Friday Focus: Tense matters, too

December 18, 2020

Tori Tragis

Chancellor Dan White. UAF photo by JR Ancheta.
Chancellor Dan White. UAF photo by JR Ancheta.

— by Dan White, chancellor

One night last week we had friends over for a single-family, outdoor bonfire. Seeing people (not on Zoom) talking, laughing, commiserating, healing and reminiscing — even socially distanced — is cathartic in this pandemic. The fire ring at our house is adjacent to an outbuilding where I have some modest work space. Half the space has a dirt floor and is cluttered with “outside stuff” like rakes and gas cans. There is a small enclosed space with a wood slab “floor” atop the dirt and a wood stove to take the edge off the cold just long enough to work on small projects. 

When one of our friends asked to see the somewhat (OK, more than somewhat) messy space, I instinctively said, “OK, but don’t judge me.” Her immediate response was, “I already judge you.” 

I had to think about that for a minute. I had to smile at the witty response. Clever, and true. And I guess it is going OK because our families have been close friends for a long time.

It got me thinking about how we as faculty, staff and administration think about our roles, engagements and responsibilities in our work at the university. We at UAF are committed to creating a place where people are not judged, where each person can be who they are, free from bias, racism and other “isms” that box us in. UAF is a safe space. 

At the same time, “I already judge you” is part of our lives. Supervisors judge job performance, faculty judge student performance, deans and directors judge faculty performance, and the entire process of promotion and tenure is based on the premise of judgment by peers. We just finished finals week, the ultimate week of judging. “I already judge you” is part of our social and societal construct. 

While religious doctrines and social compacts warn against judging, “I already judge you” is honest, accurate and universal. And while those responsible for judging judge, they too are judged by their own judgees and judgers. And if you are an English major reading my made-up words, consider that I am an engineer in your final judgment.

So how do we be a place of belonging with all this judging going on — because we are a place of belonging. I reconcile the space between the two by the letter d. “I already judge you” versus “I already judged you.”

“I have already judged you” says that it doesn’t really matter what you do because I judged you already. To be a place of belonging, we have to see people for who they are and who they want to be. Institutional belonging seems like it can only exist if the “I already judged you” does not. 

As we seek to be a place of belonging, let us all seek where in our organization the “I already judged you” may lurk. It just doesn’t belong here. You, however, do. 

I hope you have a restful holiday. Thank you for all you each do to make this such a great University.

Thank you for choosing UAF.

Friday Focus is a column written by a different member of UAF’s leadership team every week. On occasion, a guest writer is invited to contribute a column.