Three Questions for a Friday Afternoon

I was the only Canadian in the room this week, along with 100 of the top Headmasters in America, who had the honour of listening to four esteemed College Presidents. I want to share a few of their thoughts on “The College Scene” and leave you with the main question posed by each of the presenters.

John McCardell is the President of Sewanee, The University of the South, and former President of Middlebury. Perhaps he is best known for his leadership in the debate on reducing the drinking age in America. Yesterday morning, he passionately explored the theme of connections and our role in cultivating the habits of the heart. He quoted E.M. Forster, from Howard’s End:

She might yet be able to help him to the building of the rainbow bridge that should connect the prose in us with the passion. Without it we are meaningless fragments, half monks, half beasts, unconnected arches that have never joined into a man.

Question One: How do you create opportunities for intergenerational connectedness?

Lee Pelton is the current President of Emerson College. Although he joked that the definition of a College President is someone who lives in a big house and begs for money, he focused his words on moral leadership. He acknowledged that the role of the leader is fundraiser and administrator, but he said the call to greatness is to look through the confusion, see the compelling moral dilemmas, find the “educational moments” and shine a light on them. He gave the recent examples of the occupy movement and the identification of illegal staff on campus. He asked the audience, “What would you do?”

Question Two: Consider a current incident that provides the opportunity to explore a compelling moral issue – do you have the courage to exert moral leadership?

Kent Chabotar, President of Guilford College and former Professor of Education at Harvard, talked about ‘Economy, Higher Education and Independent Schools’. He spoke about ‘The New Normal’ and our need to focus and prioritize, make data driven decisions, focus on our competitive advantage, and emphasize outcomes. He challenged schools to articulate the goals of all Financial Aid and to start each budget with a narrative. He believes that most strategic plans are “crap” because they are great on aspirations and rhetoric but short on action items and performance metrics.

Question Three: How do we link our strategic priorities to short-term objectives, action steps, a long-range budget and metrics?

Now you may have noticed that I said there were four college presidents but I have only reported on three. Well, I guess I made the moral decision to opt for a cheaper flight and intergenerational connectedness – I left the conference early so I could be there to pick up my son from school on his 13th birthday.

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