Archive for November, 2014

When you are accessing an event in the real world you make all the judgments about its size and scope on your own. You focus on the activity that attracts your interests. And then you move in for a closer look when your curiosity compels it. You run toward the action or walk away depending on your impression of the intensity. You are in complete control of what you are seeing and how much significance you see in the situation.

However, when television arrives on the scene it does all that for you. The producer/director defines the size of your universe and where you will focus your attention… and also has the tools to make it as much of a drama as he or she wishes. Television looks real, but it probably is not what you would have seen if you were there. It always has an “author” who determines exactly what you see and how you see it.

The recent protests in Missouri raise some very interesting questions: If the television cameras just didn’t show up would the demonstration have happened at all? If so, what kind of protest would it have been?  Would the most militant activists still have burned down those businesses?

What is the role of the news media in situations like this? Is this a time to under play the drama? Does the incredible number of journalists, cameras, and satellite trucks influence the size and intensity of violence? Would this have been an international story with demonstrations all over the world if it was not for round the clock cable news coverage?  The police brutality issue is important, but could the violence have been minimized?

Let’s face it, everything from news events to football games is becoming a television program.  And many people these days admit they would rather watch football on television than crowd into a stadium.  It’s easier to see and follow. And television adds to the drama.

And so it goes with news events. The more we convert reality to television, the more we are creating a whole new reality… one that is shaped for us by others. And those “others” are skilled at enhancing the drama.

Make no mistake. Television allows you to see it with your own eyes, so it looks real. But television  makes its own reality. And it is very important for all of us to be aware of it.



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Governments are changing their roles in higher education. Some are cutting back overall support, and others are investing selectively. Technology is dramatically changing how we teach, as well as how we explain our institutions to the world. And at the same time, globalization is turning academia into a truly global industry.

Now one of education’s most international associations, the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) is about to become even more global by announcing the appointment of Sue Cunningham, vice-principal for advancement at the University of Melbourne, as its new president.

Cunningham will follow one of the most successful presidents in CASE history, John Lippincott. For the last eleven years Lippincott built on the association’s US and European operations by adding major offices and initiatives in Asia and Latin America. And what’s more, he will also be leaving the association on a strong financial foundation…well positioned for industry leadership.

Cunningham brings a stunning background to CASE just at the right time. Beginning her career at St Andrews University, she then led advancement for Oxford University’s best known college, Christ Church, and eventually opened Oxford’s first China office. She has had a truly international career. With 17 years of global experience she is perfectly suited to lead CASE into a very challenging and exciting future.

I have described “advancement” to include all those managers, administrators and academics in colleges, universities and schools responsible for leading the advancement of institutions into a complicated future. This would include presidents, chancellors, head masters, provost’s, deans, student affairs professionals and more. And front and center with them will be the CASE member institutions and professionals in fund-raising, marketing, communication, alumni relations, and government affairs.

As the industry adjusts to dramatic changes in government support, technology, and economic forces, these dedicated professionals will be front and center solving the problems, seizing the opportunities, and leading the way. CASE is the place where everyone can come together to take advantage of education’s incredible potential.

For some time, I have been  imagining a future where institutions will gradually focus their research, teaching, and consulting expertise on solving the world’s problems, helping nations rebuild, and educating a generation of leaders with truly global perspectives and sensitivities.

The good news for CASE members is that those with experience and exceptional expertise in all areas of institutional advancement will have renewed and exciting career opportunities. And president-elect Sue Cunningham has the broad international experience necessary to integrate and mobilize this talent. CASE is now perfectly positioned  to play a leading role in helping to shape this global education industry that has so much international potential.


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This week I attended a forum on national security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). One of the sessions that impressed me most touched on the question of who is responsible for rebuilding societies torn apart by war and revolution?

It seems obvious to me that the decision to participate in war raises the basic question: “If you break it, do you own it?”  In the past, this question was rarely considered.  But it’s clear today that many uprooted nations desperately need rebuilding…physically, economically, culturally, and institutionally. But who should be responsible?

Should it be the responsibility of the damaged nation to rebuild itself? Or should it be the responsibility of the attacking country? Or can some kind of public-private partnership be formed to do the job? Or could an internationally funded NGO take on this enormous task?

This CSIS session got me thinking about the feasibility of creating a quasi-governmental organization to take on the task. Such an organization would combine legislature allocated funds with additional international and private funds to do the job. Globally engaged universities could also make significant contributions to the effort.

Regular readers of my blog are aware that I have been pointing out for a long time that the entire higher education industry is quickly becoming a global one. Over time more university talent and resources will inevitably get focused on helping solve many of the world’s problems. And this talent literally ranges all the way from public health to city management, and everything in between.

Further more, helping to launch such an initiative might be just the opportunity the US needs to rebuild much of its international credibility. If the US coordinated the planning, and the unique cultural and historical heritage of the devastated society would be preserved, all those charges over the years of American imperialism might finally begin to get put to rest.

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How was the US midterm election viewed abroad?  If actions speak louder than words it’s clear that it will be difficult for the US to lead the way in the Middle East, or anywhere else.  How can countries have confidence in a nation where its Congress is polarized and gridlocked, where its president is attacked every day as ineffective by both parties, and where an election is characterized more by vicious attacks than by positive ideas.

Gridlock, polarization and a president under siege: Analysts often argue that only American leadership and power can rally the support of concerned countries to seriously address the most troubling international issues.

But for the last six years the world has seen daily attacks on the US president from a polarized, do-nothing congress. This situation hardly builds credibility. It’s no wonder allies hesitate to rally behind US initiatives. How can we expect other countries to have confidence in a mean-spirited and fragmented nation. It’s no wonder allies hesitate to commit troops to the current Iraq and Syria initiatives when it looks like the US does not have confidence in itself.

An election without platforms:  There is no doubt that thoughtful Americans find this dysfunction embarrassing. If so many people are dissatisfied you would think that an election would produce at least a few constructive ideas and practical plans. But the recent midterm election largely degenerated into battles where billions of dollars were spent solely to discredit the opposition.

Making a commitment to focus on creating jobs and supporting quality education was as positive as most races got. But there were few if any ideas about how to accomplish these things. And, of course, attacks on the president continued.

From a strategic communication vantage point every aspect of perceived dysfunction spells breakdown. If actions speak louder than words, then what we have here is a communication mess. Handling crises requires strong day-to-day leadership which is not under constant and relentless attack.

Political campaigns are legitimate times for alternative ideas. But focusing mostly on putting forth positive ideas and not viciously discrediting leaders would be the more responsible approach… especially during international crises.

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