutual gain are not separate notions. Gracious professionals learn and compete like crazy, but treat one another with respect and kindness in the process.” I really like this notion, and it’s something for us to employ in our work, and for you to teach your students.

Here’s hoping that next week will be quieter, and that justice will be served to those who facilitated and carried out the violent acts in DC. The condemnation by top politicians of the events, and the dedication by members of Congress working through the night to ratify electoral college votes, assures us that our government is intact. And whatever your political affiliation, it is clear that the next President Mr. Biden is a competent leader, who will try hard to guide the country forward in productive ways.  In our College of Science, we will continue the work of fighting racism and systemic injustice, and of promoting a culture of respect within our community.

Best regards,

dean signature

Hazel Sive PhD
Dean, College of Science
Northeastern University