Monday, October 14, 2019

Indigenous Peoples’ Day

“Let us recognize the legacy of the Susquehannock people who were the first stewards of this beautiful place and from whom this university and the river derive our names.”

Beginning last May, this land acknowledgement has become a part of our opening convocation and commencement ceremony. This addition was recommended by Malia Simon a junior at Susquehanna who is the president and a founding member of SUNA (Susquehanna University Natives and Allies).

Today, SUNA held a “die-in” as part of their commemoration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. About 75 students, faculty, and staff participants were invited to lie on the ground or sit around the fountain with their eyes closed for five minutes to reflect on the lives lost and the sacrifices associated with colonization.

After the die-in ceremony was completed, members of our community who are indigenous or first people shared personal stories and perspectives. The crowd was addressed in a variety of native languages as well as English. The messages were about hope, a desire to be recognized and valued, and gratitude for the support of those in attendance.

It was a moving event led by a group of remarkably strong and thoughtful women from our campus. I was so very proud of them and all the members of our community who engaged in this inaugural observance.

Themes of stewardship, tradition, and  honor ran through all of the comments. These are the values that should run through all that we do in higher education. We learn to be stewards of our planet and our resources, we learn to recognize the richness of our many traditions, and we strive to honor all members of our community for the unique gifts each of us brings to the many.

What a humbling experience it was to witness a manifestation of these goals so poignantly presented by our students and colleagues.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Banned Books Week

“A book is a loaded gun in the house next door...Who knows who might be the target of the well-read man?” — Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451

The censorship of ideas may be as old as ideas themselves. In 212 B.C.E., the Chinese emperor, Shih Huang Ti had all books burned so that after his death, history would begin with him. In 1559, Pope Paul IV established the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, which for over four centuries was the definitive list of books that Roman Catholics were not supposed to read. The Nazis famously banned and burned books for being “un-German.” These included works by Brecht, Kafka, and Einstein.

In 1759, the French government “suspended” the publication of Denis Diderot’s monumental Encyclop√©die in response to religious controversies raised by the initial volumes. Publication continued in secret in what was then part of Switzerland. This work was a seminal product of the Enlightenment and a critically important touchstone for the establishment of democratic states and the defined establishment of intellectual freedom.

Each year since 2001, the Office of Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association has published a list of the ten most challenged books of the year (This year’s list has 11.). This list draws attention to the pervasive threats to intellectual freedom in a nation whose constitution includes a Bill of Rights that begins with a commitment to intellectual freedom:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.[1]

The Constitution doesn’t explicitly state that books can’t be banned, but it does outline principles of intellectual freedom in the forms of religion, speech, press, assembly, and public criticism of the government. Often the mechanisms of these freedoms are dependent upon the dissemination of ideas through books. Our rights come into play not in our own decisions not to read a particular book, but when someone else decides what we can and cannot read.

In the United States, there have been calls for the removal of thousands of books from schools and libraries. Some of the most surprising banned books include E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and The American Heritage Dictionary. The latter apparently defined too many of the wrong words.

I was surprised to learn that J.D. Salinger’s classic, The Catcher in the Rye had been banned in my new hometown of Selinsgrove, PA in 1975. Apparently, some parents objected to the language and some of the ideas in the book.

As a junior high school student, I remember friends delighting in reading The Catcher in the Rye because in it, characters their own age used the language they used when their parents weren’t around. It made Holden Caulfield a sympathetic character they could trust. He wasn’t hiding behind someone else’s words. As an adult, I realize how important that literary resonance was for so many teen readers desperate to know that there were other young people struggling with mental health challenges too. If they hadn’t trusted him, they wouldn’t have let him into their internal dialogues.

In recent years, we have witnessed the ascendency of truth wars. If someone articulates a point with which others disagree, it is declared fake. Ideas are challenged as they should be, but so are facts. To quote Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” Global warming is a prime example. It is not an opinion, but an objectively demonstrated fact. It is the truth, and yet it is decried as fake.

Countervailing views are a necessary component of a truly democratic society, and it is all too easy to suppress the voices of the loyal opposition, such as the voices of Copernicus, Galileo, Martin Niemöller, Jane Addams, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

We are navigating through a world of information quicksand. We need to protect the truth. We need to protect our foundational freedoms. This is what makes Banned Books Week more important than ever.

[1] Amendment One of the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Shadow of Liberty’s Light

On college campuses, this anniversary of the September 11th attacks is poignant in a new way. Most of our first-year students were born in 2001, and now, even our seniors have very faint memories of the tragedy if they have any recollections at all.

My strongest memories of that event all connect to my work with students: trying to track down former students who were in the proximity of the crashes, and supporting the students on campus who were at sea in the face of mass grief and helplessness.

Last night a group of Susquehanna students placed a flag for each victim of the 9/11 tragedy in front of the campus center. This was a collective effort of the College Democrats, Libertarians, and Republicans. It was a profound reminder that sorrow, respect, and compassion are not ideological. Let us hope our leaders can soon find common ground as freely as these students.

In 2001, my choir asked me to write a commemorative piece for them to sing at Family Weekend, four weeks after the event. The text is below. On this somber anniversary, may the light of liberty and peace shine upon us all.

The Shadow of Liberty’s Light

Requiescant in pace! [Rest in peace!]

Two trees of commerce fallen
In the shadow of liberty’s light,
Tall candles snuffed by terror’s wind
Her lamp still burning bright,
A symbol of our charity,
Of promise and our might.

Requiem in aeternam dona eis Domine: [Grant them eternal peace Lord]
Et lux perpetua luceat eis. [And light perpetual shine on them]

May we who now are mourning
Our dear children, husbands, and wives
In so doing honor them,
Whose too brief stolen lives
May serve as a reminder
Of the future we must seek
If we possess the wisdom
To forgive and turn a cheek
To hatred and to ignorance
Each fed with poverty,
And clear away the darkness
With our lamp of liberty.

Et lux perpetua luceat eis.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Opening Convocation Remarks, 29 August 2019

Welcome to the class of 2023 and to our transfer students, and welcome to your families and friends.

Among the many things that impress me at Susquehanna is move in. The O-Team, first-year RAs, athletes, alumni, members of the Selinsgrove community, faculty, and staff do such a great job of welcoming and, what’s surely more appreciated, schlepping. Let’s give a hand to your wonderful new neighbors who have helped you with your initial move into campus.

Let us recognize the legacy of the Susquehannock people who were the first stewards of this beautiful place and from whom this university and the river derive our names.

To the families in the room, thank you for the many ways you helped these assembled students choose to become Susquehannans. You can continue to play a critical part in their university journeys, but please don’t spend too much time on the phone with your students. You can keep track of events taking place on campus through our website and the new SU mobile app. When you do call, be sure to ask about your student’s participation in those activities, and ask them to share with you what they thought about those experiences.

Convocation means to be called together from the Latin words “con” meaning with and “vocare” meaning "to call" or  “to be called.” It’s is the same root as vocal and voice. So, at this event we are called together to begin the academic year, as Dr. Hastings does with such ceremonial panache. More importantly, we are called together with you to signal your entry into the life of this university and to celebrate the beginning of your matriculation, which is the substantiation of your having been called to this place.

You just made one of the best decisions of your life. The faculty and staff of this institution are truly extraordinary, and their commitment to your development and success inspires me every day.

It would be unusual for a student to choose a college based upon the central curriculum, but here, this spine of all students’ academic experience is an outward sign of fundamental values held by this university community. As our catalog states, “the Central Curriculum is designed to develop in students an awareness of:
·      the richness of human thought and expression,
·      the ways humans have sought to explain the natural world, and
·      the breadth of human interactions throughout the world, across time and into the present, and of the belief systems, values and practices through which those interactions are manifested.”[1]

These are the issues that bring value to our lives and present the most vexing challenges we face as members of an increasingly complex global society. One of the many benefits of a liberal arts education is how your world will continue to expand and shrink at the same time.

The vastness of the cosmos and the staggering breadth and depth of human achievement in the arts and science become more humbling at every turn, but a growing awareness of the countless ways we are linked through common human experiences are equally inspiring affirmations of our interdependence.

We are all citizens of the world. Asking where you are from was once a sincere icebreaker, but it has too often become code for “you’re not from here.” The great cynic philosopher, Diogenes of Sinope declared that he was a cosmopolitan, a citizen of the world.  

I have a strong affection for Diogenes. None of his writings survives, but like the faculty in this room, he was a great teacher, and he changed the course of western thought through his students.

Living in exile, Diogenes did not want to be treated differently because of his place of origin, so when asked where he was from, he replied, “I am a citizen of the world.” As the banner in front of our home and homes throughout our community and the nation say, “No matter where you are from, we are glad you are our neighbor.”

We are all citizens of the world. This is the fundamental lesson of the GO program. Each year, hundreds of Susquehanna students learn first-hand the immeasurable value of human and cultural diversity, the wealth to be discovered in our differences, and how much each of has in common.
We are all citizens of the world. We are bound by hope and common desires of personal expression, freedom from want, and the wellbeing of those we love.

Two years ago, upon being installed president, I said, “The world has never needed Susquehanna graduates more.” Little did I know how dramatically that need would escalate. The citizens of our world need thoughtful advocates, our planet needs thoughtful advocates, and our future needs thoughtful advocates.

We are not alone. On August 19th, 181 members of the Business Roundtable, which comprises the chief executives of the largest U.S. corporations, signed a new “Statement of the Purpose of a Corporation.” This 300-word document begins with this sentence, “Americans deserve an economy that allows each person to succeed through hard work and creativity and to lead a life of meaning and dignity.” The citizens of all nations deserve these rights.

The Statement continues by saying that corporations share a “fundamental commitment to all…stakeholders.” These include customers, employees, suppliers, and communities, as well as investors. This is consistent with the concept of a triple bottom line. To be successful, a business (or any enterprise) must be financially sustainable, benefit its employees, and be good for its surrounding community, meaning its neighbors and the environment.

As citizens of the world, we are all stakeholders in a collective future. Our world has never needed Susquehanna graduates more to be advocates for the triple bottom line we all share, so all may thrive, so all may enjoy respect, and so all may inherit an environment that has been passed down responsibly.

At the laying of the cornerstone of Selinsgrove Hall in 1858, Joseph Casey stated, “Education, in its legitimate sense, includes not only the cultivation of the mental powers, but the proper training and development of the moral sentiments and faculties, and its true object is to ‘make us not only wiser but better…’”[2]

Today, I invite you to your graduation in this space in May of 2023. At the close of that ceremony, I will give you this charge:

Achieve all you can for good,
Lead with honor and humility,
Serve with love and pride,
And always strive to be not only wiser, but better.

Keep those goals in mind as you spend the next four years preparing for that day. Today, I give you this charge rooted in the goals of our core curriculum:

·      Engage in the richness of human thought and expression with a convert’s zeal,
·      Ponder the ways humans have sought to explain the natural world with an openness to the wide-eyed wonder with which we have sought to understand the mysteries that surrounded us;
·      Treasure the breadth of human interactions throughout the world and across time; and
·      Learn to appreciate the belief systems, values, and practices through which those interactions are manifested,
·      So that you can become the advocates and leaders the citizens of our world so desperately need.

Welcome home!

[1] Susquehanna University Bulletin, 2018-2019, p. 7.
[2] Joseph Casey, Esq.: “Remarks delivered at the laying of the corner-stone of the Missionary Institute at Selin’s Grove, PA, September 1, 1858.”

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Inclusion Is the Heart of the American Way

The following op-ed appeared in Penn Live on 30 July 2019:

Inclusion Is the Heart of the American Way

Boise State University’s new president, Marlene Tromp, was recently pressed by a group of Idaho lawmakers to cease diversity and inclusion programs for being antithetical to the “Idaho way,” as reported by the Idaho Statesman.

Universities create and promote inclusion programs to develop citizens who exhibit the behaviors Americans expect from our leaders. Sadly, we also recognize the need to give our students the tools to navigate a world that is likely to demean or, even worse, discriminate against them.

The intolerant rhetoric and actions of prominent public officials is agonizing proof of our nation’s desperate need to learn how to live and thrive as a diverse and respectful society.

Inclusion is the heart of the American way. Our history is one of incremental progress toward an ideal framed by our founders. As an ideal, it was an aspiration that the architects of our nation failed to achieve in their contemporary realities, but in the 243 years since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, our nation has moved step by step toward true democratic pluralism.

The path has been painfully slow for the disenfranchised for whom, to paraphrase Dr. King, justice delayed has been justice denied. The destiny he clearly articulated on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington remains the prophetic landing place for our nation’s maturity.

This spring, KQED published a story about Joe Lipton who recently shared a letter he received from Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz in 1970 when Lipton 10 years old. As part of a school assignment, Lipton had asked Schulz, “What makes a good citizen?” Schulz replied:

I think it is more difficult these days to define what makes a good citizen than it has ever been before. Certainly, all any of us can do is follow our own conscience and retain faith in our democracy. Sometimes it is the very people who cry out the loudest in favor of getting back to what they call ‘American Virtues’ who lack this faith in our country. I believe that our greatest strength lies always in the protection of our smallest minorities.

Schulz’s remarks are presciently relevant to our current national crossroads and evocative of the scripture verse, “And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”[1]

We promote diversity and inclusion on our campuses because they align with our missions. Like the ideals of the founders, we often fall short of our aspirations, but, like our nation, we must continue to strive toward the noblest goals. This is how we fulfill our calling to develop the citizen leaders our nation and world so desperately need.

We are counting on them to lift up the smallest voices and to provide a society that celebrates and respects the rich diversity of all its members. That is the true meaning of the American Way.

[1] Matthew, 25:40

Sunday, July 21, 2019

In Celebration of GO

We recently returned from travel through central Europe.

Every time I travel abroad, I am struck by the richness of the hospitality I encounter and by the ways in which I find myself provoked to reconsider assumptions I have about others and myself. It was a wonderful and inspiring experience and a good reminder for me and Lynn of the significant importance of Susquehanna’s GO (Global Opportunities) Program.

Celebrating its tenth anniversary, GO is a defining element of an SU education. We are one of only a few universities where study away is a graduation requirement. Our program is unique within higher education in that a preparatory class, active engagement in a different culture, and a reflective experience are all parts of the requirement.

When I ask students to identify the most meaningful aspects of their Susquehanna education, GO is inevitably part of the conversation. The faculty designed the program with these learning goals:
  1. Demonstrate a complex understanding of culture including the ability to develop a working definition of culture
    1. Articulate awareness of differences and similarities between their culture of origin and the one in which they are immersed.
    2. Define and recognize ethnocentrism and ethnocentric assumptions.
    3. Demonstrate critical awareness of their own cultural values and identity.
  2. Recognize how their attitudes, behaviors, and choices affect the quality of their cross-cultural experiences.
  3. Reflect on their personal growth, social responsibility, and the value of active participation in human society.

We are experiencing a time in which our leaders and many of our neighbors are struggling to navigate difference. With our current public discourse frequently tainted by jingoistic rhetoric and a promulgation of misrepresentations of other peoples and cultures, the goals of the GO have never been more important.

Meaningful study and travel that focuses on cultural engagement helps us to appreciate how diversity makes us stronger as a global community. It reifies the validity of competing world views; it helps us begin to perceive the profound richness of what it truly means to be human; and most importantly, it challenges us to consider new perspectives.

In the Scientific American article, “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter,” Katherine W. Phillips, Reuben Mark Professor of Organizational Character at the Columbia Business School, empirically demonstrated that diverse groups are better able to solve complex problems than homogeneous groups.

The diverse groups were more accurate because they came at the problems from a variety of perspectives and experiences that forced them to challenge each other and work out a solution, whereas the homogeneous started from a consensus position, which when wrong went unchallenged.

The most valuable lesson from Prof. Phillips’s research is that, in spite of being right a significantly higher percentage of the time, the diverse groups had less confidence in their work. The process of challenging conclusions and introducing varied views made those participants less self-assured.

These are the fundamental challenges to legitimate inclusion: in diverse communities, we are challenged by views and traditions that are different from our own; monolithic world views we have deeply held to be true may be exposed as wrong; and the best work we do across differences will not always feel as good as it is.

The answers to many of life’s most important questions lie in the margins, and for most of us that is not a natural place of comfort. Thoughtful intercultural engagement is an invaluable way to appreciate the value and strength of collaborative work across difference. It is also one of the best ways to learn to make intellectually and culturally interstitial domains places of comfort and, if we develop true cosmopolitans, home.

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Not Broken, But Seriously Bent Higher-Ed Business Model Part Two: Where Can We Go from Here?

The Not Broken, But Seriously Bent Higher-Ed Business Model
Part Two: Where Can We Go from Here?

Some critics point to what they label as administrative bloat as the source for the rising price tag of a college degree. Most expansions in professional staff at colleges are tied to complying with the expectations of external accrediting bodies, meeting ever-expanding reporting requirements, or supporting the persistence of a student population that is at a continually higher risk of not completing.

In spite of these challenges, according the College Board, when adjusted for inflation, the average net tuition revenue at private, not-for-profit, four-year colleges has increased by only $1,390 since 2010.

In my previous installment, I outlined how discount rates (the average percentage of the reduction of the amount families pay to attend college from the published price) have rapidly escalated in recent years.

The logical correction would seem to be a recalibration of the published price to more closely align with the average out-of-pocket expense. Over the past two decades, a number of institutions have attempted this. They have typically seen a decline in applications, because consumers associate price with quality. In some cases, they have seen a short-lived increase in applications and enrollment because of media exposure, but those increases have rarely been sustainable.

It is likely that the only way to effectively reset the published tuition price would be if a large portion of a particular sector of higher education were to do so together. During the past year, there have been members of congress who have encouraged university leaders to get together to formulate such an initiative. To their surprise, we have had to inform them that we are legally prohibited from such an effort.

In 1991, the Antitrust Division of the Justice Department charged the eight Ivy League schools and  MIT with price fixing. These institutions along with twenty-three of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges had met as what came to be known as the Overlap Group. The convening institutions, which were all need blind, meaning that they would fund each accepted student’s complete unmet need with scholarships, were seeking to make the cost of attendance uniform for each student.

The justification for this effort was that the participating institutions wanted students to choose the school they believed was the best fit rather than the one offering the best deal. In theory, with all need met, aid packages should have been comparable, but without consistent tuition and fees, that was not the case.

The Ivies signed a consent decree, but MIT went to court armed with amicus briefs from sixteen national educational organizations. MIT ultimately prevailed in 1994, arguing that their efforts were not anticompetitive because they aimed to save students money rather than inflate their expenses.
This led to Congress passing the Improving America's Schools Act in 1994. Section 568 of the Act states that is not unlawful for two or more need-blind institutions to agree or attempt to agree to: 1) award financial aid only on the basis of need; 2) use common principles for making the need determination; 3) use a common aid form; and 4) share, on a one-time basis, certain aggregated data about their admitted student pools. Student-specific data may not be shared.
The 568 Group was formed in response to the Act. This group of need-blind institutions share the permitted data, but they and other institutions do not have the ability to meet to discuss pricing strategies.

For higher education to make industry-wide realignments of price, aid, and out-of-pocket cost, we will need to work with the federal government to create a provisional forum that allows us to collaborate on our pricing models. Such an effort could de-escalate pricing and lead to a more consistent financial model for universities that would also be more understandable to consumers.


Indigenous Peoples’ Day