In the summer of 2018, a group of MSU Deans came together to write an essay that was published in Inside Higher Education under the title: “ Can Michigan State Recover and Chart a New Path for Higher Education? “ In the essay, we wrote:
Academe is called to cultivate institutional habits of truth telling and truth hearing, critical self-reflection, and accountability. We must consciously and intentionally empower those habits on our campuses to meet that calling.
It is one thing to call for the change we need, quite another to create institutional habits capable of putting the needed change into practice.
In her essay, “Care ethics and ‘caring’ organizations,” Nel Noddings doubts the capacity of organizations to care for members of their communities in the way required by an ethics of care. Care ethics is relational, reciprocal, and attentive to individuals in ways large organizations like universities cannot be. She summarizes her point this way:
The brief answer to the question whether large organizations can care is that, in their policies and public statements, they can express their concern; they can care-about. To translate that form of caring into genuine caring-for, they must provide the conditions under which on-site workers can engage in caring-for.¹
Her position is based on a distinction between caring-about and caring-for. We can care-about many things and a multitude of people, but caring-for requires the capacity to respond to the needs of an individual in the complex context in which the person is encountered. This requires a level of attentiveness that is very difficult for organizations to achieve.
In her essay, “Care and Justice, Still,” Virginia Held outlines the contours of the attention an ethics of care requires when she writes:
From the perspective of care, in contrast [to the perspective of justice], one attends with sensitivity to particular others in actual historical circumstances, one seeks a satisfactory relation between oneself and these others, one cultivates trust, one responds to needs, aiming at and bringing about as best one can the well-being of the others along with that of oneself.
These passages from Noddings and Held suggest that organizations must create the…