Friday, January 15, 2021

Our Journey Toward a More Perfect Union

 

2021 has already become one of the most politically complex years in U.S. history, and we are only beginning week three.

 

Although we have witnessed unprecedented stresses to modern democracy, our republic continues to weather the stormy seas of these trying times. Last week’s assault on the Capitol was a sobering reminder of how precious democracy is. The success of that democracy is held in mutual trust by we the people. That trust will flourish if, as a people, we acknowledge how our actions impact others and collectively embrace the best ideals of what our nation can be. 

We are on an incomplete journey to create a more perfect union.

 

At a discussion I attended earlier this week led by national and state political experts, one of them said, “The problem with politics at this moment is that on both sides of the aisle, the one thing that is far more important than your cause winning is the other guy’s cause losing.” 

 

There will always be differences of perspective, and there are fundamental truths of justice that must be the backbone of democracy, but effective governing is the product of perpetual compromise built on facts.

 

There remains cause for optimism: 

  • Voter turnout in the November election included one of the highest percentages of eligible voters participating, and the highest percentage of U.S. citizens ever to vote in a national election.
  • In recent months, bipartisan efforts created COVID-relief funding of unprecedented scale for workers, families, and small businesses.

Still, we must learn all we can from recent events — as object lessons to strengthen our nation and our collective relationships to it.

 

Let us strive together to become the nation of Walt Whitman’s dreams:

 

America

 

Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,

All, all alike endear’d, grown, ungrown, young or old,

Strong, ample, fair enduring, capable, rich,

Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,

A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,

Chair’d in the adamant of Time.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Bulwark of Democracy

Today I sent this message to our campus community:

Dear Friends:

 

It is with a heavy heart that I join you in responding to the tragic events we have seen unfold as terrorists deluding themselves to be patriots stormed the U.S. Capitol.

 

Our nation has been far from perfect, but its promise has been built on the rule of law and a steady progression toward an evermore inclusive democracy. Our leaders and every immigrant who becomes a citizen pledge an oath to defend the constitution. Those of us who are citizens by birth should feel the same creedal commitment to those ideals.

 

Yesterday, we saw those ideals flouted by thousands of rioters who abnegated their duties as citizens of a democratic republic to uphold its constitution and to honor the will of the electorate.

 

What is especially troubling is that many of these rioters have taken malignant actions driven not merely by corrupt dogma, but a commitment to a patently false set of “facts.” As the late Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts,” [1] and yet we find ourselves at a crossroads where facts and reason are being brought into question everyday, and more and more of our neighbors are incapable of discerning the truth.

 

This is a moment when we need to recognize that many of the issues in front of us are not right and left, but right and wrong, and we must commit to do what is right.

 

The founding fathers, despite their many human frailties, designed a model of government that could evolve toward perpetual improvement, and they established liberal arts colleges to prepare citizen leaders who could cultivate that positive evolution. They also hoped those alumni would continue to develop the facilities to discern right from wrong within the thickening rhetorical fog of each successive generation.

 

That is what we strive for as a university community. Please join me in committing to the defense of the constitution in support of all citizens and to applying the gifts bestowed upon us as members of a scholarly community to help restore a well-informed populace in support of the ideals of a true democratic society.

 

Yours ever,

 

Jonathan Green

President

 

[1] In a column in the Washington Post, 18 January 1983.

 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Democracy Dies in Darkness

 

Democracy Dies in Darkness

 

With universal information platforms, we all become exposed (literally) to the  dangers of misinformation. A recent article in Health News Daily addressed some public-health threats associated with the vulnerability of contemporary media:

 

People who believed conspiracy theories in March were less likely to be wearing face masks in July, versus non-believers. And their intentions to refuse any future COVID vaccine intensified…distrust is extending beyond the usual "hardcore" conspiracy theory crowd, according to [Dan] Romer, who is research director of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center in Philadelphia…But to sway Americans, health authorities need their trust. And that could be a tall order, Romer said -- considering the confusing "mixed messages" that have come from government and the abundant misinformation spread via social media and certain media outlets.[1]

 

As the “information age” blossomed in the 1990s, there was a great excitement about the impending democratization of data. For centuries museums, universities, and a host of plutocratic organizations owned the storehouses of knowledge.

 

With the explosion of digitization projects, scholars and students could access an unprecedented trove of primary materials and data sets from around the globe at any time of the day from the comfort of their own homes or a terminal in their local public libraries.

 

Perhaps the most exciting elements of these new information resources was that in many cases anyone could use them. Access to these intellectual luxuries was no longer the sole domain of members of elite institutions. Even the unaffiliated soon had full membership in the treasury of learning, breaking what John Adams referred to as the “temper of mankind” that had kept knowledge exclusively in the hands of the powerful.[2]

 

Now that imbalance has been inverted — we all have too much.

 

It didn’t take long for educators to recognize a new, desperate need for training in “information literacy.” When I was a student researching some arcane subject, I might have been lucky to find five good sources over the course of weeks. Now a Google search may yield a couple of million sources in less than a second, but there still may be only five good ones. Knowing how to find the wheat among all that chaff requires real skill.

 

Forty years ago, information literacy meant being able to track it down, once you found a source, the probability of it being useful was very high compared to today’s odds, because the choices had been curated: librarians, archivists, publishers, and editors each had a chance to vet what was available. The process was far from infallible, and probably more important material was lost to the sifting process than kept, but there was some justification for our confidence that what we found had applicable meaning.

 

Some of that same vetting continues out of a hive approach. I am often surprised by the detail and sophistication of many Wikipedia pages, and the scholar version is truly valuable, as are tens of thousands of new-media sources. The challenge today is that these sources cohabitate the internet with countless unlegitimated neighbors, and there is little to differentiate them.

 

The challenges this places on scholarship are miniscule in comparison to sifting through the comparisons of valid and manipulated news, opinion, and social media.

 

On college campuses it is remarkable how many of our challenges are tied to social media. Rumors become propagated as fact, individuals post insensitive or hateful messages, and viral campaigns erupt without rhyme or reason. That scourge is all the greater in the broader community.

 

Much of our contemporary rancor and divisiveness has been bred and cultivated through misinformation. Some of that decline has been the result of a steady onslaught upon the validity of legitimate news sources by those who wish to insert alternate narratives.

 

The best practices of journalism have depended upon corroborating sources, fact checking, and rigorous editorial oversight. As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote in the Washington Post, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”[3] The Post’s motto is “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” A free and open democracy depends upon a free, open, and independent press.

 

Effective citizenship requires being an informed member of society. Voting is a remarkable privilege that deserves to be exercised responsibly. Being a member of a free state is a privilege that also deserves responsible participation.

 

Our local and national news sources are struggling mightily to shape good public behavior, yet, every day, we see our neighbors flouting the recommendation of the CDC and the federal and state governments to abate the pandemic. When confronted, many of these scofflaws respond with conspiracies they have read on social media or “alternate news sites” that thrive on delegitimizing the bona fide press.

 

The democratization of information has created great opportunities, but it has also helped to obscure the truth, and in that darkness, our democracy is literally dying — 313,000 and counting.

 

As we prepare to emerge from this dark year, I hope that we begin to find a way to regain our shared possession of facts and govern ourselves in light of them.



[1]Conspiracy Theories are Helping Fuel Rejection of Masks and Vaccines,” Health Daily News, 25 September 2020.

[2] John Adams: A Dissertation on Canon and Feudal Law, 1765.

[3] In a column in the Washington Post, 18 January 1983.

 

Friday, December 4, 2020

Please Try to Be Like Our Students

 

Please Try to Be Like Our Students

What America and the World Can Learn from Small Residential Colleges

 

The Chronicle of Higher Education published, “The 5 Biggest Lessons We’ve Learned About How Coronavirus Spreads on Campus” on 3 December. The five lessons outlined in the article are:

 

·      With precautions in place, classrooms and other formal on-campus spaces aren’t important vectors of viral spread.

·      Off-campus social gatherings are the top drivers of coronavirus at colleges.

·      Residences have been the primary on-campus place where the virus has spread.

·      Entry and surveillance testing are critical.

·      College-student outbreaks can lead to infection and deaths among vulnerable people.

 

Smaller institutions with four-year residency and robust testing and prevention protocols have fared surprisingly well. In recent conversations with presidents from peer institutions, we all acknowledged that the spread of the virus in our surrounding communities has been much worse than any outbreaks on our respective campuses.

 

There are a number of reasons for this:

 

·      We have used scientifically-based approaches to mitigation and prevention.

·      Those of us that have been able to de-densify our residence halls have been able to reduce the spread of cases when there has been an outbreak on campus.

·      Systematic testing has been invaluable for early detection and for identifying and isolating asymptomatic positive cases.

·      We have built a cultural of compliance that includes consequences for those who do not adhere to community expectations.

 

Among the scores of presidents with whom I have spoken, none reported the transmission of COVID-19 in a classroom or other formal campus space. On each of our campuses, we have set up protocols for reduced occupancy, adequate distancing, mandatory mask wearing, and increased sanitation and airflow.

 

At Susquehanna, all spaces are labeled for occupancy, doors and hallways are labeled to create one-way navigation through buildings, UV air scrubbers and hepa filters have been distributed in buildings, and we have ongoing individual and wastewater testing. We have also asked all members of our campus community to register their travel. There is a shared sense of responsibility that has prompted many of our students to exceed our guidelines.

 

Most of the cases we have had on campus can be traced to a handful of students who visited another campus for a social gathering.

 

The object lessons to be taken from our experience are:

 

·      We are dependent upon each other to stay safe.

·      Adhering to scientific guidelines works.

·      Maintaining best practices will protect us all.

·      Curtailing travel and remaining masked in the presence of all those who are not your roommates/housemates are of paramount importance.

·      A small number of non-compliant individuals can have a significant negative impact.

 

Throughout the fall semester, when students were alone off-campus, they frequently remained masked even when they were nowhere near others. I have had many people from the surrounding community praise our students for being good role models for the borough.

 

I hope they can be role models for all of us. As a nation, if we can muster the same commitment and resolve to keep each other safe that we have witnessed on our campus, the curve will flatten again as we wait for widespread inoculation. It is on all of us to keep each other safe.

 

 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The New Threats to Higher Education


At the end of 2019, I wrote a series of expositions on the top eight threats to higher education:

 

1.      Market Disturbance

2.     National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) Changes

3.     Price Sensitivity

4.     International Student Decreases

5.     2026 “Demographic Cliff”

6.    Poor Public Understanding of What We Do

7.     Geographic Population Redistribution

8.    Limited Reputation

 

At the time, COVID-19 was an unknown factor. We have since seen virtually every sector upended by the pandemic. The aforementioned list was not rank ordered, but over the past 8 months some of these threats have become significantly reprioritized, and new challenges have emerged.

 

The “Market Disturbance” to which I then referred was an unexpected decline in the percentage of new high-school graduates who enrolled in college in Fall 2019. That reduced population was also distributed across institutions less consistent with predictive modeling than in recent years.

 

The “Market Disturbance” created by the pandemic hasn’t just become the elephant in the room; for many institutions, it has become the room.

 

In the spring, entire curricula were placed into remote instruction almost overnight. The transition was bumpy, but surprisingly effective. I was so proud of our faculty and staff for making a valiant instructional 180, and for the most part, our students recognized how extraordinary the results were under the circumstances.

 

As we moved to hybrid instruction this fall, following a summer filled with professional development and planning, some students called it a “100% improvement.” Those who are taking classes remotely have shared that they still deeply miss the innate benefits of face-to-face instruction and learning in community.

 

As so many of the nation’s K-12 students have moved to remote or intermittently remote instruction, families have become keenly aware of the educational gaps their children are experiencing, which is helping prospective students to appreciate the value of what we do as a residential learning community. It is also a good lesson that when we do have classes face-to-face, we should emphasize the things that we can only do in that environment, or that are greatly enhanced when we are together.

 

Last fall, NACAC (The National Association for College Admission Counseling) suspended their Code of Ethics and Professional Practices (CEPP) in response to a challenge from the Department of Justice that these practices were the equivalent of collusion. The CEPP had been an agreement of NACAC members not to recruit students who had deposited elsewhere.

 

The disruption COVID had on last year’s recruitment cycle makes it difficult to make clear comparisons with previous years, but it appears that in spite of new recruiting freedoms, most students remained committed to their first-choice schools.

 

The current recession and the battered employment market have once again elevated price sensitivity. Typically, during an unemployment spike, we see a parallel increase in enrollments at 2-year colleges, and in previous recessions there have been migrations from 4-year to 2-year institutions. This year, 2-year institutions experienced the largest drops in enrollment. The difference may be because current unemployment is the result of business cessation due to the pandemic rather than an abruptly emerging skills gap.

 

The social unrest that was elevated this summer following the murder of George Floyd drew national attention to the systemic structural barriers students and employees of color encounter in nearly every sector across the nation. Many higher education institutions are seizing this moment to push this Sisyphean rock over the mountaintop. It is the right human and moral action, and as the “Demographic Cliff” approaches, it is also prudent to position our institutions to be places where the “new majority” will thrive.

 

The element that was not on last fall’s list is financial fragility. Within the first few months of the pandemic, we began seeing colleges and universities taking dramatic actions including extraordinary endowment draws, reductions or cessations of retirement contributions, institution-wide furloughs, massive budget cuts, program elimination, and large-scale faculty and staff reductions. Many have not been provisional belt-tightening measures, but dire bids for survival.

 

We have been talking about the failing business model of higher education for a decade as net revenue per student has failed to keep pace with the cost of delivering a high-quality educational experience for our students. The new financial stressors of the pandemic have laid bare how precariously many institutions have been operating.

 

This has emerged as the greatest threat to higher education.

 

The pandemic has revealed that many colleges and universities have been operating on the margins. It has also shone a light on other institutions like Susquehanna, whose fiscal discipline have prepared them for moments of stress and will allow them to adapt to new prevailing head winds.

 

The winners will be those universities that effectively meet the needs of the current generation of students, that enroll more non-traditional students, and become places where the new majority will flourish. Being student-centered, nimble, and investing in future readiness fulfill our mission and will define the future business model for higher education.  

 


Sunday, October 18, 2020

Can Leadership Be Taught?

 


I was recently asked to review a draft curriculum for a leadership certificate program. I had been invited to provide feedback on the educational soundness of the proposal and to help the authors make any adjustments an accreditor would be likely to demand. I was happy to help, but the exercise prompted the question, “Can leadership be taught?”

 

As a college professor, I conducted choirs and orchestras. I completed a graduate program in conducting, and I have taught conducting off and on for decades, so one might expect the answer would be a resounding yes, but it’s not that simple.

 

We can teach technique (how to do the work), analysis (how does the project or organization function), strategy (how can we achieve our goals), and tradition (what is the context and why). These apply on the podium, in a boardroom, in government, in the military, or in response to a crisis.

 

Technique, analysis, strategy, and tradition are critical, learnable skills to managerial leadership, but they do not provide vision or the charisma to inspire.

 

Many years ago, I attended a number of concerts led by a technically brilliant conductor. Each performance was as close to perfect as I could imagine and incredibly boring. It was like the best exhibit in a wax museum. Every detail was perfect, and yet it was cold and soulless—artifice without compassion.

 

In an interview filmed decades ago, Werner Thärichen, long-serving timpanist of the Berlin Philharmonic, told about a rehearsal led by a young guest conductor. The conductor stopped in the middle of the rehearsal and asked, “What just happened, why did you suddenly sound so much better?”

 

The principal violinist pointed to the back of the auditorium. The orchestra’s music director, Wilhelm Furtwängler, had entered the hall. Thärichen’s explanation was that the Furtwängler carried the sound within himself. A more plausible explanation is that the orchestra wouldn’t let their maestro hear them at anything but their best. That is no less magical than carrying the sound within. It is the power to inspire.

 

What is it about great leaders that inspires the people they serve to do their best, to exceed what they believe they can do? It is a gift, a talent, but it can be observed and cultivated. Truly great leaders possess humility, they have a vision, and they are deeply compassionate. Their ability to inspire others is by sharing a vision in which those who follow them can see themselves and can recognize that they are a valued part of the enterprise.

 

This was the gift of Elizabeth I, Washington, Lincoln, Garibaldi, FDR, Churchill, and Mother Theresa. Each inspired throngs of followers to overcome daunting challenges by articulating a vision in which the group was stronger than its parts and recognizing in that vision that each member mattered. This is inclusive leadership

 

Throughout human history, exclusionary leadership has always eventually led to failure. Leading to get what you want is selfish. Leading to provide others with what they need is inclusive. That’s a vision that can be learned, and that will inspire. It is what we should expect of our leaders, and it is what we should expect of ourselves when given the opportunity to serve others in a leadership role.

 

 

Friday, October 2, 2020

Do Something: Condemn White Supremacism

 

On Wednesday, Susquehanna University celebrated Green Dot Day. The violence prevention program is core to our bystander intervention efforts. It empowers bystanders to be reactive and, ideally, proactive advocates when they witness bullying, sexual assault, or other forms of abuse. It is on all of us to build a community that is free of violence and built on respect. That approach is a model for how each of us can be better friends, better neighbors, and better citizens.

 

When we see something, we must say something.

 

When we see something, we must do something…to make things better. 

 

This summer, we made a campus-wide commitment to embark on 37 actionable recommendations for our university community to become more inclusive. We have recognized it is not enough to not be racist; we must learn to be anti-racist. Like the Good Samaritan, we have a moral obligation to proactively do the right thing.

 

We must do something. 

 

In “saying something” of our commitment, we placed a “Black Lives Matter: Racism Ends Here” banner on the exterior of our campus center and distributed smaller replica decals to our community members. We received many requests, mostly from off campus, to remove the banner and many, many more messages supporting it. Our Black neighbors have experienced a jeremiad of indignities over generations, and sadly they continue. We need to be even more proactive advocates.

 

We must do something. 

 

The U.S. Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education announced that it will investigate Princeton University, because its president, Christopher Eisgruber, courageously acknowledged that  racism has been embedded throughout his university’s history. I joined 80+ presidents of colleges, universities, and learned societies as a signatory on a letter condemning an unconscionable investigation into an institution striving to right the wrongs of its past.

 

We must do something. 

 

Our nation’s history and the histories of its institutions — schools, museums, religious organizations, and governments — have been shaped profoundly by systemic inequality, tragic prejudice, and hoarded privilege. The social turbulence in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Daniel Prude, and so many other Black lives has prompted a national awakening.

 

A recent Pew Research Center poll indicates that a majority of Americans (55%) continue to support Black Lives Matter demonstrations. A Gallup poll has shown that the majority of Americans (58%) support policing reforms. The Monmouth University Polling Institute stated that a majority of Americans (76%) say that racial discrimination is a “big problem.”  

 

We see a wave of national support to bring an end to systemic racism. A greater and greater majority of Americans are expressing a desire for the full promise of the Declaration of Independence to become the lived experience for all of us. To do this, it is not enough not to be racist, it requires us to be anti-racist. The status quo can only be changed proactively.

 

We must do something. 

 

When confronted with the pernicious specter of white supremacism, we must immediately condemn it. We cannot be silent bystanders. We must confront it as the evil it is. This is what it means to be anti-racist, to be proactive advocates for what is right. This is what it means to be an active member of a democratic community.

 

Do something: Embrace anti-racism.

Do something: Condemn white supremacism.

Do something good!

Welcome!

Our Journey Toward a More Perfect Union