It is with great enthusiasm and a sense of adventure that I enter into the blogosphere with this maiden post. Enlightening blogs written by thought leaders across industry, education, the arts, and government have inspired me to embrace technology as well. In addition to being able to share insights on important topics relevant to Woodbury University, blog technology allows me to hear from you. This is the connective glue that new media provides and a compelling reason why I envision this blog as a conversation. I hope you will enjoy reading and commenting on this and future blogs as much as I will enjoy writing them.
So how does one select the topic of an initial blog? I chose the subject near and dear to me: excellence. In fact, the increasing demands for accountability of higher education institutions in the face of rising college costs, lackluster graduation rates, and increasing student loan default rates have intensified pressure on higher education to seek “world-class” status.
Perhaps the most authoritative work on creating world-class universities is the one that Dr. Jamil Samli of the World Bank published in 2009. According to Dr. Samli, a world-class university has three distinguishing outcomes:
1) Highly sought graduates
2) Leading-edge research
3) Dynamic knowledge and technology transfer
When American universities participate in the meandering procession to “follow” world-class universities such as M.I.T., Harvard, and Yale, they miss out on leveraging their own diversity of academic ideals, providing increased access to higher education, and pursuing opportunities to make college education affordable.
I propose that higher education institutions focus on transforming themselves from a “good” university to a “great” university. Successful graduates are ambassadors for the university. They are innovative leaders who help people and communities flourish. They are known for being strong communicators, ethical thinkers and creative problem-solvers with a deep commitment to sustainability and social justice. They integrate professional skills with global citizenship, entrepreneurial energy, and intellectual curiosity. They make a difference in the lives of others. In other words, a great university is best known by the quality of its graduates.
As universities like Woodbury embark on this renewed pursuit of excellence, I am reminded of my younger days as a runner. Although my waistline now shows signs of prosperity (as the Chinese would say), in high school and college, I was a varsity runner on the track and cross-country teams. I remember my high school coach sharing the story of the Four-Minute Mile. Medical authorities all said that it is impossible to run the mile in less than four minutes. Simply put, you will die. But one British medical student by the name of Roger Bannister did not believe the so-called experts. He rigorously trained until one day in May 1954, Roger Bannister ran the mile in 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds. Then in the following ten years, 336 other runners beat that record. Many of the barriers that we face are artificial and, therefore, surmountable.
Continuing with my story, only 46 days after Roger Bannister overcame the four-minute-mile barrier, John Landy of Australia ran the mile 1.4 seconds faster. Then in the great tradition of the Battle of the Champions, in August 1954, Roger Bannister and John Landy would run the so-called Mile of the Century at the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Vancouver. All through that race, John was way ahead of Roger. When he was close to the finish line, John wanted to gauge how far ahead of Roger he was. So he decided to look to his left side…and, as he did, Roger Bannister burst past him on his right. And the rest is history.
The moral of the story: It is less distracting to chase a dream than to chase the competition. Besides, wouldn’t you rather reach your dream than reach your competition?
I am Woodbury University President, Dr. Luis Calingo. Thank you for letting me share Reflections on Excellence.