I debated all last week whether or not to write about Penn State in this week’s blog. This story has received so much attention from the media and has been analyzed through multiple prisms. A day has not gone by that I don’t find myself engaged in conversation with someone about this issue. Everyone has a strong opinion.
No one disagrees about the horrific realities of child abuse. But one can find differing opinions about the role of the big-time athletic culture, the legacy of the football coach, the response from the NCAA, and on and on. I too have opinions about these aspects of the story, but wanted to share a different perspective … one that concerns me even more deeply.
The unanswered question for me is ... has the University’s accrediting body been involved? Every college and university in America is accredited by a regional accrediting body. For Anna Maria, the accrediting body is called NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges). Penn State’s accrediting body is called Middle States (Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools).
While each of the accrediting associations differs slightly, they all serve the same purpose. They exist to insure that educational quality and integrity are maintained on every campus. In the Middle States statement of purpose, for example, we read that the association is “committed to excellence in all levels across the continuum of education, whose purposes are to encourage, advance, assist and sustain the quality and integrity of education.” (NOTE: The misspelling is really on their website!).
Middle States publishes a handbook which delineates the criteria for accreditation. It is called Characteristics for Excellence in Higher Education. There are 14 standards. Standard #6 is “Integrity.” The broad definition is, “In the conduct of its programs and activities involving the public and the constituencies it serves, the institution demonstrates adherence to ethical standards and its own stated policies, providing support for academic and intellectual freedom.” This section further describes integrity as being reflected and represented by values of honesty, truthfulness, equity and fairness, respect for all people, civility, etc.
Middle States may already be deeply involved in a review or an investigation of Penn State. If this is the case, it should be reported by the media, if only the higher education media. This past week’s activities by the NCAA continues to make this issue primarily a football story … an issue of the problems with a dominant athletic culture … and this is troublesome. For me, the questions are deeper and more pervasive and make me wonder about the fundamental integrity of a great academic institution.
Perhaps the alleged unethical behavior related to failures to report, cover ups, etc. are only related to the culture of big time football as the media reports. But could these behaviors and actions be a reflection of a more systematic problem and organizational culture? Should this situation cause us to wonder if there is a more pervasive integrity problem?
There are almost 80, 000 students enrolled at Penn State. There are almost 10,000 employees. There are untold numbers of community members who attend events, camps, activities and, of course, football games. If the University is committed to protecting all of their rights … and I hope they are … how does it act when students allege harassment or unfair treatment beyond athletics? How do they act if employees allege inappropriate behavior by supervisors, etc? Do their policies and procedures demonstrate the integrity of the institution?
I am neither judging Penn State University nor drawing any conclusions. I am simply expressing my concern that in the larger picture, the actions of the NCAA and the focus on the football program are less significant. And while we criticize the culpability of such a football culture, our focus on this as the primary or sole reason for these problems serves to perpetuate the problem.
For me, the heart of the question is the fundamental integrity of the University. I hope that this is being investigated by the accrediting body. Because it is this core value that links all colleges and universities together. And it is central to our commitment to all who study, work and visit our campuses.
For me, football does not define Penn State University. Academic integrity and excellence define Penn State and all colleges and universities. And the potential failure to uphold these values throughout the institution is the real issue. And the question needs to be answered!
(Your comments and ideas are always welcome.)
For many years, it has been widely accepted that the “American Dream” is to find a good job, get married, raise a family and own a home. Even with some variation in recent years with more frequent career changes and fewer marriages, this “American Dream” continued to be the prevalent goal for most of our graduates. But according to John Zogby, this may be changing in a significant way for young people in their 20’s and early 30’s.
John Zogby is an internationally known political pollster who appears regularly on many cable news shows and publishes articles and newsletters on a variety of topics. He may be best known for his accurate predictions of recent presidential races and state gubernatorial contests.
Zogby contends that the “American Dream” has changed and that the current generation can best be described as the “first globals.” He summarized it this way, “Two out of three of them have passports. They are well-traveled; technologically they have networks that include people all over the world. They have a desire to be nimble, to go anywhere and to be anywhere. They also have a desire to change their world and feel like they're in a position to do that."
He points to several indicators of this evolution based on national data and his own opinion polls. For example, in the early 1990’s there were fewer than 100,000 American college students studying abroad. Just two years ago, the International Institute of Education reported that that number had tripled to just under 300,000. There is every indication that study abroad programs will continue to grow every year as more students seek international experiences for study, work opportunities and cultural awareness.
Zogby also cites the impact of technology and social media. The world has become more accessible and young people live in communities that are increasingly diverse and international.
Where the historic “American Dream” was tied to a smaller community of family and friends, the Internet and online resources now connect people around the world who share common interests regardless of geography or history.
But beyond this global reality, Zogby believes that there are also significant shifts in the values of younger Americans. More young people are less concerned about getting married and more comfortable in either a long-term relationship or delaying marriage and children until later in life. More young people are personally satisfied living the single life. In addition, Zogby contends that, “The permanence of owning things doesn't exist. The permanence of living somewhere doesn't exist. The permanence of getting a job and holding on to that job for the next 40 years doesn't exist."
According to Zogby, another characteristic of the “first globals” is an increased focus on public service and a greater commitment to making a difference in the world. This viewpoint is not simply about service and volunteerism. Based on Zogby’s research, it generates from a clearer understanding that what happens in other parts of the world may have an impact on all of us. We are all impacted by economic and social issues in parts of the world we may never visit and could barely locate on the map. Of course, we may have Facebook “friends” in these countries or be linked through technology because we share an interest or a value.
I am not convinced that Zogby is right … or at least that he describes a majority of young people. While I fully agree in the impact of technology and the evolution of values and practices related to marriage and children, there are still many young people who are focused on their careers and financial success.
Zogby’s assessment is interesting to consider in light of what I shared last week from David Brooks. Perhaps the real answer lies somewhere in the middle. Better said, this generation of young people may be more varied and diverse in their views and aspirations. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that there are many American dreams! What do you think?
(Your comments and ideas are always welcome.)
Several weeks ago, I read a column by David Brooks. In addition to his essays and books, Brooks writes a regular column for the NY Times in which he typically comments on politics culture, and society. While I often disagree with his analysis, he is a good writer and frequently provides thoughtful, provocative and interesting perspectives.
The column entitled “The Service Patch” focused on the false contrast between choosing a career in an area like investment banking vs. a career in a non-profit agency. Brooks contends that too many recent college graduates, especially those with the best credentials, see a point of tension between pursuing job opportunities in high paying and high prestige companies and working in less lucrative positions in areas that address global problems and human needs.
What was of most interest to me, however, was Brooks’ contention that for too many people, “… community service has become a patch for morality.” Brooks argues that the career path you choose is less important than the type of person you are. And in fact, good people work for hedge funds and immoral people work to save the world. As Brooks states, “…you can devote your life to community service and be a total schmuck. You can spend your life on Wall Street and be a hero.”
Brooks also makes the point that many young people do not understand the true meaning of virtue, character and excellence. They are not able to do a “moral evaluation” in their own lives and the lives of others. Therefore, community service is viewed as a synonym for being a good person. As he writes about this generation, “…if you are doing the sort of work that Bono celebrates then you must be a good person.”
At colleges like Anna Maria, community service is a major area of focus. We see our mission as centered on the balance between providing a quality educational experience (that leads to a fulfilling profession and career), and developing a commitment to serving the Common Good (that leads to a life of exemplary citizenship).
But Brooks’ column raises two interesting questions. Do students perform community service because they believe it demonstrates that they are good people? Are community service activities viewed as part of a check list to be added to a resume or simply as a person’s “resource allocation?" The answers to these questions are neither simple nor the same for every student.
Clearly, community service is viewed as a good thing. Students active in service initiatives are recognized and praised publicly for their efforts. And aside from the person performing the service, these efforts are inherently good for the community. Our students who work as tutors in schools, clean up parks, serve people in soup kitchens, and renovate homes in depressed neighborhoods are providing clear and meaningful value to the community. The recipients of community service (social service agencies and individuals in need) benefit greatly.
But what motivates our students? Is it an inherent commitment to service and helping our neighbors? Or is it a more calculated strategy to build a reputation or develop a profile for future employment? At Anna Maria with so many students pursuing careers in nursing, social work, teaching, public safety, etc., it would seem safe to assume that helping others is a prime motivation. Helping others is what these students and graduates will do for their entire lives. Service is both their avocation and their vocation.
But Brooks’ deeper question is whether or not service correlates with morality? Does community service define virtue, morality and ethics? Warren Bennis, the noted scholar and researcher, made famous the statement, “Leaders are people who do the right thing; managers are people who do things right.” Are more of our students leaders or managers? Are more of our students heroes or schmucks?
(Your comments and ideas are always welcome.)
New Leadership Alliance for Student Learning and Accountability leads
A week ago on July 2, 2012, Fr. John E. Brooks, S.J. died at the age of 88. Fr. Brooks served as the President of Holy Cross from 1970 to 1994. Until the day he died, he continued to serve Holy Cross as President Emeritus and Loyola Professor of the Humanities in the Religious Studies Department. He was active as a professor, a fundraiser and a community leader. Recently, the publication of the book, Fraternity, documented his significant leadership role in the civil rights movement.
Fr. Brooks was a legend in Worcester and beyond. Everyone knew him. Everyone respected him. Everyone admired his intellect, his insight and his wit. Even though his health grew frail in the past years, we somehow believed that he would live forever. I guess this was because we so wanted him to always be there as a friend and as a guide. He was generous with his time, his experience and his knowledge. Words cannot describe how much I will miss him.
Fr. Brooks had a close association with Anna Maria College. He served as a Trustee from 1998 – 2010. After completing his fourth term, he agreed to continue to serve the College as a member of a Board Committee. Anna Maria College is fortunate to have many outstanding trustees. But Fr. Brooks was special.
First, his willingness to serve on the Board provided the College with a high degree of credibility. With Fr. Brooks as a Trustee, it was easier to recruit other community leaders to join him on the Board. But his service to the College was not gratuitous.
He came to every meeting fully prepared and ready to share his views. He understood that Anna Maria was like the Holy Cross he inherited when appointed President in 1970. He had led the transformation of Holy Cross into the nationally recognized college that we all know today. He wanted the same for Anna Maria.
It was always fascinating to watch his behavior at meetings. While no one else knew as much about higher education as Fr. Brooks, he would sit quietly, listening to other Trustees express their thoughts, ideas and opinions. After the discussion had gone on for a while, Fr. Brooks would speak …and everyone would listen. In almost every case, his ideas and recommendations were clear, compelling and readily accepted by the group. He was well respected and always trusted to do what was best for AMC.
I first met Fr. Brooks in the last years of his presidency when my son was a student at Holy Cross. Our conversation was brief and centered on the fact that we were both from West Roxbury. What I always remembered about him was his genuine friendliness, his wry sense of humor and his smile. Even though we only spoke for a few minutes, he made me feel important.
When I interviewed for the presidency at Anna Maria, Fr. Brooks and I had a long conversation. He was instrumental in convincing me that AMC was capable of great things and that I could be an effective leader. He promised to help me if I needed him. That meant a great deal to me. And I called on him for his help repeatedly.
Over the past five years, Fr. Brooks has done so much to support me and AMC. He helped me to get to know the Worcester community. He advised me how to move forward with challenging issues. He supported me when leadership was difficult. He was a great mentor and friend.
I have had the honor in my life to know many good people … people of faith … people of value … people of service. But Fr. Brooks was a great man. In the coming years he will continue to be memorialized for all that he was to Holy Cross. His passionate commitment to integration and justice will be lauded. For me, he will most be remembered as the quintessential role model of a Catholic college president. I will continue to learn from his life and his legacy. Fr. Brooks … pray for us!
(As always your comments and questions are welcome.)
Last week I read a report summarizing a recent survey entitled, “Confidence in Institutions.” Conducted by Gallup since 1973, the survey asks Americans to share their level of confidence in a number of institutions in the United States. This most recent survey was conducted in early June by telephone with over 1000 respondents from across the country. The headline of the article was, “Confidence … at a New Low.”
According to these data, confidence is at a record low for public schools (only 29% express a high degree of confidence), church or organized religion (44%), banks (21%), and television news (21%). But while these were new records, there was an overwhelming lack of confidence in most institutions.
Ranking last in confidence for the third year in a row was Congress (13%). It is interesting to note that in 2010, Congress measured only an 11% confidence rating and this was the lowest measure ever for any institution. More on this in a minute.
But low levels of confidence were expressed for many institutions:
- HMOs – 19%
- Big Business – 21%
- Banks – 21%
- Organized Labor – 21%
- Television news – 21%
- Newspapers – 25%
- The Criminal Justice System – 29%
- Public Schools – 29%
In fact, the only three institutions with high degrees of confidence greater than half of the respondents were:
- The Military – 75%
- Small Business – 63%
- The Police – 56%
No institution has seen any significant increase in its confidence rating. Those rated the highest, for example, have simply maintained their previous confidence levels. The most dramatic declines in confidence have related to banks, organized religion, public schools, Congress and television news.
Lest anyone think that higher education is immune from this confidence gap, other surveys show overall confidence in higher education to be at about 50%, although significantly higher for those with a college degree (closer to 80%).
This report is not a surprise and reflects the general degree of dissatisfaction in this country. Every day we read reports about declining degrees of optimism about the economy and world events. With so much controversy and scandal with many of these institutions, it is understandable that confidence levels are low.
But the question for me is … what do we do about this? And apparently, the answer is … very little! While I have yet to find anything other than anecdotal evidence about many of these institutions, it seems clear that lack of confidence does not lead to change. And the best example of this that is irrefutable may be Congress.
Despite the extraordinary low levels of confidence in Congress, we continue to re-elect members to the House and the Senate. Since 1964, the lowest percentage of re-elected House members was 85%. In most elections, the percentage is at or above 90%. Senate re-elections have been more volatile (as low as 55% in 1980), but typically 80% or more.
If our confidence is so low, why do we re-elect the same people? The research says it is based on familiarity (name recognition) and money (advertising). But do we change our bank or financial services? Do we read a different newspaper or just stop paying attention to the news (in print and on TV)? Do we choose a different school or a private school?
Vince Lombardi once said, “Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.” We have the ability to change our institutions. But it will take more than rhetoric. Maybe it’s just easier to complain.
(Your comments and ideas are always welcome.)