Archive for the ‘Higher Education’ Category

The John V. Roach Honors College at TCU hosted the 2nd Honors International Faculty Institute. Honors faculty attended from all over the U.S, with representatives from the European Honors Council in The Netherlands. I gave a talk on the globalization of higher education, and conversations that followed centered on the exciting possibilities of developing the leadership potential of the most gifted and talented of the world’s students.

The timing was perfect for me. In previous blog posts I had already referred to the potential of international higher education to develop leaders with cross-cultural experiences and global savvy.  I had also imagined the possibilities of aiming higher education’s research and consulting expertise toward helping to solve many of world’s problems. So continuing to explore the concept of “talent development” as a part of honors education is indeed exciting.

The “Brexit” vote in the U.K. to leave the E.U. and the election of Donald Trump as President in the U.S. revealed a significant number of people in both countries who blame globalization for their economic distress. And while their distress is real and needs to be addressed, global economic forces are already irreversible. Technology has made the world smaller. Commerce is already global. And much of higher education is already international.

This reality is why this institute was so meaningful. It made it completely clear that existing honors programs and talent development initiatives around the world all have their work cut out for them. Finding the best talent on the planet and developing it is our ultimate challenge.



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For most of the 20 or more years I was responsible for university communication I was also responsible for the institution’s legislative relations… first the state legislature and later the national legislature as well. In both cases I experienced a gradual polarization of political ideology, eventually to the point where very little was getting accomplished.

My recourse was to try to focus on influencing higher education policy, no matter the party. This meant I would have to formulate our position on higher education issues and work hard to demonstrate the advantages for both parties.  In time I came to see my issue agenda as essentially bipartisan, and described myself as an independent with no party affiliation.

Of course, this meant that I didn’t support any politicians financially or otherwise at election time, thereby diminishing my capacity to influence them. My frustration accelerated as I came to realize that while many legislators’ staffs responded positively to my positions, this success had virtually no influence on how the legislator would vote, or what he or she said in public. I was in a world where there was no compromise, and where as a non-donor I had no influence.

Looking back I now think that nonprofit institutions need to influence government policy outside the legislative process. They must plan aggressive and collaborative marketing and strategic communication  initiatives  aimed at asking those who do make political contributions for their help… trustees, alumni, community leaders, corporate heads, faculty, staff, voting age students, the news media, etc.

Political debate tends to reinforce polarization. Extreme polarization leads to gridlock. Gridlock only unlocks in those very specific places where donors have influence. Institutional communicators therefore must learn how to use both new and traditional communication technology to ask major constituents who are also political donors for help in championing their cause.




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The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) recently released an extremely comprehensive report on countering violent extremism, titled Turning Point. It presents the results of international polling, assesses the current status of activity around the world, and makes some suggestions for a way forward.

Central to me was the observation that governments can do only so much, and that NGO’s, private corporations and other institutions must do more. But the barrier for greater civic involvement has been finding funding for all these potentially powerful non-governmental initiatives.

I have written posts in the past about a role for enlightened cities, universities and schools in making Muslims and other immigrants feel welcome. Many times what is seen as mostly an international problem actually resides right in the middle of neighborhoods in many of our great cities around the world.

Much effort has been spent to understand the motivation of young people who elect to join ISIS or other extremist causes. Many analysts think it’s basically a personal identity crisis. It’s a desire for a stronger sense of belonging and meaning than they are finding in their neighborhoods and cities. Religious fundamentalism and failed states in the Middle East certainly contribute to the problem, but this search for meaning seems to be the strongest motivator. Social media connect these dissatisfied young people around the world, establishes an emotional bond between them, and  eventually produces a compelling need to take violent action.

So what can schools do to help?  Here’s my partial list:

  1. Awareness. Accepting that the problem is local. Most schools have communication officers that communicate daily with the news media, parents, students, and community opinion leaders. Universities communicate regularly with similar audiences.
  2. Communication campaigns. Journalism and strategic communication students can design and launch information campaigns that educate citizens about the issues and initiatives.
  3. Research. Universities certainly have the capacity through research to learn more about the specific problems in individual cities and neighborhoods. What initiatives will actually make a difference here? Are outreach initiatives and educational opportunities already underway that can be enhanced or better promoted?
  4. Community projects.  Family counseling? College preparatory programs? Community dialogue groups?  Basic job training? After school activities?
  5. Internships. Some advanced students have experience with social service research projects, communication campaigns, individual counseling, and teaching fundamental courses.
  6. Special personal invitations. Citizen groups can invite struggling youth and families to  events in the city and on campuses. Sports. Parades. Celebrations. Fine Arts performances. Art exhibitions. Conferences. Lectures.
  7. Partnerships. Schools and universities partnering with city governments, associations, civic organizations, nonprofits, businesses, and other schools can launch powerful research and action projects that can make a big difference. A student that escaped a bad neighborhood situation once said to me: “I tried to get lost but my school wouldn’t let me!”

Hard power implies the use of use of the military and police to defeat terrorist groups. But soft power is what is needed to win the battle of ideas. For the most part hard power is well-funded. Soft power is not.

The CSIS Turning Point report makes a strong case for the major funding necessary to win the war of ideas. And with a share of that funding, universities and schools certainly can play a major role in improving the lives of many immigrant young people and families.

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Ignoring for now the communication credibility and potential global consequences of what our new President said he would do and to whom he would do it, I find myself thinking mostly today about what it really means to be an American.

Over this past weekend I attended a philosophy symposium addressing the question: What does it mean to be human? Listening to brilliant thinkers address this question, I thought: “This is the most fundamental question this election raised for us, as individuals… and as a nation.”

One speaker defined wisdom as: “Being able to see what should be carried forward, and what should be left behind.” Today its more clear than ever that our US political system is in desperate need of wisdom, coupled with some deeper thinking about what it means to be a truly human American.

Are not trust, dignity, and truth values that are embedded in the very idea of what it means to be an American?” Is not civility in human discourse and language basic to essential democratic processes? If so, then the name calling, personal attacks, and vulgar language of this election clearly degraded and disgraced who we are at the core.

It all began with mean-spirited ideology polarization and politics in both the congress and the election. It did our entire country a huge disservice. And it seems apparent to me that this was the fundamental cause of our becoming blind to the fact that so many of our families were being left behind.

So, maybe we need a whole new radical approach to preparing our families, children and politicians to behave first as productive Americans. Here’s an idea:

In public school, are we focusing too soon on memorizing academic subject-matter? Are teachers forced too soon to focus on improving student test scores? Are we missing the boat when it comes to cultural values? Would it not be better if children learned much sooner and in some depth how to think and solve human problems in a civil society?

In college, should studying what it means to be human be an early part of the curriculum? And should we also be teaching more about the characteristics of values-based leadership?

And when it comes to politics, should the parties require their candidates to sign-off on firm standards about speaking truthfully, demonstrating respect for opponents, and upholding basic American values in all public discourse?

In other words, should we be teaching young people, college students and politicians alike more about what it means to be a fully human American?

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This depressing presidential campaign is making it imperative that we commit to the preparation of leaders that are both ethical and capable of serious bi-partisan domestic and international problem-solving. In short, we need practical approaches beyond politics to help cities losing jobs to globalization and drowning in poverty. And we need fresh talent and ideas to address the threats of terrorism and rebuild countries from the ravages of war.

On the domestic front, many universities are already engaged in widespread community service. But the lesson of this campaign is that our focus must now be on ethics (i.e. lead in water, hidden poverty, etc.), priority problems (i.e. small business development, helping displaced immigrants, ending gun violence, etc.), and educating leadership for a smaller world (bi-partisan and pragmatic).

On the foreign front, higher education is on its way to becoming a truly global industry with incredible potential for international problem-solving. For example, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently suggested on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria’s Global Public Square that the U.S. has the military capability to defeat ISIS in the Middle East but not the ability to rebuild the institutions and structures essential for governing. Is this an area where universities can help?

Universities certainly cannot do it alone, but many do have the research and consulting capability needed for engaging in problem-solving partnerships at home and abroad. Here are some interesting factors:

1. Most institutions are already heavily engaged in leadership development and are now testing innovative internship and apprenticeship-style approaches. This suggests that the pool of bright people capable of dealing with domestic and global problem-solving could be increasing very soon.

2. New and more flexible formats for study include deep immersion in other cultures both at home and abroad. This includes appreciating diverse foods, religions, traditions, values, and politics.

3. Globalization means that researchers in every field will be looking more broadly for projects and funding at home and abroad. Areas of interest should naturally include public health, water, food, poverty, energy, global warming, politics, urban studies, etc.

4. There are also academic experts with experience in strategic planning, city management, institutional development, non-profit agency advancement, small business development, entrepreneurial initiatives, and more.

5. Increasing numbers of citizens are learning how to simply demonstrate by example how the fundamental “idea of America” (individual freedom and opportunity, equal justice, democratic processes, etc.) can improve understanding between cultures in neighborhoods and foreign countries. And higher education certainly can be an extremely powerful force for soft power and citizen diplomacy.

It is not too much of a stretch to see that needed expertise for domestic and international problem-solving already exits in many of the world’s universities. It’s just a matter of identifying those experts… and nurturing them along.

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There is a gathering this week in New York City of the leaders of the education advancement professions. They are the strategic communicators, marketers, alumni relations directors, government affairs professionals, and fundraisers for educational institutions around the world.

They are meeting at a time when dramatic sea changes are coming in their industry, and at a time when volatile events are begging for their institutions to deliver on their potential for community and world problem-solving.

Their institutions are in a state of transition because of government role changes and cutbacks, a digital technology revolution that is changing both how we teach and how we communicate institutions, and the pervasive economic influences of globalization.

Their success is imperative because the world desperately needs their institutions to be in position to improve cross-cultural understanding at a time of widespread conflict, develop talented and global-minded leaders, and make research and consulting experts available to address the world’s most pressing problems.

To ready their institutions for this new day they will need to prepare people internally and externally for this coming change, adapt strategic communication and marketing initiatives to a more global environment, cultivate the help of local and remote alumni and parents, deal with government changes both local and foreign, adapt to changing student migration patterns and faculty career opportunities, and find new sources of financial support while holding on to current ones.

The stakes are high. The world needs these colleges, universities and schools on solid ground now more than ever. And surviving the unique challenges of this transition will require leadership at all levels.

It may be surprising to hear me argue that it’s the advancement professionals who will have the most urgent leadership responsibilities and opportunities of all. This is because the future success of these institutions will be completely dependent on confronting and solving these absolutely essential and complicated communication, marketing and funding challenges.

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A professor of mine some years ago argued that the news media set the social agenda and our peers determine our beliefs, reactions and actions. But many in the news media argue to the contrary that society’s leaders determine the agenda and journalists just report the events.

The horrible events resulting in the death of 5 police officers in Dallas this week had cable news pundits talking. Some blamed today’s polarized attack-style debating as keeping the kind of leadership we need from emerging.  If this is the case, who should fix it?

Could it be that the news media themselves reward outrageous attacks with big headlines and continuous coverage and therefore share some blame in accelerating angry responses? And could it also be that any leader trying to be sensible about addressing social issues will not get the coverage he or she needs to be effective?

That said, can Dallas become the lesson that persuades some media organizations to step out and assert that they indeed will put critical issues at the top of their agenda and will reward those with viable solution-based ideas with the coverage they need and deserve?

And furthermore, since our most critical issues are community-based (poverty, policing, homegrown terrorism, public health, etc.) is this not a real opportunity for local news organizations to downplay the sensational stories that have become the focus of too many, and finally become the constructive problem-solving forces their citizens need most?

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