Posted by The Editorial Board
Skidmore College, like any college or university, is a business. Successful businesses have a strong brand, an aspect of the organization that makes them unique among their competitors. Skidmore chose "Creative Thought Matters" (CTM) as the hallmark of its brand as a liberal arts college. The current incarnation of creative thought has strayed from its intention, to the detriment of the college community.
Skidmore's current Strategic Plan, effective from 2005 until 2015, helps inform how the College views CTM relative to the school's mission. The Plan highlights the "vibrant culture" that the arts bring to Skidmore's campus, concluding that they are a "key dimension of our heritage." It is a logical next step, the Plan maintains, to integrate this feature into the school's motto. The Strategic Plan puts a strong focus on CTM as a statement of innovative and unusual thinking, a concept through which students may gain "the independence of mind required to formulate a new approach to a particular problem or to rethink an entire domain of knowledge." But, perhaps most relevant to this conversation, the College asserts that "merely to value ideas, however, is not enough;" creative thought is truly of use when it is applied in practice. Both the school's Mission Statement and the Strategic Plan make mention of "Skidmore's dual legacy of mind and hand, episteme and praxis" alongside "the college's founding principle of linking theoretical with applied learning." The school's literature establishes and emphasizes that action is fundamental to CTM.
Whether this "dual legacy" of thought and action is played out on this campus on a day-to-day basis is debatable. At its most devalued, the motto is abused by students as an ongoing, campus-wide joke, the unfortunate subject of hashtags and a euphemism for YOLO . But at its most ineffective, CTM is an excuse for apathy, encouraging lofty thoughts without insisting on action.
Perhaps Creative Thought Matters is too safe a concept for students. Other mottos push students to strive for excellence with their focus on achieving distinction in all they do. Amherst College goes by "Let them give light to the world," Hampshire College by "To Know Is Not Enough," New York University by "To Persevere And To Excel." CTM suggests a framework for thought, but those three words put no explicit emphasis on action. In its current interpretation, CTM allows us to slouch down and lean back, to stray away from collective action and energy and remain in our own heads. It is too easy for students to project their own standards onto the idea of CTM (think of the student who declares "CTM!" upon finishing their dorm room photo collage). The motto poses no challenge to those who ascribe to it, offering only a ready-made catchphrase. CTM applies to everyday occurrences as well as a professor's research into fighting cancer with sound: it casts too wide a net, allows too broad a definition of purpose. Without a motto to define the spirit of our school, our education and ourselves, we lose sight of the purpose of our place here and shortchange our school.
Creativity is about imagination and courage, but it becomes truly meaningful when applied in a productive way. As the College intended it, Creative Thought Matters is a motto that inspires thought and action, theory and practice. Skidmore has talented students who bring a rich variety of talents and interests to our campus. It is time to start living CTM as it was intended, as both an inspiration for thought and a call to action.