The Central Difference

Mark Putnam, Central College PresidentWe recently hosted visitors on our campus who were evaluating the college for a potential foundation grant. It’s always a unique privilege to see guests in our midst who have no prior experience with the college. Watching them as they observe the campus community and listening to their comments along the way provides fresh insights about how the college is perceived.

In this case, our guests spent a day with us, hearing from various groups about our dreams and ambitions. At the end of the day, we had a chance to debrief with them. In offering some observations about what they admired during the visit, one of our guests said, “ . . . and that’s what makes Central so special.”

I must admit to smiling rather broadly when I heard this. Our guests discovered what we all know to be true in an experience that lasted less than 24 hours. Central is special because of the people who share in this community. It was a proud moment for a president and one that is repeated often as I have occasion to interact with visitors to the campus.

The refrain from those who experience the Central Difference for the first time is typically a reflection of our intense relational quality. The level of care they receive, the attention to detail, the responsiveness to an interest or concern is a natural way of being for our campus. Yet, this is often reflected back to us as an area of distinction. We are by no means perfect. And sometimes we get things wrong. But I can say with confidence that we all work really hard to promptly make things right.

One of our guests that day picked up on this pattern quite quickly. As a discerning visitor, she would not be impressed by bells and whistles. Her breadth of experience on campuses informed her conclusion that Central offered something different, something unique.

Ours is a nurturing community. I often ask our students how much they knew about the student culture at Central when they were prospective students in high school. They routinely tell me that through peer-to-peer communication, including social media, they were able to discern Central’s culture as being a place where they can feel socially safe.

Let’s be honest. Central College is a place where we have a lot of fun and enjoyment alongside the disciplined academic work that has made this a first-rate education for generations. But our culture is one that seeks to promote individual and collective well-being for all members of the campus community. This is a safe place to be yourself and know that you will be accepted.

We remind ourselves of our best qualities when we authentically live out our values as an academic community. It makes a big difference.

Mark: My Words
Read more of President Putnam’s writing at

To encourage serious, intellectual discourse on Civitas, please include your first and last name when commenting. Anonymous comments will be removed.