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Nominated for President, Haverford and Wesleyan

Nominated for President, Haverford and Wesleyan

February 5, 2007

Haverford and Wesleyan have more similarities than differences. The Common Application works for students. Why not for presidents? Search Committees are regrouping in the new year. Time for my pitch.

I can’t imagine two better opportunities: small, liberal arts colleges with superb faculties, overflowing libraries and no serious roof leaks. Why do the trustees of each persist in a game neither can win? Haverford will never be Swarthmore nor will Wesleyan be Williams or Amherst. And, so what? Both faculties deserve a champion, not an explainer.

Let’s start by blowing the whistle on the tired formula for elite higher education -- accept only the perfect; incarcerate and coddle for four years; pass on to the dreariest jobs. No clothes on this emperor.

When will elites concede that students who began competitive sports, classical music, and SAT prep in utero have finished traditional college long before freshman year begins? Students said so in the buried New York Times article "The Incredibles." The reaction of mighty Stanford to students arriving with a B.A. full of Advanced Placement credits: Simple -- ignore AP exams, for credit or placement. Among my crazy ideas is that education is a process for everyone -- students and faculty -- to learn and to stumble and to grow.

As president, I’ll redraw the playing field. A liberal arts education is about curiosity and imagination and creating solutions from connecting disparate facts and ideas. Let Wesleyan or Haverford guarantee to create citizens with the courage to pummel the new problems of the 21st Century, not more who prattle back standard answers. Forget U.S. News college rankings. Tie my pay to the Washington Monthly rankings, which measure net contribution to a better world.

Keeping my lowest-qualified-bidder policy, I’ll take either presidency for the lower of $175,000 plus a house or half what the trustees have on the table. (Current reported base is $270,580 at Haverford and $372,120 for Wesleyan.) No raises for my stay. Measure my performance by what we scrounge and reallocate for faculty salaries, research and student aid.

As qualifications, I’ve put the liberal arts to use throughout the public and private sectors. I’ve come in on budget through storms in business and as CFO of a public university. I cannot believe the game today where trustees pay high chief executive salaries in a system where the stock excuse, house included, is always “Sorry, can’t do it. Not enough money.” Am I published? Click here for my credo on the challenge to humanities and liberal arts. I will end the official hand wringing over how no one understands the value of the liberal arts. The fault, dear colleagues, is not in our critics but in ourselves.

My common platform:

  • I will eliminate half the curriculum.I don’t mind which half. (Note: Not half, or any, of the faculty.) All students, faculty and staff will take the Myers Briggs personality type assessments and get to work on people skills. Listening, communicating and collaborating -- how to operate in a world that doesn’t care about your SAT scores. To foster these skills, for all courses the entire class will receive the lowest grade achieved by any student in the course. Those who don’t understand my point prove the utility of this approach. A graduation requirement will be the principled-negotiation training my friend Jeff Weiss of Vantage Partners is pioneering at West Point and has taught at Dartmouth for years. (President, faculty and staff will take a refresher every year.) West Point should not be ahead of Wesleyan or Quaker Haverford in conflict resolution.
  • Myers Briggs and principled negotiation will be the foundation for the skills to deal with evil and dishonesty and survive. At Haverford, Peace & Conflict Studies is not a major and covers the arms-length, as it were, geopolitics topics, not personal skills. Soon enough, elite graduates with student loans and urban rents to pay will be in white-collar meetings where someone is flat-out lying or about to dump sludge into a watershed or look the other way on fairness to workers. Martyrdom is easy and futile. In failing to address these real conflict skills, elites in particular ensure bad decisions ahead.
  • A fund raising moratorium. Excellent education teaches resourcefulness, not gluttony. Haverford, to its credit, notes that the $450 million endowment leaves the college “well-positioned financially.” Good, but the next page of the presidential prospectus is “Institutional Advancement.” Wesleyan trustees need a whack with a presidential mace: “Our endowment per student, however, is substantially less than our competitors. We must manage our resources with both boldness and prudence and sustain high levels of fund raising into the future.” For 2,700 students, Wesleyan has a $600 million endowment. Some values for students: “I’m only a Rockefeller, not Bill Gates. Woe is me!”
  • No more buildings. Cede the build-and-gild race to colleges without imagination. A challenging education, not real estate, must attract top students. Students with 1600 SATs who think luxury living is a factor? No one I’d waste a Haverford or a Wesleyan education on. Trustees need a refresher walk down the Stoa in Athens.
    Besides, my daughter has found that the fancier the science labs, the duller the teaching. Both campuses have too many buildings. As president, I’ll convert a building to supportive housing for homeless families. The college, to ensure a grounded education, will commit to putting these families out into the world again. I will join the Middletown (Wesleyan’s hometown) leaders and their plan to eliminate homelessness.
  • How about a class project for senior-year course requirements? Four more years of independent assignments, tests and papers is redundant. Higher education, especially at the elite liberal arts colleges, must align with the cross-disciplinary problems of the world. Higher education must be a laboratory where students can learn to structure unstructured problems. At Wesleyan, for the first class of seniors, we’ll start with clean water for the planet. The next, adequate health care for all children. The full spectrum of liberal arts figures into any solutions. Graduation will be presentation of the financed plan to the world. Plus, all graduates will have created fine new jobs for themselves. At Haverford, we’ll resume the Quaker interest in peace. The troubles at Guilford show, at a minimum, that we are a long way from facing down the emotional complexity of this century. Sustainable peace has plenty of scientific, economic and political elements. Why has Haverford lost the plot on peace? As a project, to inspire the world, why not write and produce a Quaker "24" television series? With the same drama and excitement, only having the choppers fly to the rescue before anyone is mad enough to consider terrorism? I’m not kidding.
  • Military recruiting on campus is fine by me. For the Quakers, the military presence reminds us of peacemaking yet to do. I will urge students to ban recruiting by Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorganChase, McKinsey and such. Our students will realize that these errant commercial interests -- enabling pollution and layoffs and greed -- do more harm than any military ever has. I will levy a tax on academic departments whose majors take those jobs. I’m a realist. The world needs banks. Those jobs, though, are too easy. Our graduates will hire these firms, not work for them.

Most Sundays find me at a Quaker Meeting and that adds to the appeal of Haverford. My offer (rebuffed so far) to the Haverford search committee: I’ll lead a day-long workshop on how Quaker principles may be the ones to create the ideal 21st Century education. The Haverford prospectus seeks candidates with “An appreciation for the Quaker heritage of the College and the Quaker practices that permeate its culture.”

The ideas work, though, for Wesleyan. Quakerism includes people of all faiths. Our meeting has a Seder. In what an education seeks, what better question than Quaker founder George Fox speaking in 1694 at Ulverston, England?

“You will say, 'Christ saith this, and the apostles say this;' but what canst THOU say?” (Emphasis added.)

The point is not Christianity; it’s “Think for yourself!” Fox offers a good question to open any class.

As to the necessity for bigger endowments and more buildings, we will consider "A Plea for the Poor," the 1793 essay by John Woolman, near the top of the Quaker canon. As a theme, Woolman connects excess by some as a cause of poverty for many others. The chapter on schools, for example, asks, “Are great labours performed to gain wealth for posterity? Are many supported with wages to furnish us with delicacies and luxuries?... Are there various branches of workmanship only ornamental -- in the building of our houses, hanging by our walls and partitions, and to be seen in our furniture and apparel?”

A word on presidential searches -- fodder for a library of future anthro Ph.D.s is just sitting there. (Click for the full rites at Wesleyan and Haverford.) In the beginning is The Vacancy. The Trustees appoint the Search Committee, including faculty and students. The Committee retains (never “hires”) The Search Firm. These priests, chiefs, elders and shamans join to create the Primary Artifacts – The Advertisement and The Job Prospectus. The Artifacts restate information easy to find on the college Web site. Letters go out seeking the greatest leaders in the world. The Search concludes with parades, ceremonies, costumes, medallions and totems.

My own study of Presidential Search ritual cycles affirms a curious point that I was slow to discover. These Searches are not looking for anyone. Candidates will emerge from a well known and able pool of academics, preferably with an Ivy League Ph.D. Why not just say so? I asked my Local Anthropologist, Parker Shipton, professor at Boston University. Parker -- M.Litt., Oxford, and Ph.D., Cambridge – invoked his kindly, patient-with-my-ignorance voice. Check out the writings of anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu, Parker said. The Search Ritual Cycle is “habitus,” our embodied habits, what we do to remind us of who we are. The Search is a reaffirmation and renewal for The Tribe, not A Search, he explained. What, then, is a reunion? Parker sighed and went to tend to his actual students.

Market stabilization is the other Search objective – familiar to economists and, in higher education, out of regulatory reach for now. The Advertisement signals to the market the intentions of the Searching Tribe. Scholars reading only these ads year after year would have no idea of any troubling issues in higher education. No one seeks a president to address the scathing 2006 critiques by, say, the federal Commission on the Future of Higher Education, or by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

Not found in any ads, though you don’t have to be trustbuster to catch on: “Let’s deliver more learning for less money at lower prices.”

A friend who’s an eminent academic nominated me for Haverford. A Wesleyan parent received The Letter and nominated me. The Chair of the Wesleyan Presidential Search Committee did, to his credit, reply to my nominating friend. On decent paper, too. OK, until the middle of the second paragraph.

“However, a member of the committee or our search consultant, Spencer Stuart, will only contact the person you nominated directly if we believe their qualifications represent a good match for the position. The Board of Trustees will select Wesleyan’s 16th president in the spring. Please find enclosed the Position and Candidate Specification that the Search Committee has written based on feedback from the Wesleyan community.”

Send the Specifications after asking for nominations? My nominator felt less thanked than scolded. (Close textual opportunity for anthropologists: In the last sentence of the “However” paragraph, “president” is lower case while “Board of Trustees” is not.)

As with most tribes, power figures into The Search. An unsolicited nomination or application generally guarantees total silence from The Search Committee. One ardent rejection-- three voice mails from The Search Firm -- I have had, though, was for a post I said I didn’t want to apply for. “What a great job. I’d love to, but they’re not going to pick me. I’m window dressing,” I said more than once. When a High Chief persisted, I even wrote to take my name out of consideration. A few weeks later, the voice mails. Who was I to reject myself?

I explained these rites to the Quaker friends who urged me on at Haverford. When queries, albeit Friendly, about my own spine arose, I relented. I called a High Priest, close to The Search. “Does Haverford really want to talk with someone with management experience who is passionate about the liberal arts and how Quaker values fit into education today? Or is The Search for a fine academic, Ivy League Ph.D. preferred?” A brief silence: The Ph.D.

Which brings me to my question for the Haverford Trustees: Given Quaker principles and such simple search criteria, whose idea was the massive four-color search Prospectus? (Look on the right at this link.) I sent a copy to graphics pros for an estimate: $25,000 at least, and more if new photographs and text were commissioned. That’s almost whole a scholarship for some Haverford student now crippled with too many student loans.

Should the day come, we’ll use the brochure for the opening question for my Haverford Trustee workshop: “What canst thou say?”

Bio

Wick Sloane’s Inside Higher Ed column, The Devil’s Workshop, appears as needed. He is an end user of higher education.

 

 

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