Bannister Landy large

Photographer: Charlie Warner, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver, Canada August 7, 1954

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.

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Categories: News
  • terithompsonWU

    So delighted that a President of a university sees the value of a blog!

  • http://www.facereviews.com Rodney_Rumford

    Great post on excellence in education and how Woodbury University views this topic. Now is the time for transformation in higher education. In my view, learning institutions that embrace creative problem solving, entrepreneurial energy, and intellectual curiosity ultimately graduate excellent students prepared for the new fast changing world.

    As a former distance runner I know the 4 minute mile story well… and as the great Satchel Page once famously said “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you”.

    • LuisCalingo

      Thank you, Rodney, for your insights and appreciation of higher
      education. Transformation is what we are truly experiencing at this time
      with the ultimate goal of enriching our students and society. From one
      former runner to another, we know the value of always looking ahead.

  • Peggye Marks

    I love your maiden blog into the blogosphere! You do touch on what I
    consider a critical issue in our society today. I know of a few people
    (including my niece and nephew) who feel because of the expense of
    college loans topped with the lack of jobs available once out of
    college, that they need to put their higher education on hold. I wish
    you success in your renewed search for excellence and believe the moral
    of your 4-minute-mile story is a sure way to achieve it.

    • LuisCalingo

      Peggye, you voice the concern of many who are postponing or weighing the value of higher education. This is an issue of critical importance to us. We address these new workforce challenges and demands by continuing to deliver access to a quality, relevant higher education. As educators, we must be keenly aware of changes affecting our students. I appreciate your thoughts and invite your niece and nephew to visit Woodbury.

  • Douglas Cremer

    The primary struggle is always with ourselves, isn’t it? These runners overcame the limit of the 4-minute mile because they believed that they could, contrary to so-called expert opinion. But before they could overcome the time, they had to overcome the power of the limit. Those of us responsible for higher education, in whatever way, have to overcome the distractions of competition, of measuring ourselves against each other, and focus on what is in front of us: our students and our communities. They will truly tell us, unlike that expert opinion, what they require from us, what their dreams are, how they want to be changed and transformed, what they want to achieve. And by being open to their dreams, by pursuing those dreams along side of them, we will transform ourselves and our institutions, our competition will be left behind, and we will realize what being great truly is, together.

    • LuisCalingo

      Very well stated and I completely agree.

  • Deacon Jim Carper

    Congratulations on your new blog. I particulalrly like your comment about leveraging diversity. Since I work in Development & Education it was very relevant to what I do. Blessings!

    • LuisCalingo

      Deacon Jim, thank you for your comment about diversity in the missions of higher education institutions. Such diversity is something that we should not only embrace, but also leverage to ensure that more Americans have access to affordable college education and ultimately a better quality of life.

  • Vivian Callahan

    First of all, congratulations on entering the blogosphere. It’s refreshing that as an educator, you’re open to starting a dialog about education. For too long, it seems that students have been force fed information and then expected to regurgitate it without question when asked. Encouraging critical thinking is, in my mind, what will help students make exciting discoveries in their fields of study and truly make a difference.

    I loved the points you made about competition: Yes, students must learn to handle competition in their fields, but by making it about chasing a dream rather than a competitor is much better because there are no limits to how far he or she can go.

    Vivian Callahan,
    Adjunct Professor of Communications
    Santa Monica College
    Executive Vice-President, Creative Development
    DreamQuest Productions

    • LuisCalingo

      Vivian, I appreciate that you agree with starting a purposeful dialogue about the role of higher education and the critical thinking demanded of our students. As an educator at one of the largest community colleges in Southern California, you see first-hand the
      need to prepare our future leaders with communication skills they will require regardless of their field of study. Thank you for your comment.

  • Eugene Allevato

    There should be no difference between lower and higher education in terms of critical thinking. As I teach remedial math to freshmen students, I realize that most students come from high school with the perception that education is based on providing information to a cracked vase that is leaking. We as educators need to remember that before “teaching” our subjects, we need to change our students’ attitudes towards education so they perceive education as the route to the independence of learning and thought. Excellence in education will only happen when students take responsibility for their learning. Excellence in education will only happen when students and educators are sharing information instead of a monologue so common in our institutions. Excellence in education generates leadership instead of followership. In the microcosm of my Elementary Algebra classroom, I ask students to dare to ask Why and answer their own questions. We are learning the difference between learning How to do a procedure to solve an equation and Why the procedure works. The initial footstep of true critical thinkers is the courage to be skeptical of our world and our prestablished ways of doing things. Have no fear of innovation and creativity! Be the nail that stands out and challenge the hammer to hammer you down, it will make you harder and stronger.
    Eugene Allevato
    Woodbury University

    • LuisCalingo

      Thank you, Eugene, for your comments. You have articulated much better than I would have done the case for a strong liberal education as the foundation of professional education.

  • Kory Allen Wade

    Congrats on your blog Sir. This is a good way to connect with the students of today and you also give some good insight as well.

    • LuisCalingo

      Thank you, Kory, for your comments. I myself am a student of social media.

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