Archive for July, 2012

While writing last week’s post I recalled two teachers who long ago changed my life.  Who knows where I might have ended up had I not encountered them. And in a world where student performance on standardized tests has become the mechanism to measure teacher performance, I must say my transformation had nothing to do with such a measure.

No one in my immediate family had ever gone to college. I did not score high grades in the public schools and was clearly on a road to a blue-collar job after high school.  As a teenager I managed to find a part-time job selling shoes and decided that if I took a few business courses at the local junior college I might be able to eventually become a store manager.  And all that time I was also flirting with the unrealistic belief that by dabbling in radio I might be able to become a big time rock and roll disc jockey, which of course was the highest calling in life!

I had not attended junior college very long when it became dramatically clear that I was not connecting with the accounting and introduction to business courses I was taking!  As a result one of my fellow students advised me to enroll in a philosophy class that he was finding very exciting. My first response was, “What the hell is philosophy?”

But it was that course in philosophy, and the exciting world of ideas it represented, that began my transformation. It was there I learned how to think, how to analyze issues, how to solve problems, and how to write. And it was there I learned that if I could be evaluated on those variables I could excel. 

So from there I enrolled in a history class. One day the professor  invited me to join a discussion group he was starting with some of his students. I reminded him that I was not doing all that well on his quantitative tests, but he responded, “Yes, but you can think, you love ideas, and you write fairly well.  Concentrate on those strengths and you will be fine.”  

And so in less than one year, professor of philosophy Johnathan Winter, and professor of history James Hartnett changed my life forever.

Geography, inherent strengths and weaknesses, economic  conditions, family realities, all these determine each student’s immediate possibilities. In an inner city situation, for example, initial success might be merely helping a child gain self-confidence about rising above his or her immediate predicament. Or for a budding writer, artist, or even entrepreneur, masterful teaching might be simply nurturing  inherent talent and not allowing difficulties in other  disciplines undermine creative achievement. 

The bottom line is that a master teacher will have the capacity to help each individual find and develop his or her strengths. Personal attention and mentoring  just takes too much time and human compassion for it to happen while endlessly pushing students to memorize facts for standardized tests. I will be forever grateful that I encountered two professors in a junior college in York, Pennsylvania that understood that!

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The Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) held its seventh annual Summit for Advancement Leaders this week. This Summit, however, would be quite different for me. I was to receive one of those lifetime professional achievement awards.  

I had watched others receive this award over the years and thought I knew what to expect. But standing there before hundreds of my peers I found myself thinking, “How in the world can this be me?”  My mind was racing. “There are so many smart people out there,” I thought. “What must they be thinking about all this?” I became consumed with the thought that I had learned everything I know from these and other colleagues! 

Suddenly I was recalling what I had learned from two CASE board of trustee chairs, one of them also receiving an award this day. I had watched them both pilot the board through a particularly troubled time in the association and it became a very memorable lesson for me in skillful leadership and courage. I had written about leadership, but I had learned the really helpful lessons from them.

Then I found myself recalling when, as a very young faculty member, I had asked my academic dean at TCU for a promotion in faculty rank. He responded: “We better get you tenure while we can… I think you are going to need it!”  He was right. His insight paved the way for a long and rewarding future as a maverick who was destined to get involved in changing how things were done. It was my first practical lesson in strategic thinking and timing.

I also recalled the academic vice-chancellor who knew I was not headed into administration but nonetheless asked me to take a position directing the University’s evening college, summer school, and non credit programs. I had been complaining about the programs and so he challenged me to take the job and fix them. Later, when I went to him with my problems, he countered: “I hired you for solutions, Lauer, not to bring me problems.”  That experience became one of the most  important learning opportunities of my career.

Another major career-changing moment came when a development vice-chancellor brought me into this field, thereby enabling me to practice what I was teaching. It would require rethinking everything in the communication  division. But this would open the door for everything that would follow… my books, presentations, articles, travel, and literally everything that led to this award. 

Beyond those board of trustee chairs I mentioned there were many other strong professionals involved at the time in  CASE.  Talented volunteers and innovation-minded staff became my collaborators and teachers as we worked to bring new levels of sophistication to the communication field. Together we were able to inject strategic and integrated marketing concepts into our work. Timing was everything, and no one could have done it alone.

More recently I had a mentor-teacher at the American Council on Education (ACE) who taught me the importance of  advocating on behalf of the issues that are shaping the future of our industry. And with my academic hat back on, I found new collaborators at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). They helped me conclude that the internationalization of higher education would bring significant world problem-solving opportunities that we had never before even anticipated.

This moment of personal recognition clearly had me realizing that everything I know came from someone else. We all stand on the shoulders of many others, and it is especially during these moments that we fully understand and recognize that it is not ultimately about us. It’s all about our teachers and mentors.

Finally, I must confess that I also wanted to be giving a speech that day about how lucky our young professionals are to be in this field at this moment in time. Our industry is becoming global, governments are changing, and as a consequence advancement professionals are moving front and center in their institutions. We are in the middle of a major “sea change” in higher education, and the leaders in our field will literally have an opportunity to help change the world.

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More than five years ago several key members of the board of trustees and professional staff of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) could see a “sea change” coming in higher education, one that would thrust advancement professionals into a new level of leadership with a completely new set of performance expectations.

This “sea change” is both good and challenging news for the profession. The good news is that new and better rewarded opportunities will appear in the U.S. and abroad for the best among us.  The challenging news is that extremely high performance will be expected which will also require a new level of sophistication and understanding of the industry’s market issues, realities and trends.

Past CASE annual conferences concentrated mostly on the most current fundraising, alumni relations, marketing and communication tactics and cases. However, in order to meet the coming industry challenges an annual Summit was designed primarily to prepare advancement leaders to deal with the issues and competitive realities ahead.

This year’s Summit will kick off in Washington on Sunday. Here are eight “beyond tactics” concerns that are currently on my mind: 

1. How will today’s state legislative cutbacks change our core business, and what are the implications for advancement?  And how do for-profits factor into this equation?

2. How will essential increases in tuition be managed when the public thinks we already cost too much? What are the consequences of the recent questioning of the basic value of a college degree?  And what are the implications here for advancement?

3. How will internationalization effect competition for students, money and reputation at home? Will even the smallest U.S. institution be affected?

4. Are back-to-back comprehensive campaigns sustainable? How do we maintain donor loyalty when every nonprofit in the U.S. and abroad is out looking for philanthropic resources?

5. What is the future of on-line education?  Can it actually save money? How will it affect institutions that already have huge investments in maintaining a residential-based college experience?

6. Where will jobs in the future be found?  What will be the appropriate preparation for getting one of them? Is this sufficient preparation for a lifetime?  And does advancement have a role to play here?

7. What should liberal arts based institutions do now?  What happens to the “education for both a career and for a happy life”  philosophy?  How does advancement help address these situations?

8. Are boards of governance changing in make-up and expectations?  If so how?  Is there a trend toward more financial  risk taking?  Is there mounting pressure for a more corporate style management?  Is there a different traditional academic culture that should be maintained?  How should advancement respond?

In this new world of higher education there is little doubt that advancement will face increasingly high expectations, and will be required to play a key role in overall strategic planning and institutional problem-solving. Those professionals who stay focused only on tactics, even when those tactics are the cutting edge new media ones, will no longer qualify for the top leadership positions, or so I think.  Simply put, the coming “sea change” in higher education is bringing new very complicated, and in many cases institutional survival related, demands.

I suggest that only those advancement professionals who have moved beyond the tactics, and have developed the intellectual capacity to manage critical issues in a rapidly changing landscape, will qualify for taking on these new leadership opportunities. And the annual CASE Summit for Advancement Leaders is the perfect place to begin your immersion in these critical issues and to learn all about these exciting leadership challenges.

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My wife and I spent this week at the Chautauqua Institution, a cultural, educational, and family vacation retreat in upstate New York. We had been told that attending one time would have us coming back again and again for years. And I must admit we are hooked.

The main morning program for the week was moderated by Jim Lehrer, retired host and executive producer of the PBS News Hour, and was focused on a review of  all of the issues related to the current presidential campaign. The topics ranged from the latest political poll findings, to the polarization of the parties, to the role of presidential debates, to the future of science and research, to an analysis of what voters need to know.

Only several times was the role of the media itself mentioned. Finally on Friday, Michael Gerson, former aid to George W. Bush and current conservative Washington Post Columnist, suggested that the new media world of 24/7 cable channels, talk radio, and bloggers has created a situation where people can now select only what they want to hear. There are no editors, and no effort to achieve balance of viewpoints. People therefore end up reinforcing their biases and further polarizing their opinions, rather than expanding their understanding and tolerance.

What we need now is a situation where people  become their own editors, and where a personal objective of theirs is to learn from other points of view. They can no longer demonize and treat opponents as enemies. We must find a way to return to the day when we debate during the day, socialize in the evenings as friends, and then sit down and work out our differences in an environment of mutual respect.

At the end of the week I concluded there is much to be discussed about the role of the media in all of this polarization. Do too many of today’s journalists see polarized gridlock as a happy source of ongoing daily headlines?  Should the modern journalist bear some responsiblity for reminding people to become their own editors, and to show them how to do it? In the final analysis, is the media part of the problem, and should we have more discussions on campuses, in schools, and at places like Chautauqua about the psychic and social consequences of media?

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