Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Vaclav Havel--Powerful Words and Mighty Deeds

The poet politician, Vaclav Havel, understood the power of words. I celebrate his life and mourn his death with his words, shared from another wordsmith, Parker Palmer, in a lecture given by Palmer for Campus Ministers in 1990, "Leading from Within: Reflections on Spirituality and Leadership."

Palmer writes, "Tonight I want to begin with the words of one of those people, whose credentials for leadership are far more authentic than mine. I want to quote some remarks that Vaclav Havel (playwright, dissident, prisoner, and now president of Czechoslovakia, made to the U.S. Congress just a few weeks ago. It was surely one of the most remarkable speeches ever delivered on the floor of our national legislative body":

As long as people are people, democracy, in the full sense of the word, will always be no more than an ideal. In this sense, you too are merely approaching democracy uninterruptedly for more than 200 years, and your journey toward the horizon has neven been disrupted by a totalitarian system.
The communist type of totalitarianism system has left both our nations, Czechs and Slovaks, as it has all the nations of the Soviet Union subjugated in its time, a legacy of countless dead, an infinite spectrum of human suffering, profound economic decline, and above all, enormous human humiliation. It has brought us horrors that fortunately you have not known.
It has given us something positive, a special capacity to look from time to time somewhat further than someone who has not undergone this bitter experience. A person who cannot move and lead a somewhat normal life because he is pinned under a boulder has more time to think about his hopes than someone is not trapped that way.
What I am trying to say is this: we must all learn many things from you, from how to educate our offspring, how to elect our representatives, all the way to how to organize our economic life so that it will lead to prosperity and not to poverty. But it doesn't have to be merely assistance from the well-educated, powerful and wealthy to someone who has nothing and therefore has nothing to offer in return.
We too can offer something to you: our experience and the knowledge that has come from it. The specific experience I'm talking about has given me one certainty: consciousness precedes being, and not the other way around, as the Marxists claim. For this reason, the salvation of the human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and in human responsibility (emphasis mine). Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better in the sphere of our being as humans, and the catastrophe toward which this world is headed--be it ecological, social, demographic, or a general breakdown of civilization--will be unavoidable."

Thank you, Vaclav Havel for your words and a life well lived. Thank you, thank you!

Continuing . . . .

After a six-month hiatus, I am resuming this literary outlet. This hiatus was not the result of a loss of words. Actually, there were too many words--too many sensations--too much to ponder. Extensive travel to Europe and China, crossing over 35,000 miles between September 21 and November 16, actually left me speechless in many ways but not without words. Words, like music, are always in the air and in my head. Sometimes, however, I am not able to give voice to them. I confess that I am really so very slow to find the exact match of the words to the emotions of the moments experienced. But now perhaps it is time.

I remain thankful for the opportunity to see historical sites, to meet people from different cultures and paths of life, and to be able to participate in rich global educational experiences on behalf of Wake Forest University.

I remain so very thankful that the use of Mandarin Chinese--the use of Chinese words-- returned in the same way that it was given to me--by gift--sheer gift. That ability, to speak to Chinese students, teachers, and parents in their first language, creates advantage for Wake Forest University and much joy for me after all of these years.

And so we continue to search for those words--English or Chinese, Greek or Coptic, French or German--that define who we are and what we think. Words are very important.

Stay tuned.

Monday, June 27, 2011

International Education--Education USA Forum (June 22-24, 2011)

What an interesting week in Washington, DC! I spent last Tuesday (June 21) attending sessions on international education at the Malaysian Embassy Higher Education Showcase. I met education representatives from the following embassies: United Arab Emirates, People's Republic of China, Kosovo, Bahrain, Brunei, Finland, Indonesia, Bangladesh and others. This event, hosted by the Embassy of Malaysia and Alhambra-U.S. Chamber of Commerce brought together educational representatives from 46 US colleges and universities and international embassies from around the world. We were all focused on the exchange of students. Education is global!

Peter Morris, known as the "business shrink" was the plenary speaker for the event. Morris, with 40 years of experience the disciplines of law, psychology, and business, challenges Friedman's idea that the world is becoming flat by stating that cultural and linguistic difference continues to create barriers to effective collaborative communication. He states that "the need to develop ways to cross the barriers grows by the day--the stakes have never been greater." Morris leads us to consider psychology and other interdisciplinary skills to promote more successful cross-cultural communication. Emotional intelligence, social intelligence, moral development, cultural IQ, are important matters to consider when considering global education.

I took these thoughts and numerous new contacts from embassies around the world to the Education USA Forum held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center Wednesday through Friday afternoon, June 22-24. And what a lively group of American educators, international recruiters, college administrators! Hosted by the Department of State, this event presented educational updates from EDU USA representatives from all over the world. Regional and thematic sessions were offered that covered topics from the use of social media in international recruiting to recruiting for community colleges. One of the most lively sessions was on Wednesday afternoon titled, "EducationUSA's Policy on Incentive-Based Recruitment". The room was packed and the energy high. And of course, the spotlight was on China. The intense debate was focused on the use of agents compensated by US colleges and universities to recruit international students. The panelists were articulate and passionate--David Hawkins, Barmak Nassirian, Fanta Aw, and Diane Weisz Young. The audience listened patiently. Then at the Q&A time, the pros and cons flew across the room, as if someone had opened a pressure valve. The energy was palpable. The debate was exciting!

As any good debate, many points presented by the audience made sense for each side. Those who were in agreement with paying Chinese agents for student recruitment spoke of the competition for students, decreased budgets in higher education, the costs of American education, the increased tuition rates, the decrease in full paying American students, the free market principle in American higher education of supply and demand, and on and on. Those voices who spoke against warned against creeping unethical practices, elitist education where education is available only for those with money, of promoting admissions counseling like a car salesman more interested in profit than the benefit of the customer, of moving toward seeing college admissions simply a business transaction.

As I sat there finding "dau-li" (Chinese for reason) in almost every point, I recalled Peter Morris admonition to use an interdisciplinary way of understanding across cultures. Yes, Chinese culture depends on agency. In Chinese history, as well as some rural settings today, the Chinese matchmaker is an agent who finds the best match for each family and is compensated for this transaction of matching a bride and groom. In our culture, E-Harmony.com functions in a similar manner--with on-line transactions rather than personal family visits. In Chinese culture, business transactions are usually conducted by an intermediary, so that the primary CEO does not lose face or honor, an important element of Chinese culture, should the transaction appear unsuccessful. One could also propose that the American lawyer (or religious priest for that matter) functions in the same manner. An advocate, or agent, stands in the middle of two parties who are both trying to be successful but need someone to negotiate the terms and to represent the other in the case of failure. This idea of agency prevails in both cultures--Chinese and American.

But this is where the fork in the road occurs for me! Even with a matchmaker, online or ancient, there is personal connection. Even with a lawyer, priest or business intermediary, there is some intimate knowledge of both parties--some sense of accountability and awareness of the transaction not simply a financial transaction based on volume and delivery. American history has never seen education in this fashion, as a commodity to be bought and sold to the highest bidder. American education has historically been seen as a sacred trust, an honored privilege, and a social responsibility.

American education is the best right now in the world for some particular reason. At this moment in time, we have the coveted spot of having the best schools in the world. I ask why? Was it because we really believed, even at the birthing of our republic, that everyone needed access to education in order to create a more equitable and successful country? Was it because at the base of our understanding we realized that education was truly a humanitarian enterprise, grounded in religious values of personal and community transformation, a promise that served the good of the individual as well as the promise of the young nation? Was education rooted in the belief that a person's knowledge about themselves, their community, their nation, their world was truly beyond a price---perhaps even priceless? So priceless that the young republic considered education a social responsibility and not a commodity to be sold on the market place, like sneakers and furniture, widgets and microchips! Public education at primary and secondary levels, land-grant colleges and universities, state educational systems with low tuition and high-level resources became the hallmark of higher education in the United States of America.

Why would we want to lower our standards, initiated at the beginning of our republic, simply to meet some market expectation? Why would we want to create an inferior process, American-compensated Chinese agents, for a superior product that currently stands as our number one offering to ourselves and the world, American higher education? Can we not hold the tide on this one, just for a little while longer? Can we not take the high road? Can we find a way to honor the sacred gift of learning, the exchange of knowledge between a student and teacher, as a priceless, honorable transaction even when exchanged around the world?

Naive I am not. I understand the costs of education, the tremendous financial pressures in the current economy--especially that of private education without state funding. I also understand that some of our greatness of education in this country is directly related to the free market system, competition and growth, of higher education. We have good schools because we can compete with one another. We have no central government organizing our institutions. Without a central authority, able to freely compete on the market has created some of these financial pressures. But that same constraint is also a powerful benefit.

To those who say we must pay agents to recruit students from China so that we can support our budgets, I understand these market pressures. I am not against recruiting international students--absolutely not! We need international students in our American classrooms for a host of reasons, including financial ones. I, however, cannot support the idea that the strong ideals of higher education, the holy act of learning and individual transformation, can be determined only by the buying and selling of the marketplace. I cannot support the idea that international students are a commodity to be selected by the most aggressive and highly compensated agent and institution. I believe that people matter--that learning is priceless. The United States of America believed this in the early hours of our republic. And that has made us strong and the best--right now--in the world. Of course, we continue to struggle with the social responsibility of education in this country as we allocate budget cuts and reconsider more effective strategies for teaching and learning. Yet we are not willing to give in to the market pressures and say that education should be left entirely to the marketplace--at least not yet! That idea goes against the historic grain of our entire nation.

Placing recruitment solely in the hands of a Chinese agent, who may or may not have any affiliation with the institution, preys upon vulnerable Chinese parents, who want the best for their only child and may have the financial resources but lack international experience and have no facility in English language. And that is simply not right! No matter how tight the market! This process does not match our ideals. We have a unique opportunity to consider aligning our process with our ideals--our historic ones. I hope that we have, as Peter Morris admonished, the cultural IQ, the emotional intelligence, the psychological awareness, and the ethical fortitude to stand up and do the right thing on this one!

Friday, June 3, 2011

The End of Internationalization???? On my way home from Vancouver

"Or are we having an identity crisis? Or are we losing its true north? Are we losing some of the key values about what is behind and supporting and guiding internationalization?” These were the questions behind one of the most stimulating conversations for me at NAFSA this week.

This is the reason why these huge conferences can be so very helpful. One knows that not all of the events are equal. The exhibits are interesting but not earth-shattering. Any vendor can advertise anywhere. Some of the seminars and workshops are less thought-provoking and more commercial advertisements for the many for-profit companies seeking to turn profit from higher education ventures. But this seminar, "The End of Internalization, with three panelists speaking to a filled room, had the audacity to ask the educators and the vendors: What does all of this mean? Why are we so keen to internationalize our campus? I am so glad that someone is asking it!! That question must always be at the center of any program--it just keeps us honest. Kudos to NAFSA who would include such a thought-provoking critique. Otherwise, we are simply educated lemmings. Read the report of this seminar below.

Panelists at the session argued that as internationalization has moved from a fringe to core university activity, it remains imperative for professionals to scrutinize what they’re working toward and why. Every university now says it wants to be “international,” but what does that mean -- as Knight said, “internationalization has become a catch-all phrase for everything” -- and to what end?
“Internationalization is not a goal in itself,” said Uwe Brandenburg, a consultant with the Centre for Higher Education, in Germany. “It’s a means to an end. It’s an instrument to achieve something. It’s not good just because it’s international.” Instead of looking at internationalization as its own end, Brandenburg said, universities should focus on the way it contributes to improving teaching, learning, research, innovation and civic engagement."

THANKS NAFSA. Good meeting.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

100,000 Strong Initiative: US and China Study Abroad

In 2009 President Obama announced that we would have 100,000 students from the USA studying in China in the next four years. Secretary Clinton announced the program directed by the State Department --"100,000 Strong"-- in Shanghai last December. This program is now moving forward at slow but steady speed. No money is available from Congress and this program will move forward by private donors only. With over 7 million dollars already pledged since January of this year toward a goal of almost $70 million, the idea is gaining momentum from both United States and China. I learned today that the Chinese government has promised 30,000 full scholarships to USA students for short term study abroad experiences, full master, and doctoral level degree programs for US students willing to study in China. Chinese universities are building new dorms and expanding English language programs to accomodate newly arriving American students. This new goal will be a challenge for us. Traditionally, we have had more Chinese students studying here in the USA than American students studying in China. More Chinese can speak English than Americans can speak Chinese. But this goal is an important one for us at this moment. Our knowledge of China needs to increase. Our US students need to learn to speak more than one language and Mandarin is the language spoken by over a billion people around the world. In addition, Secretary Clinton underscores the point that the US/China relationship is the most important relationship that we have at the moment because any issue moving forward will require that US and China sit down and talk together as the top two powerful countries in the world. http://www.state.gov/p/eap/regional/100000_strong/c40115.htm In other words, we need to make friends with China. And students can do that better than any other population. Every friendship we make, said Michele Obama, makes our country stronger.

And so we all work to help make this happen for the sake of our great grandchildren! Wake Forest University, let us consider China!

Monday, May 30, 2011

World University Rankings

Rankings--higher education has a love/hate relationships with rankings. We love them if the numbers move up and we hate them if we move down. We cavalierly say that those numbers are not that meaningful; yet we wait impatiently for the US News and World Report to issue their latest release. Fortunately, for WFU, we have risen up those ranks in the last few years. That makes presenting WFU to international parents much easier. But if we are truly in a global market for higher education, how does WFU stand in relationship to schools around the world? If US parents patiently wait for the publication of the latest rankings, international parents are even more anxious as they must make decisions often without first-hand knowledge of an American campus. Ranking systems do matter.

I spent most of this day with QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) learning about their products, particularly their world ranking system of colleges and universities. They have devised a way to rank international schools that honor the individual character of the school in a way not dependent on the performance of other institutions. In the current system of ranking, there is only one #1. Yet, we all know that there are many, many excellent universities in the United States that also deserve a top spot. I intend on watching and learning more about this innovative, new system of international ranking that highlights the attributes of many excellent schools without limiting the rank to only one spot (www.qs.com).

Education in a Global World

I am in Vancouver, BC, Canada for the NAFSA Conference: An Association of International Educators. WOW! This is a huge industry, evidenced by the size of this conference. With over 9000 registered attendees from all over the world and hundreds of exhibitors in the expo hall hawking everything from on-line applications software to Chinese recruiters, I am in a high learning curve!

I spent yesterday afternoon with 30 educators/recruiter types from China, England, Ireland, Netherlands, India. We were spending four hours together thinking about the international opportunities in the U. S. Higher Education, sponsored by Institute for International Education. We are still the best--for right now--for this moment--for now. With our 4,633 colleges and universities (1, 705 public, 1,713 private, not-for profit, and 1,215 private, for profit) we still have some of the best colleges and universities in the world. Our belief in limited government (a Jeffersonian democracy), capitalism, equal opportunity, and firm belief in the value of liberal arts undergraduate foundation have created schools of unparalleled reputation and influence. I would also add that our most noble notion of higher education, which assumes that education serves to benefit not only individuals and families, but also our country, contributes to our success (stated best in the reverential terms of Wake Forest University motto---Pro Humanitate--for the benefit of humankind). In addition, the early notion of our nascent republic was that education was a God-given opportunity--that to educate a mind was to deepen a heart in preparation for service to others--still stands as a guidepost for our most noble institutions of higher learning. In more pragmatic terms, US Higher Education is a $200 billion enterprise, whose employees comprise about 2% of our national workforce. We must stay strong, even with budgetary constraints of this moment in time. Sharing with the world our noble aspirational vision of higher education may be our best export yet. Nike, McDonalds, Starbucks worked internationally with solid business plans, but the exporting and importing of higher education might just exceed the international influence of things you can wear and eat! And we just might be able to create a better world for all of us in the meantime.

To cherish these values of American higher education, however, is to be willing to share them with the world. And we are. International students come here; American students go there. The Institute of International Education (IIE) has been keeping stats on international education since its founding in 1919. The Open Doors Report (since 1954) produces an annual census. The most amazing fact is that one generation we have seen a 120% increase of students of American students studying abroad. We are going there! Non-traditional places, like China, Argentina, South Africa, Denmark, Peru, South Korea, are replacing the traditional places of study abroad, such as UK, Italy, and Spain. They are coming here! In 2009/10 the number of international students in the US increased 2.9% from the previous year to 690,923 students. Of that number 52% of the degree seeking students are from China, India, and South Korea.

This is a new world. And I am glad to be alive at this particular moment in time to see it unfold and to be a small part of this large movement of global education.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Vietnam War: An Example of Non-Obliquity

John Kay reminds me that the war in Vietnam was guided by the bean-counting mentality of McNamara and the influence of the Whiz Kids at the RAND Corporation in California ( 163). It was the zeitgeist of the moment. Plan the future by numbers. My soldier husband who served in the Army during the Vietnam War confirmed it. Nightly reports were made to match the numbers--numbers of dead bodies and places of attack. Progress was measured by body count. Not unlike the operations specialists who were trained to put pieces of a car together on an assembly line at Ford Corporation (for the Whiz Kids had also pulled Ford out of trouble in that late 40s), the soldiers were also accountable for reporting the portions of the algorithm that would determine the next day's battle strategy. Numbers and analysis led the way. But it did not work, as we all know so very well.

What was missing? McNamara, before his death, wrote these words:

"We misjudged then--as we have since--the geopolitical intentions of our adversaries. . . . We viewed the people and leaders of South Vietnam in terms of our own experience . . . . Our misjudgment of friend and foe alike reflected our profound ignorance of the history, culture, and politics of the people in the area, and the personalities and habits of their leaders" (Kay quoting from Robert S. McMamara and Brian VanDeMark, IN RETROSPECT: THE TRAGEDY AND LESSONS OF VIETNAM [ New York: 1966, pp. 321 and 339], 108).

There is more to life than what we can see. Our challenge is to develop those sensitivities, even those garnered from the study of anthropology, sociology, theology, psychology and the human sciences, including our own developed intuition and sense of self, that "place in the gut" where you know what is true and good and noble. That will strengthen our decision making--and thereby deepen our lives.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Thinking from Insular Time

These are today's thoughts to ponder from John Kay's OBLIQUITY:

"In obliquity there are no predictable connections between intentions and outcomes . . . . Problem solving is iterative and adaptive rather than direct . . . . The most complex systems come into being, and function, without anyone having knowledge of the whole. Good decision makers are eclectic and tend to regard consistency as a mark of stubbornness, or ideological blindness, rather than a virtue. . . . . " (13-14)

An oblique leader adapts continuously (135). And so does life.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Strategic Plans and Quant Models

I love linear thinking. I love to make a list and follow it--whether a large strategic plan for a five-year stretch to guide a university or a list of personal and household errands for a Saturday morning. I am not a good mathematician so placing numbers in a graph or spreadsheet is more of a challenge. But I know that it can be done. I so admired my b-school classmates who could forecast business growth by placing numbers on a grid, lock them in an algorithm, let the computer run several days of iterations, and then predict the company's future. I marveled that so much information could be placed on one line, in one graph, with a simple x-y axis.

Even with all of the sophistication of numbers, modeling, problem solver, graphs, spreadsheets, I sensed that this was not the whole story. Because I have been in the world of spirituality and religion for most of my life, I was aware that there are things in this world that you cannot see--and certainly some things in this world that just simply cannot be graphed--that unpredictability is sure but dangerous for an orderly universe because it cannot be predicted! But I could not articulate these thoughts to this world or even to myself, lest I sound like some early medieval mystic swirling around in a time warp, oblivious to modern assumptions about sun and moon.

Until John Kay and his notion of obliquity. Certainly not a new idea, for process theologians and philosophers have been saying this all along. Minds like Teilhard de Chardin, and contemporary theologians Suckoki and Cobb have been trying to tell us that there is much, more more that what we can see. The question remained: how can an enlightened mind, one shaped by scientific revolutions of the 18-19th centuries, seemingly revert back to a medieval mind, that believes thunder to be an angry god and the earth their good mother ( as well as a geo-centric universe)?

The notion of obliquity says what we all need to know (especially in the world of business and finance right now at the moment)---there is more there than we can see. That does not make us retroactively medieval mystics without a scientific bone in the body, so to speak. To acknowledge obliquity, however, at this moment in our culture, whether religion or politics, is to acknowledge that "direct approaches are often impracticable . . . . and that the consequences of our actions depend on the responses of other people, and these responses spring not just from our actions but from their perceptions of our motives for undertaking these actions. We deal with complex systems whose structure we can understand only imperfectly " (13).

What does this mean---for economics, for politics, for religion, for our nation's leaders? What does the notion of obliquity mean for me and my family?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

OBLIQUITY--Going Home by Another Way

I am finally on vacation. A little insular time with dear husband, a loaded I-Pad of recent books, and a lovely view of the Atlantic Ocean from the coastline of South Carolina.

When I tire of non-thinking and resting under the beach umbrella, my mind is on a most interesting new book by John Kay, visiting professor at the London School of Economics and St. John's Oxford--OBLIQUITY: Why our goals are best achieved indirectly
(Penguin, 2011).

I think that I have discovered a new book of devotions. More later . . . . . . . . .

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sputnik, Chinese education, and us!


Nicholas D. Kristoff said it so well in today's NY Times. Read it! It is not the Chinese stealth bomber that we should be so concerned, it is China's desire for educational reform! We have no Confucius here in the USA undergirding our educational reform; but we do have lots of talent and we still have some of the best schools in the world--thus far. We have a lot of work to do--both countries. And here's hoping that we can do it together as two of the worlds great superpowers. Here's hoping that if we do this together both China and USA will be stronger. Smart power--smart educational reform!