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Archive for February 12th, 2016

Good luck, Simon

There are ways to bring about change and there are ways that change will never happen. Unfortunately, St. Mary’s University President, Simon Newman, took the later course of action. It has resulted in national attention now being paid to the institution and not in the best light.

When Newman was hired last year, it appears that the selection committee had found just the man for the job. Known as an excellent fund raiser, the 51-year old “devout Catholic” seemed a perfect choice for increasing the institution’s modest $52 million endowment. In addition, his thoughts on increasing academic excellence and adding new programs made sense for America’s second oldest Catholic University. Newman’s mistakes began when he began talking of identifying freshmen who were performing poorly and encouraging them to leave school.

In a Baltimore Sun report it was reported that, “A search committee had been looking for a new leader with fundraising, strategic planning and fiscal leadership skills. Newman was introduced at a Mass on the Emmitsburg campus on Monday.

“Newman said he is interested in deepening the core liberal arts programs, expanding study abroad and building up science, technology, engineering and math courses, particularly in biochemistry. Eventually, he said, he would like to see the university have a doctorate program. In the next six months, he said, the university will develop a strategic plan for the future.”

However, no sooner was the President in office than he asked faculty to identify students who were struggling in their first year in order that they be culled from the student body. There is a great deal of misinterpretation of who said what when and where. The upshot was the firing/suspension of two faculty members and a faculty vote of 87-3 asking the President to resign.

Dammit, Si, if you’d just taken the time to talk to a few folks before stepping into a pile of hot, steaming doo-doo, you might have saved yourself a wee bit of trouble. While you may not believe this, God did not send you to St. Mary’s to be His representative. If you had only taken the time to get the pulse of the campus, you would have become aware that filling the shoes of your predecessor was going to require tact and diplomacy, not “Hitting the ground hard,” as you so eloquently put it. Announcing that the University would be develop a strategic plan within six months was tantamount to saying, “Everything is going to change no matter how it’s been done in the past.” Uh-uh, colleges and universities don’t work that way. You know you want to get going and I know you want to get going, but take it from someone who had to deal with innumerable @#$%^&* in higher education for over 40 years, there are ways to get the job done and there are ways by which each and every faculty member, administrator, and staff person will spend their days throwing tacks under your tires and their nights wondering how they can screw you the following day.

It may sound like a long time Simon, but here’s a bit of advice for your first year (1) Meet with small groups of faculty over lunch and ask why nearly a quarter of the students are leaving after the freshman year. Should they have been told to take a couple of years of community college study before attempting the more rigorous curriculum at Mt. St. Mary’s? Did the admissions staff not understand the screening process – oh, and make certain you have lunch with your admissions folks also, perhaps even to the point of including one or two at some of your faculty luncheons. (2) Get to know the seniors. What have they liked about their education? What have they disliked? (3) Which of your faculty, tenured or untenured, will never be happy with any change that takes place. (4) Who among the alumni have a strong interest in seeing the university move into new areas? (5) Has your development office identified leadership gift prospects if you are contemplating a development campaign? (6) Who will be included in helping to develop a strategic plan? If you expect it to work, you’d better include every element of the university community, from the top faculty and trustees to members of the secretarial staff and physical facilities department. You’ll get some great surprises when you hear from ‘everyone’ on campus. Certainly, filters will be necessary at some point, but at the outset, everything should be fair game and everyone should have the opportunity to speak. (7) do more listening than talking in your first year. If people truly believe that their viewpoints are being heard, introducing a strategic plan that will undoubtedly upset some will be swallowed a bit easier when people know that at least they were heard.

Finally, tell your wife and kids that it’s been nice knowing them. You won’t be seeing much of them for a while, not if you’re going to do the job the trustees feel you are capable of doing. Good luck, Simon. Just give me a call when the alligators reach your butt.

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Milk every drop

How does one measure the worth of a human being?

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” So said the Declaration of Independence…and we all know that document to have been written by white men without regard to women or to those who had a strange accent or whose skin color was not the same as their own, ie, people who were different from the framers, ergo, when push comes to shove, it’s a bunch of bullshit. In other words, the only individuals with any worth were what the writers thought they should be.

So the worth of a human being has not really meant a whole hell of a lot back as far as when this country was founded, and anyone who disputes that is a big fat liar. While we may have an opinion of our self-worth, the skill sets we possess, and what those skills might be worth on an open market, there is always someone who considers him or herself a better judge of what we may be worth to them in a particular situation.

There are any number of factors that contribute to determining the worth of a human being. First, let’s clarify what we mean by the words, “worth of a human being.” Child molester, rapists, people who physically abuse others because they think they can get away with it, cold blooded murders, and several others you may wish to mention have no worth. They have no right to be using the air that we breathe. They may have great self-worth and believe that they are just wonderful; you and I, as judges, disagree. And that brings up an interesting point…who are we to judge these people? “Well everyone knows…” is not an answer. I’m told that serial killers could be charming and delightful. True or false, I rather doubt you’d find any takers for inviting them into a home for dinner. Therefore, the perception of others is a part of what makes up “worth.” I remember an economics professor, when I was in college, who said, “You are all beginning with a grade of ‘C;’ how you change that grade, up or down, is entirely up to you.

If you wish to make some kind of scale, say zero to ten on a linear line, the horribles mentioned above should fall just a bit below the zero, assuming that is about as bad a one can get. Everyone else is a five. It’s only by hard work and great effort that they can reduce or increase their position on our scale.

In all cases, your true worth depends entirely on many factors. How your worth is valued by others depends on what is required in the short-, medium-, and long-term.  If you go to the emergency room with all of the signals of a heart attack, I’m not certain you want a dermatologist or even a proctologist to be your doctor. Certainly, they have the skills of a physician, but they just ain’t what you need at this particular moment. Put yourself in a similar situation…no, no, no, not the heart attack, unless you happen to be a cardiac specialist, but, let us say…a situation that requires the ability to organize people into teams; that requires you to be articulate; that requires you to be calm in a crisis; that requires you to design and implement some type of program; that needs you to be accessible, direct, capable of working in diverse groups; that demands physical agility; that necessitates proactivity versus reacting to what may crop up. To paraphrase Rudyard Kipling, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming you…Yours is the Earth and everything in it.”

Each of us has to determine who and what we are and how we are positioned on our scale. One Timothy 6:10 says, “For the love of money is the root of all evil…” If you covet it above all, you may raise yourself in the eyes of many. After all, you can never have too many houses, cars, boats, etc., but if you are willing to earn what you need to live in the style you wish, and you are able to help others through charitable efforts, whether it’s from your resources, your time, or your talents, you are of a much greater worth in my own mind. That’s me; others may think you’re a damned fool. Still others will tell you, “You’re better than that.”

What I’m telling you is that your worth can only be determined by you…both your self-worth and what you are worth on the open market. Is a quantum physicist worth more than a garage mechanic, for example? The garage mechanic’s family may think far more highly of him than the physicist’s family, so who is worth more. We’re on this earth for a very brief moment. What we do to make that the very best moment for each of us determines where we land on our scale. We may not even care where we fall, and that’s okay, too.

I once applied for a job and was told, “We can’t afford you.” It’s a great sentiment and a little bit of a head swelling statement, but this, too, governs your worth. Is the situation worth your effort as a human being or is it one where you can walk away and say, “You’re right, I’m worth more than you can pay.” Ego said, “Walk away;” the need to work and the desire to put bread on the table said, “Don’t be a damned fool.” In the long run, taking the job was one of the wisest career decisions of my life. I didn’t make a whole, helluva lot of money but my worth, at least in my mind, went far beyond dollars and cents. I helped people…and people helped me…and boy, that is milking the very last drop out of life.

Go. Milk that last drop. Enjoy.

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