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Archive for the ‘Higher Education’ Category

The recent flood of news from Washington has been deeply troubling.

Bob Woodward’s book about chaos in the White House, Omarosa’s tell-all book about Trump, a highly controversial Supreme Court confirmation hearing, an anonymous Op Ed piece about growing “staff resistance” in the White House, attacks on governmental institutions which are there to protect us from the bad guys, all contrasted with memorial events for John McCain challenging everyone to reconsider traditional American values, and it all rolled out about the same time. Confusing enough. But then reports followed that the president might be psychologically unfit to lead. This was overwhelming, and for most of us it was also exhausting!

As a consequence many observers have been asking if the Trump era is finally coming to an end, or was this just an example of much more to come?

Frankly, I had already been feeling the need to step back and take a fresh look at everything. I had been wondering out loud if mindless daily Trump tweets will ever slow down. And what good will ever come from all this anger?

And then more questions also poured out: Will Republicans and Democrats ever get their acts together? Is there a third political party in our future? Will Congress and the White House ever learn how to govern again? What media lessons are here for leaders of any institution? And how can we restore the faith we had in our most precious ones? How can we stop determined autocrats and bullies in their tracks? And what can be done about new media platforms being used as weapons? How can we best convey the purpose of press freedom? How can we revisit the reason for the separation of church and state? How can we restore experienced diplomacy and citizen engagement in foreign policy? What do we need to do to have world class schools? How can we provide medical care for everyone? What new possibilities will technology and globalization bring to higher education? How can the founding “idea of America” be reinvigorated and preserved? Can the core values of “freedom and justice for all” restore American leadership in the world?

With these questions in mind, I am going to take a few weeks away from the blog to refresh my thinking. And I am counting on returning to my writing and teaching with some fresh insights… cross your fingers.   

 

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We live in dangerous times. Just how critical is the U.S. role in maintaining world peace? Is it not likely that another world war will incinerate much of the planet? Is isolationism even an option any more? If the U.S. does not step up and lead the world with unifying ideas, then who will? And will we like the answer?

Here’s the problem. A “me first”stance in any communication creates division. It also creates division in world leadership. And when presidential rhetoric is embarrassingly self-congratulatory, the result can be a permanent barrier to any genuine collaboration. This is simply how communication works.

Allies will react defensively. They will eventually look for and find new collaborators. Lasting leadership requires win-win strategies. Liberty and justice for all are win-win ideas… as are individual freedom, equal opportunity, and world peace. But these are not compatible with ego-driven leadership.

The fact is that both institutions and nations share similar brand identity characteristics. Pride in association is the essential motivator. Win-win initiatives are basic to sustainable success. Unifying brands don’t just fall out of ego-driven heads. To endure, everything must be authentic.

Bottom line: The founding “idea of America” is authentic… and the world needs it now more than ever. But arrogance and isolationism have us neutralized, and any declared win with regard to North Korea will not mean we can sleep better.

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The simple laptop accelerated the development of global markets and enabled those who knew how to use technology to become competitive from any place in the world. As a result, globalization has become an established fact, and political ideologues have had little to do with it. It’s mostly about technology and economics.

  1. The digital technology revolution changed the speed and direction of the international economy which rapidly changed the dynamics, relationships and opportunities of businesses, institutions and nations.
  2. Even the smallest businesses and institutions now could easily find foreign customers and clients… and thereby become global enterprises that are not limited by borders.
  3. Admittedly many companies that move operations and plants to other countries are seeking cheaper labor. But many are also becoming global businesses, ones that operate beyond the boundaries of their countries.
  4. As a consequence most of these companies will not return. And those that do will automate rather than replace lost jobs.
  5. Like it or not, governments and institutions are already operating in a global economy. Their futures will be shaped more by unavoidable economic forces than by the whims of individual autocrats. Professional diplomacy between governments and public diplomacy between citizens and organizations are absolutely essential in such a world.
  6. It is true that President Trump’s base has not benefited enough from this global economy, and this has been ignored by the majority of a polarized and politicized Washington.
  7. But more focus on community college education and better training programs for a technology driven world are the only viable solutions. Therefore, supporting training and education budgets with adequate resources is the most productive thing Washington can do now.
  8. As higher education becomes a global industry, international leadership development, better cross-cultural understanding, and the soft-power of citizen diplomacy will gradually produce a wiser world. Many institutions will also find themselves focusing more of their research and consulting talent on solving global problems… big problems such as poverty, disease, climate change, clean energy, water shortage, space exploration, nation rebuilding, and many more.

Reopening old coal mines, bringing back assembly lines, expanding offshore oil and gas exploration, eliminating clean air and water regulations, closing borders, selling off national parks, and restricting trade… none of these are viable solutions in a technology driven world. Rather the future will be in preparing, educating, and training American citizens for a completely new and digitally transforming world economy.

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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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