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 (

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 . . . . . . . . .