Preparing students to meet today’s realities and tomorrow’s challenges | Sunday Observer

Preparing students to meet today’s realities and tomorrow’s challenges

9 January, 2022

Very Rev. Dr. Sylvester Ranasinghe was appointed as Rector of the Aquinas College of Higher Studies, Colombo. In his inaugural address, on assuming office recently, he outlined his vision for the college and emphasised the need for servant leadership.

The following are excerpts from his inaugural address

I am truly honoured to stand before you as the 9th Rector of Aquinas College. I take this opportunity to give credit to the former Rectors for their leadership and the university staff for their cooperation and contribution. I especially offer my bouquet of thanks to Very Rev. Dr. Susith Silva for his dedicated service to the college.

With its history of 67 years, the college is setting full sail ahead and in planning the development of the college, we should draw experience from the past, keeping in mind what our predecessors have offered us and treasuring the achievements we have. We need to constantly take steps forward and strive for perfection and innovation.

Communication, a must

I will listen to the views of different parties of the college, build communication pathways for staff, and foster mutual trust and personal transparency and accountability. We will together formulate strategies to pursue excellence, refine our education and make the college impactful locally and internationally.

I want to also use this occasion to share my initial ideas on four aspects of college development that my experimental and naturalistic studies at Fordham University and experiences at Catholic colleges have produced.

Providing quality education

The fundamental pursuit of a world-class college is to provide quality education to all students. We will optimise our whole personal education system consisting of Catholic education, general education, discipline-specific education, research and internship and peer and community education. Let us make this college not only a place of information and graduation but also of formation.

The greatness of a world-class college lies in the strong scholarship of its faculty. Having a team of good teachers is a prerequisite for having good students. The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers. We will build a dynamic team of professional teaching staff with academic integrity and international standing.

A world-class college constantly explores the unknown and be innovative, which are keys to making it influential and prestigious. We will focus on our priorities and enhance research quality. The strength of a world-class college is also testified by the service it provides to the community. We need to promote greater responsibility towards society and play a more significant role in the community’s socio-economic development. Let us prepare students to face todays realities and tomorrows challenges.

 Creating change

I believe, the world needs authentic servant leaders and the Catholic Church needs servant leaders with the heart of Jesus because of widespread self-interested and scandalised leaders. A servant leader’s unconditional emphasis is on serving and having concern for the well-being of everyone and is destined to bolster success by creating a change in the lives of his or her followers.

Prof. Sen Sendjaya, a leading scholar in servant leadership theory said: “Servant leadership is a holistic approach to leadership that engages both leaders and followers. It contains empirically and conceptually six distinct dimensions: Voluntary subordination, authentic self, covenantal relationship, responsible morality, transcendental spirituality, and transforming influence such that they are both transformed into what they are capable of becoming”.

This is an elaboration of the definition of Greenleaf (1977), the father of the modern servant leadership movement, who explained and introduced the theory of servant leadership: “The servant leader is a servant first …It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.

Exemplary leaders

Servant leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, St. Mother Theresa, and Pope Francis are well-known modern examples of leaders who have exemplified this philosophy while St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of virtues of magnanimity and humility. Quality leadership requires the virtues that cause us to aspire to great things and place ourselves humbly before God.

A new starting point! A new chapter! A new journey! A new mission! This gives me a critical sense of responsibility. As prescribed in the mission statement of Aquinas College, we should, “Provide the Necessary Manpower Skills and Enlightened Leadership so as to bring about a Better World.

Let us together transform Aquinas College into an institution of world-class excellence that the Catholic Church feels proud of.