The Business of Education: Whose Business is it?

CCME Convention in New Orleans

In the words of John F. Kennedy, my father would have been proud and my mother would have believed it. I want to take a minute to recognize you as teammates from Webster University. It's been a labor of love working side by side with you for the past five years.

The question was first raised by Dr. Wallace Davis, former chancellor at Wayland Baptist University. It was in a 1999 speech geared at preparing the west Texas-based institution for the challenges of the year 2000. In the speech, Dr. Davis asked a provocative question: Whose business is education? Dr. Davis saw the business of education as a noble calling, the collective responsibility of every stake holder in the greater academy. He saw the role of educators as upholding the integrity of the institution of learning; a responsibility that all of us must pursue with deliberate conviction and a sense of ownership. Chancellor Davis offered a clear vision, much like the topography of west Texas, a place known for the flat, windy, open-terrain, with an unobstructed view. My friends in west Texas often reminded the visitor that on a clear day, you can see forever. The folks in west Texas often describe the place as being so flat that it is possible for you to watch your dog run away for days. And so, it is with this clear, unobstructed vision that I bring you my message this afternoon with the question, whose business is the business of education?

A story is told, at the turn of the last century, the old standard oil company offered an enormous amount of money to a young professional in china to come work for them. You see, this young man's command of the Chinese language and his knowledge of the Chinese culture was considered very valuable as standard oil sought to develop and grow in China. But the young professional turned the job down. They went back to him with a higher salary offer that doubled their previous salary. And again, the young man said no. They asked him, “What do you want? We can't offer you much more than what we have on the table.” The young man's response stunned them. “the money doesn't have anything to do with it,” he said. “the job is simply too small.”

One of the challenges that today's institutions of higher learning continue to struggle with today is the tendency to define our mission too small. We see our role strictly within the restricted definition as providers of education in the traditional sense.

In doing so, we miss the opportunity to go beyond our designated role to expand our sphere of influence. The underlying question is what must we do? The answer lies in our willingness to make a real effort to embrace new ideas that would enhance our institutional mission, recognizing that.

What we do with what we know is the ultimate verification of our significance and so, expanding our sphere of influence begins with answering the question, whose business is education?

It is our business to serve a shifting population demographic by offering real world experience, greater access to information, expanded use of technology, higher level of skill development and more sophisticated global perspectives.

My friends, what we need now are pioneers and explorers, finders and entrepreneurs, mentors and innovators, leaders with an appetite for risk-taking and a quenching thirst for transformation. We deserve leaders who refuse to be boxed in by history. To find context and to give content to this issue, I would like to take a brief historical journey back to the first millennium.

The year 1000 was considered by historians as the twilight of time. Burning droughts and devastating floods threatened both life and property. Cataclysmic events in the form of violent storms, destructive earthquakes, and deadly volcanic eruptions brought increasing waves of terror and hysteria across the planet. And almost simultaneously, marauding hordes of fierce barbarians were launching havoc-wreaking raids across central and Western Europe. The apocalyptic dread of the year 1000 became the mother of a new and dynamic culture—a culture we call Western Civilization. But rather than marking the end of time, the year 1000 ushered the beginning of an age when a greater number of people re-defined themselves by embracing literacy and learning.

They submerged themselves in the rule of law and began this exciting adventure with the power and the promise of that dynamic yet untested idea we have all come to know as the free-enterprise system.

And so my friends we must confront the challenges and uncertainties of this new century and embrace the opportunity to re-define what tomorrow will look like.

But I gotta tell you, there are some people in our midst who still believe in the practice of doing the same things and hoping for better results. I'm speaking of leaders who have chosen contentmentover resolve, those who have found a comfortable place on the sidelines as permanent spectators, missing the opportunity to create a whole new environment where our students can learn what they need, when they needit and apply that knowledge for their own benefit. If you are looking for them you will find these leaders at institutions small and large. They are content with their current currency, satisfied with their accomplishments and their institution's successes. They opted to preach the virtue of tradition over new ideas and espouse the wisdom of status quo over change. They have chosen to overlook the power of creativity and underestimate the courage to embrace the power of transformation. What our time demands is leadership, willing to connect both inside and outside of the institution, who demonstrate a willingness to build sustainable relationships that will help nurture the value of their institution. Yet there are so many people are content riding the fence. They are afraid to stand up for what they believe. They have settled to survive by taking the temperature of the people that they lead and the environment in which they operate they find what direction the majority is going and then conveniently get in front of the line. Yes, they are leading by conveniently following. We are all afraid of something, but the one fear we must guard against is the fear of failure. We must not allow the sensation of fear to convince us that we're too weak to have courage, because fear is the opportunity for courage, not proof of cowardice.

What we need is the kind of leadership that does not demand blind loyalty but is determined to create it; it's the kind of leadership that recognizes the power of diverse points of view. I'm talking about the kind of leaders that are committed to make leaders of others, people who know how to create a shared vision.

I am sad to report that too many institutions of higher learning are over-managed and under led. The reality is that our institutions are stocked full of leaders. Leadership who can fundamentally change the way we view learning, people who are not afraid of the dark and suspicious of the light. I'm talking about pragmatists, realists, risk takers and transformationalists. What we need now are leaders who are willing to embrace experimentation and to take potential to reality. I'm talking about people who recognize the importance of empowerment and refuse to allow circumstances and the fear of the unknown to define their action.

This begs the question, so why are we all here in New Orleans? Why aren't we using our precious time to be with our colleagues at our respective institutions? Why are we going through all this trouble and expense of flying to this world-famous city ( New Orleans) from all over the world just to come together?

The reason we are here at the CCME Conference is because we recognize that it's an important opportunity, more critical than ever for us to reconnect with one another, to share best practices, to partner, to learn from each other to collaborate, to take advantage of our economies of skill, to remind each other why we do what we do and most importantly, how we can do it better.

Our goal is to challenge the ever-changing face of relevance by offering more than degrees to our students. Our collective effort should be to matriculate students who recognize the value of balancing the demands made by personal interests with the responsibility to a greater society.

Our sole mission as educators is not limited to contributing to a vibrant economy nor is it our sole purpose to help our students secure lucrative positions upon graduation. While this is a worthy mission, we must endeavor to make it our business to produce well-rounded graduates who carry within themselves the seeds of transformation and change. Our business is to prepare dynamic thinkers who are willing must challenge our students to stretch their minds to avoid the pitfalls of over-simplification and shallowness. It is our business to see to it that our students recognize that the world of business is as much in a revolution as it's in an evolution and that for real evolution to take hold we must reject the temptation to become mere transmitters of pre-digested information. We must engender in our students the enabling power of logical thinking and critical analysis. We must ensure that our students become even better problem solvers and critical thinkers.

I stand before you today, offering a metaphor of hope because i believe we can all become the authors of this new reality. I submit to you that the most important enterprise in the 21 st century is the business of education. Today America spent over $10 billion annually to support tuition reimbursement programs to enable their employees to pursue educational programs of their choice. These organizations are grappling with some issues. The notion that tuition reimbursement will always be there is being challenged due to a growing movement among many Organization's, particularly the government, who are determined to track the impact of their tuition investment on the productivity of their employees. Many public/private organizations feel increasing pressure to coordinate the impact of their tuition spending on employee productivity. The question being asked – does this degree or program solve the problem and address the issues that the organization is facing? Is this investment relevant to what we do and how can it make us better?

Addressing this issue now will serve as an insurance policy for our future. It is our business to show that the investment made by Corporate America and the government can help create high performance organizations to ensure that the knowledge that our students acquire from our institutions must be applicable to their work environment right away. The relevance of our institutions will be tested more than ever before by this new reality. The stakes are high, and as such we cannot afford to fail.

We must come to a realistic understanding that even sacred things should not become sacred cows. Yet, many of our institutions of higher learning still view themselves as degree-granting institutions, overlooking the profound opportunity that we have to become the premier skill developers dedicated to preparing leaders. It is our business to challenge the boundaries of traditional education by using technology in ways that ensure flexibility and quality. We must reestablish our position as the training ground and practice field for today's managers and tomorrow's leaders. We have an obligation to reward the confidence of our students and the organizations that support them. my good friend Skip Myers, the chancellor at Embry Riddle University said it best – institutions of higher learning must become the solutions provider of choice for workforce development in the 21 st century we can do it if we grasp the opportunity to grow and dominate a worldwide marketplace that we can eventually own. Are we bigger than our circumstances or are our circumstances bigger than us?

I see it as our business to foster an adaptive learning culture, by offering our students two important competencies: proximity and relevance. Proximity defines the ease of access to knowledge and the manner in which our students can assimilate information. Relevance, on the other hand ensures that the learning that takes place in our classroom or online on Monday evening is applicable to the work environment on Tuesday morning.

I believe that the most dangerous people in the world today are not just the armed and the dangerous. The real danger lies with well-schooled men and women who are armed with obsolete ideas and who are teaching today's generation of future leaders. The danger that they pose to the credibility of the academy is that they are in a position to pass on outdated knowledge to our students. We cannot afford to allow these knowledge experts to stand still; they must be encouraged to embrace the value of just-in-time information that is usable and appropriate to the ever-changing condition of the marketplace. It is our business to ensure that knowledge – the most valuable of commodities – is not allowed to perish.

And so let us recommit ourselves, to focus on developing programs benefiting students who are ready from day one with the best competencies available to embrace change, to be impactful, to lead. To do this, we must impress upon our faculty the importance of staying mission focused, the advantage of embracing reality based education and the results that come from being courageous unifiers, who embody strong tested values and live by strongly held principles.

Let it be said that ethics must not be a last-minute add-on to the degrees that we grant at our institutions, ethics must form the very core of the idea and the virtue of the professionalism that we teach.

It is our business to produce graduates who embody the ethical standards that our nation so desperately needs with ever-compelling urgency.

We must all make a concerted effort to invest our energy to fight the tendency of conformity by demonstrating the courage of integrity, the courage of self-examination and the courage that brings the kind of results that will transform our institution and by extension, transform our society. And if we dare to embrace these attributes, we will ensure that the mission we hold so true will not diminish but exponentially expand our sphere of influence. I gotta tell you it's going to take courage. I'm talking about the courage to listen to those that are willing to challenge the status quo in our institutions. It will take courage to take the long view that calls for bold initiatives and embracing new possibilities.

It's gonna take the courage to welcome diverse people and ideas to our institution – people that don't look like us, act like us, speak like us, but have one thin in common with us – they believe in excellence and workforce development.

It will demand even more courage to own the mistakes that will come with being courageous.

To ensure that these commitments for which i speak find expression at our respective organizations, I urge each and every one of you here today to embrace a sense of urgency; I call it constructive impatience. And as you return to your home base, I urge you to take back with you the virtue of immediacy of action and a commitment to make the necessary changes right now, right away.

As I bring my address to a close, I would like to share a story that speaks to the obligation we all have as educators. In a recent study the participating subjects were asked to count the number of times players with colorful shirts passed a basketball in a video. The study reported that an overwhelming number of the participating observers achieved an accurate count of the passes, but only 42% of those who took part in the study saw something even more important in the video. A person in a gorilla costume who walked right into the center of the action, beat his chest then exited the screen. The study reported that more than half of the participants were so engrossed at looking for the players in colorful shirts that they didn't see the gorilla. Just imagine an entire gorilla, right in front of their eyes! Yet they missed it.

They missed it because they allowed their intuition to be governed by past actions and their current reality. There is a huge lesson here. Often time, we create artificial blinders that limit what we see with our eyes and minds. And thus begs the question, what gorillas are moving through your field of vision at your institution right now that you refuse to see? What opportunities are staring you right in the eye that you refuse to recognize?

And so I ask your indulgence for I must ask the question, for the final time, “whose business is it to ensure that our future is strengthened and in good hands? It is all of our business,” and as such, we must embrace this truth. We must seek the truth; we must find the truth and make it our very own.

I say to you today for as long as we are committed to impacting the lives and livelihood of the rankand file and all who possess the courage to sing the anthem of truth, honor, service, sacrifice and the rule of law. I say to you with all the inner strength that I can muster, that the contradictions of today should serve as the threshold for a new and dynamic tomorrow. Whose business is it?The business of education is your business. It's my business.It's all of our business to make sure that our vision is squarely focused on shaping the future.

Oh yes, we must respond to the changing dynamics of the world we live by offering programs that are relevant, substantive and distinctive. We must find value in the consistency of pursuing excellence.

As you return to your home base, I hope that you take with you the courage to speak and hear the truth. Please don't leave behind in your hotel room the courage to set and pursue high goals and I beg you not to leave behind at the airport the courage to be a difference maker. In the end, the business of education is about – empowering people, encouraging people, developing people and giving people the opportunity to take charge of their own future. That's our business.

I thank you for listening.

Good afternoon.