Archive for February, 2013

This week I have been thinking quite a bit about the relationship between leadership and advocacy. The question on my mind has been: When little progress is being made on influencing legislative policy, can an advocate’s efforts still result in the organization being seen by its constituents as a leader in its industry?

Last week I found myself in a discussion about this with students in the Schieffer School of Journalism at TCU.  The class was PR and Advocacy, and I was invited there to discuss my work with the legislatures in Texas and Washington, and to explain why I do it when the entire process seems to be dysfunctional.

To get the discussion started, I asked the students how they define the word “advocacy.” They said they thought it means arguing your point of view, or representing a point of view on behalf of your client. As with legal representation, we all agreed that when all points of view are represented, better decisions can more likely get made.  But with that said, we jumped right to the big question: Are legislators today influenced by anything but extreme ideology and money? And if not, how then can my advocacy work on behalf of TCU be worth the effort?

I admitted that this question is not only a good one, but it is the key one.  Indeed, advocacy is very close to debating, and debating alone can lead only to polarization. And since we seem to no longer have a viable mechanism for negotiating legislative solutions, the resulting gridlock can make all efforts seem like a waste of time.

In retrospect, however, I came out of my dialogue with these students, and my subsequent reflections on the situation,  very certain that our efforts have  indeed been worthwhile.  

Over time it has become clear to me that whenever an institution’s advocate is at the table with other industry leaders in an effort to shape the policy that will shape their future, the result will eventually be the public acknowledgement of industry leadership. And I also can now confidently argue that this result is a significant component in developing a consistent and powerful institutional brand.

Read Full Post »

This week was dominated by the president’s state of the union address.  And since then, I have been preoccupied with reflecting on it.  It certainly was an interesting hour-long lecture.  But when all is said and done,  just what  was really accomplished?  What wasn’t?  And what could be?  

As a speech, it certainly was comprehensive.  Many could easily see it as inspiring and visionary.  It was a complete list of initiatives that, if implemented,  could certainly move the country forward. But many no doubt were also wondering just how all this could ever be paid for, or why he  is proposing so many different ideas all at once. In short, the address might have sounded overwhelming and unrealistic– especially in today’s economic environment.

In public speaking 101 I remember learning that effective presentations generally begin with the speaker demonstrating an “insider’s empathy” with the needs of key audience segments. Then the content should explain no more than four or five doable initiatives, each supported by very practical sounding examples and stories. And each story should be selected to relate to the needs of the most important audience segments, so everyone wins something. The conclusion, then, should simply repeat the main points, followed by an inspirational rallying cry to help reshape the future together.

The state of the union address this week was a very interesting and comprehensive lecture about all we should be able to do to move America forward. It was enjoyable to hear, and I can support all of it.  But would it not have been possible to put forth a more focused, pragmatic and doable plan?

Read Full Post »

US legislators have become aware of just how much is being spent on financial aid to students. Since it is a very big number, and there is a need to find places to cut the budget, they have decided that it is their responsibility to investigate the cost benefit of the expense. This has led to a relentless and potentially damaging assault on the entire industry. The shere number of areas being investigated is staggering. And it is happening all at once.

It begins with the assumption that higher education costs too much everywhere. There is no acknowledgment of the diversity of schools and their varied costs, or just how much it costs when the goal is to deliver an exceptionally high quality education. The buzz word is “affordability,” and the assumption simply is that every school costs too much.

This assumption fuels a desire to measure just what people learn and earn as an indicator of cost effectiveness. But that is difficult to do. For example, there are now investigations  into what people in specific career fields earn at different points after graduation. This can convey the erroneous  assumption that it’s valid to choose a career based mostly on salary data that may or may not relate to what each graduate may actually experience. And it does not take into account an  individual’s inherent talent, motivation, and possible inner desire for a different kind of creative fulfillment? Even so, some researchers are trying to collect and publish what they can find anyway. And they will do it in the name of transparency, even though it will lead many to very unhappy consequences.  

We can agree that for those types of institutions where more efficiency is needed a targeted assessment is fair. This  currently would include the entire for-profit sector. We can also agree that learning outcomes can be better assessed. But the wide diversity of both institutions and program choices must be maintained in the process. Diversity is what makes the American system distinctive, and diversity is what makes financial aid so essential.

But the assaults don’t stop here. There are also assaults on charitable tax deductions, tax deductions for education expenses, on how credit is awarded, on how credits transfer, on how loans are administered, and more. All of this at the same time is too much. It divides rather than unites.  It destroys rather than improves.

What we need is a participatory and positive problem-solving dialogue between legislators and educators. And we do not need this relentless and mindless assault on the best hope we have for world peace and enlightened international understanding.

Read Full Post »

My 15-year-old granddaughter, Page, startled me when she asked, “Granddad, is it possible to ever have a truly unique idea? I stared back, was silent for a moment, and then said, “Gee, Page, you just asked a very profound question.” She went on, “I was watching The Hunger Games and thought to myself,  that was my idea. I could have written that. How come that writer had the same idea I did? How could that happen?”

At 15, Page is already an accomplished artist and a writer. I have been looking forward to many rewarding hours of discussion about all kinds of ideas. But suddenly she put a huge one right at the top of the agenda. And now, how will I deal with it?

When I thought back on 46 years of teaching I was reminded of my own “creative moments.”  Sometimes ideas that felt totally new would seem to jump out of my head. I would be wandering around my classroom reflecting on the day’s topic, and bingo, out came a new insight. I would actually get startled. I remember thinking, “I have no idea where that came from!”

Are such ideas sent from God. Or do the come from somewhere mysterious out there in space?  Or was it someone elses idea, and I don’t remember from whom it came. Or was my brain so stimulated on the topic that it gathered fragments from who knows where?

I confess that much of my work has been putting together ideas in a way that cause people to sometimes say, “I already knew that, but you  put it together in a way that made me think about it differently.”  Could I claim such an insight as uniquely my own?

I think I can confidently tell Page that from my experience I believe truly creative ideas are possible, but I am not sure we can ever really be sure they are truly unique. In my case I am pretty sure that all the bits and pieces came from other people. My brain put them together, however, and the outcome I can claim as mine. Or, is it?

Obviously Page and I  have a lot to discuss as she embarks on a lifelong adventure in ideas and search for truth. I am not likely to have many answers. But I will share with her the deep satisfaction of living a life of ideas and creative thought, and relish every minute of it.

Read Full Post »