Archive for November, 2015

By watching the news over the last few months it’s possible to see the Greek government as totally dysfunctional, its people too lazy to work a full day, its political leaders as ego driven, and its approach to its membership in the EU as naive.

My wife and I just spent almost three weeks touring Athens and many of the Greek isles. We experienced a Greece that is actually functioning fairly well in spite of high unemployment. Christmas decorations are appearing everywhere, and most restaurants are doing fine. People complain about their extremely high taxes, but I must say that their “enjoy-life everyday” lifestyle came off to me as a healthy alternative to the relentless success-driven world from which I retired!

Simply put, being there was a much different experience than just seeing it on television or in textbook photos or on videos. For example, standing on the Acropolis and walking slowly around the Parthenon is truly an emotional experience. These are familiar images we have all seen in books, magazines, and movies. But when you are actually there you cannot escape the thrill of putting your feet on the same ground where ancient people walked,  worked, fought, worshiped, lived, and debated ideas.

At archeological sites and in museums throughout the Greek isles and in Athens my wife repeatedly commented on how breathtaking it was for her to see the actual artifacts and paintings that she had only seen in art and world history textbooks. Being there connects you directly with the same places where artists painted, philosophers taught, and the historical events that we read about really happened. Now you are the director of your own movie. You decide where to point the camera. You alone determine what to spend more time exploring.

Just walking streets and neighborhoods gives you a good  impression of how people live each day. And talking with only a few of them can provide new insights about their core values and life goals. You find that they can be different from yours, but still engaging and understandable.

And sometimes you may also be disappointed. For example, you may find that many of the charming towns and villages you have seen in travel photos and movies have become overcrowded tourist traps much of the year. But this too is a real life lesson about how the world is constantly changing and the price that is being paid for progress.

Observing people’s daily lives, absorbing cultures and values, making foreign friendships, encountering political and religious conflicts, seeing poverty that you can’t change with your own eyes, and even experiencing the consequences of global warming for yourself… all this and more changes people forever.

Yes, the digital technology revolution can bring great images of the world to the campus experience. And we certainly must use this new and traditional media to enrich our classroom conversations and dialogues. But with the globalization of higher education all of this should just be the preparation for students spending more time experiencing the world first-hand.

One final thought about being there: A new level of fear came over me after experiencing the terrorist killings in Paris while in Athens. After all, I had just traveled through the history of this  ancient land and there was no way now I could ignore the fact that many great societies came to an end because of this kind of extreme intolerance coupled with a disregard for the value of human life.

So, what will it take to bring about tolerance in this world! I still believe that the globalization of higher education is a huge step in the right direction. But last week in Athens I must say it felt like we are now in a race against time.

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Reflecting over 50 years of struggling to help people and institutions make themselves better understood I offer the following lessons:

1. Once people have made a commitment to a point of view it is almost impossible to change their minds. So in the case of ISIS today, military and/or political solutions seem to be the only immediate options.

2. But it is not too late for mayors and city managers to collaborate on both communication and action initiatives that will enable Muslim groups to feel better connected to genuine opportunities. Hopelessness and despair in the multi-cultural ghettos of the world’s great cities can still be addressed.

3. This is also a moment that top Muslim leaders can and should seize to plan and launch a major communication campaign to explain Islam to the world. This is because the world’s news media will be looking for new breaking news stories right now, and the timing is especially right for this one. But to be effective at a time like this a story must cut through mounds of negative information clutter. And to do so it must be a completely positive, simple, and endlessly repeated description of what Islam stands for and what it does not.

4. This is also a “right time” opportunity for the leaders of the Western world to unite behind their shared democratic values. However, for this to ring credible politicians and prominent leaders in every country will have to be willing to find the right common language to “rally” everyone behind their president or top leader, no matter political background or past mistakes. Common cause must become the unifier. Blame must be left for historians. Dissent can be accommodated, but not at this time among the leaders.

It’s true that 24/7 news coverage can make it difficult to get beyond many momentary crises. But continuing news coverage in a crisis of ISIS magnitude might prove to be helpful. It can provide an opportunity for the Western world to unite around shared values, a catalyst for addressing ghetto neighborhood hopelessness, a new opportunity for top Islamic leaders to make their religion better understood, and a perfect “teachable moment” for educators and students everywhere around the world.


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On Monday I met with the executive editor of the Economist news magazine in London. Because it is so current and comprehensive those who work there still call it a weekly newspaper, and many international leaders will argue that it is the most influential business and political publication in the world.

My TCU John V. Roach Honors College classes and Bob Schieffer Communication College seminars have been enriched by “live” dialogues with this noted international journalist. We have “Skyped” him in to converse with students, and we have also visited with him in the board room at the top of the Economist building in London.

Today my discussion with him was about the future of higher education. He is responsible for the new media initiatives at the Economist as well as its annual publication, The Year Ahead. So I presented ideas from my new book The Transition Academy (CASE Books), and he made observations based on his daily immersion in the turmoil of international news.

When all was said and done we agreed that on-line education is improving and will establish itself as a convenient alternative for many students around the world, that residential institutions will have to combine new media enhancements and experiences with face-to-face dialogues in order to succeed, that all of higher education is rapidly becoming a global industry and every institution will have to adapt, and that “university advancement” is a misleading term for what might better be called “university business development.”

Advancement is a term that is intended to cover university fundraisng, alumni relations, strategic communication, marketing, and even government relations. I have even described it as including everyone involved with advancing the institution. But it has become misleading to many, and my meeting today at the Economist convinced me that as the industry becomes more global we really do need to find a better term.


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Last week I had the pleasure of working with a group of trustees committed to preserving the values and distinctions of a hundred year old institution. But they also understood that planning for the future will require using new communication tools and adapting to the needs of a generation that grew up with those tools.

We first discussed the increasing power of brand identity. In this digital media world people seem to affiliate with an institution as much for what it stands for and the total experience it delivers (values, culture, traditions, relationships, regional characteristics, consistency, program distinctions, etc.) as for its particular fields of study.

We also discussed how in an information cluttered world an authentic differentiated brand identity can actually achieve greater visibility, as well as greater distinction. And we explored how an authentic brand description can be adapted  to connect with different age groups and market segments, and how each segment will have its own preferred media platforms… some digital and some traditional.

At the heart of this institution’s educational experience has always been face-to-face conversations about social justice, gender, diversity, world religions, church and state, and more. So we discussed how all this can be preserved while adapting to the needs of new generations. Internet searches, easy to access media material, shorter talks in class, teleconferencing with experts from around the world, all can be used while preserving the added value of face-to-face conversations and forums.

What was most impressive about this group was that they could see how a contemporary vision for the future, and new methods of teaching, can remain grounded in its founding mission.


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