Saturday, September 17, 2011

Michael Berry: "From Shimer College to the Corner Office"

Michael Berry is a Fortune 100 business executive and current head of Bunker Hill Hospitality. He attended Shimer College from 1966 to 1968. The following is a transcript and video of the speech he delivered at Shimer on April 1, 2011, as part of the Spring Lecture Series.

From Shimer College to the Corner Office: Is There Value in a Shimer Education in Today’s Business World?




[applause]

Thank you very much, Albert, for the introduction. Let me start by saying that the reason it says 66 to 68 and not all the way to 70. That was actually my loss; when I was a student at Shimer it was during the Vietnam War. So it was a fascinating period to be on campus and so forth. But my brother was serving in the military, which made it doubly difficult, because you fought with issues of war and so forth.

But my brother was killed. And as a consequence, I left Shimer. But it was the saddest decision I ever made, because Shimer had a special spot for me here. And so I've always had a special place in my heart for Shimer. So it's great to be back.

I am the exception rather than the rule, in that I did go into business. And I did prosper all right. So I thought I would give you, tonight, a new [inaudible 1:26] for discussion. First off, some context. And it'll come more at the end of my time at Shimer.

I really wanted to review a number of contemporary thoughts about the value of a higher education degree at all, because it certainly is a topic of discussion, especially as the degree becomes more and more expensive.

I also looked at the difference between entrepreneurial versus the more traditional business environment. And how does Shimer fare in preparing people for life in general but tonight, specifically, perhaps for business, the business world.

There are some assumptions here that I'm going to make. And anyone can take critique of any of them because they are just that, assumptions.

One is, I'm assuming that a college education, in fact the degree itself, is a product. And all products have a value. The value is not what you put in it; that's how you get the price. The value is what you take out of it. And so as we review this tonight, there is the assumption in here that you can derive the value both of the college education and the degree itself.

Tonight's discussion will also be highly subjective, because some of these are totally my opinion. Some of them are opinions of others that I will cite. So nothing should be taken as the truth, but I assume being at Shimer, that would be a truism.

[laughter]

I do not wish to offend anyone with any of the comments in here. I think I've edited it enough times that... [laughter]

There is one where I do get off the rails and I get railing about something in particular. But then I'll try to leave time at the end so we can talk it over. Hutchins had his idea, in his period, in believing that the Socratic Method, and reading the great book, was a better way to educate young students. For all the same reasons that Shimer continued to exist, and St. John's, for that matter, I think there is great merit in the argument that both the great books program and that the Socratic Method of reviewing them has great merit. And I think can compare favorably to a more traditional collegiate education.

In Hutchins' words, he did not believe that the object of the educational system was to produce hands for industry, such as my own. [laughs] Or to teach the young how to make a living. Instead they were to produce [inaudible 4:15] , responsible citizens.

And I know that stays with Shimer in all of the mission statements, and the literature I read. It's about your life as citizens and making the most of who you are. And that idea of self-actualization that is so important. I think it's also important to understand that Socrates, thousands of years ago, was using a methodology that we still use.

And that starts with the assumption that I know, really, nothing. And there's no better place to begin because otherwise, you're starting with assumptions, bigotries, biases and so forth. That doesn't mean they're un-truths, but one needs to probably prove them. I also think that the foundations of the hypothesis, proposing, and the whole dialectic method is not only good in academia, but is very good in business.

In business, too often, if you're in the upper echelon, it can be a "yes" machine. And that is not what you want to be a good business. FedEx is a perfect example. Whoever thought that the easiest, quickest and cheapest way to get a document from Boston to Los Angeles, or for that matter across Los Angeles, would be to send it via Memphis?

And then it would still be there the very next day!

So, that was great thinking. And someone who propositioned it originally had to be thought way out there. But in fact, it is now taken as very much by rote.

The whole discussion about the value of an education started for me with an article in the 2008 in the "Chronicle of Higher Education." It was entitled "America's Most Overrated Product," again laying into my belief that it is a product and you can view it for its value, the bachelor's degree.

I will note, and I do think I note it in the last part of the presentation. It is by someone who managed to get three degrees and is questioning this. It's like this guidance counselor, Memco, out of Oakland. Had several points of view that led people who read the "Chronicle of Higher Education" regularly to listen to it.

First of all, he starts with, so many students who come out of the lower parts of their classes, a college education may not necessarily be right for them if you just took the failure rate into account. That doesn't mean that opportunity shouldn't be there and so forth. But 66% of those graduating in the bottom 40% never complete college.

They drop out with a mountain of debt and, arguably, with some shrunken self-esteem. Those who do graduate may end up in a career where the college education is not a requirement at all. And so there is some truth in that.

He made a very good point. I think all of us living in our own communities see this. There's a real question over whether K-12 is preparing our students today for the rigors of academia at the post high school graduate level. I think there are real issues with local education and how well it's doing, and it varies by town to town.

He further noted that these negative outcomes are not aberrations but in many ways are becoming the truth and not the exception. He, as a guidance counselor, believes that a large number of people that go on to college are not fully prepared. Only 23% of graduating high school seniors, based on ACT exams, are ready for college.

I always thought the ACTs were a little easier than the SATs, so that's a scary proposition!

Even those who are ready and do come out are increasingly taking five and six years to complete the work. I can tell you, in my era -- and I don't like to date myself -- we really wanted to get out in three if we could, and four was OK.

But it's interesting how many students, and I spent 17 years in higher ed, really are there for the fifth and sixth years. Now, I think that's largely preference, and I have no problem with it. I wish I could afford six years of time and of energy and money. But he does note that 40% of freshmen at four year institutions do not graduate.

And again, they end up with a large amount of debt and with some deep [inaudible 9:30] .

UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute found that 44.6% of students weren't satisfied with their education. And I would proposition if I were running a company like Barnes & Noble and you weren't satisfied with what we did, how long would Barnes & Noble be around? And it wouldn't be around very long.

So the dissatisfaction rate among students is something that I think all colleges have to take into consideration. Again, I have a belief that it is less so at schools such as Shimer. I'm a trustee of a state university; you might guess which one from the introduction. [laughs]

And I'm amazed at the number of times that I teach a class, the preparation level and the lack of inquiries on the part of the students into, you know, when you ask them what are you doing and so forth. It's not as deep as I remember it being. So to me, it's a bit disconcerting as a businessperson.

The Pew Charitable Trust found that 50% of graduating college seniors scored at only proficient levels and when analyzed as to how well they could read an editorial, and understand the meaning of the editorial. As you know that the Pew Charitable Trust is very focused on newspapers and public information and ensuring that it adds to the public debate and discourse.

And so they're tracking this, I think; it's very, very interesting. Only 20% of those tested had sufficient quantitative skills in their testing. Over the past decade, literacy among college graduates has actually declined.

And I will tell you that just listening to people talk, and seeing pronouns used as poorly as they are used. It's like on a chalkboard the way people use he and him and so forth all the time. But I do know that Mr. Memco did go on to get a PhD, so bit of [inaudible 11:40] at the mouth.

That was followed up by a story in the New York Times that had the thing as, "College a Waste of Money? Two Prominent Professors Say Yes." As with Memco, these two professors said that professors were largely to blame.

Again, I do want to distinguish, if not in your mind, in my own mind, the difference between a typically collegiate professor and a Shimer professor. I think there's a huge world of difference. There's a difference in their approach, there's a difference in how they expect to be.

But as I'll show you in some other slides, there are a lot of college professors that really find students an annoyance. The higher up you go in the echelon, I can tell you what happened. There are very few professors that really loved to teach. They were there for research. And they would talk to a post-graduate on occasion, but they were not really interested in undergraduates.

The authors concluded there's no easy fix, and that self-interest, i.e., the self-interest of those people on the campus largely, of which the professors were one, the things I'm going to change easily.

The "New York Times" definitely was opposed. The "New York Times" had two sociologists that were studying. One was Rick Arum from NYU and the other was Josipa Roksa from University of Virginia. They tracked 2,300 students through four years, and ended up publishing this book, "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses."

Again, there's a real questioning as to how well college is preparing you to be successful in whatever endeavor you choose. At the end of the second year of following these students, they administered a test. The data points that they found were really interesting.

They tested for critical thinking, complex reasoning, and written communication. They considered these three cores to success in almost any endeavor. Having high attributes there was important.

The results were very disappointing, and the whole article explains that. In reality, the scores were poor in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and written communication. Again, I would like to say that I think especially at the first two Shimer shines, because everything requires critical thinking and complex reasoning.

Because, as opposed to getting it from a textbook, where someone is telling you this is truth, there is the assumption that when we read it in Shimer, that that was just the starting point -- what we read. And the great strength came from the time after that, not only in the class, but as I heard from the students over there, the dialogue that goes on and on and on and on and never seems to end as things are brought on.

Here's the rub on the negative side: people are criticizing teaching and the preparation that people are receiving in K-12 and is it preparation for success, either college or later life. There are many who think that entrenched interests and this is one where I don't care if I'm the exception to everyone in the room.

I do think teachers unions are not helping solve the problem. I think they are kind of the problem because I know in so many places, its rubble. I'll show you Randi Weingarten here in a minute -- an interview from her last Friday in the "Wall Street Journal."

Others are highly critical of the whole idea of tenure, especially for teachers in K-12. Michelle Rhee in the District of Columbia, among others, tried to change that proposition. Whereas, people have said forever that teachers are paid too little, she paid teachers $120,000 a year.

The offset was you didn't have tenure, so that those who were successful will thrive. Mayor Bloomberg has called the idea of tenure educational suicide; in that too often you cannot get rid of a bad teacher. If you think of it think of the impact that that teacher has, generation after generation, if they don't have the skill set required to ensure that that student is better when they leave the class than when they begin the class. So, the entrenched interests.

Arne Duncan, you people will be very familiar with him in Chicago here and Illinois is one of those who are testing it; I think the President's administration is testing it. But it's interesting; Michelle Rhee was, she no longer is, and that is really a scary proposition. It was all a political decision, not a success factor decision; it was a political decision that she's no longer...

Lastly, this is the most scary. There's no doubt in testing that's done of all sorts comparing our young people to young people around, especially in the developed world, that we are forming poorly compared to probably about 15 or 16 countries that score above us in one area.

In math, the run gets even higher -- the number of schools, the number of countries that score higher. So here's why... under my skin -- at least I can tell you that this is where my bias comes out, here. Already Weingarten last Friday...

As I read this article -- by the way, I did write a counterpoint to her. I don't think the "Wall Street Journal" published it, but it did get under my skin enough that I thought about it.

She said, first of all, I think every child deserves a great education. I was with her up to that point. But then they asked her, what do you think about tenure, where it's very, very hard to discipline, let alone terminate someone?

Her answer was very legalistic: if you eliminate due process, what you would get is, we would lose innovation and eliminate risk-taking and innovation in schools. I think it's just the opposite way around. I think that if people were at risk, you would have more innovation.

You would have more. But this makes a great legalistic... She's worried about due process, not the student. In fact, lacking in her article, and I would encourage you to go look at it, other than this one line, she said nothing about students, nothing.

Then, regarding his tenure, she said, it's not a perfect mechanism, but it's the best mechanism we have. Not very optimistic, even though she heads the American Teachers Federation. She then went on to insist that teachers' unions are the agents of change, not defenders of the status quo.

I'm sorry, I just don't believe it. I do not believe it. The real strength of the AFT lies in their ability to obstruct. That seems counter to the point immediately above. Obstruction is different than being part of the solution.

You know how I feel about Randi Weingarten, nothing else. Let's give some opposite points of view that are much more optimistic and enlightening. Dan Neuberger, in a publication that they did, "The Big Payoff," showed that really, you can see a direct correlation between educational achievement and the lifetime earning of a student. Without it a high school graduate is 1.2 lifetime earning, 1.6 for an associate and 2.1 for a college graduate.

There are empirical numbers that say there is economic value creation. Even when you take in the cost of achieving that, the expenditure or your outlay is worse in terms of your return.

For those who earn a bachelor's degree and those who do not, the individual rate of return of investment in higher Ed is simply high enough to warrant the expenditure. Those are things that, as a businessperson, I can get my head around. That's what I deal with every day.

I think the Institute of Higher Education found some other things that are equally important: higher levels of savings, increased personal and professional mobility - There more opportunities for people the more they progress with their education, improved quality of life for their offspring.

We often hear, "I was the first person from my family to go to college." Columbia University's whole mandate was to be the educational oasis for immigrants in the first wave of immigrants who came to the United States -- an Ivy League school whose mandate was, whoever the newest wave is, we need to get them into the system, and we need to get them progressing along.

So improved quality of life for their offspring, better consumer decision-making, more hobbies and leisure time additionally...

You'll see I asterisked a number of them. These are ones I think are particularly true for Shimer. In my own evaluation as I thought through these, I tried to take a critical eye to each of these. I think that Shimer students are definitely more open-minded.

I think it’s part of not only the methodology, but I don't think you'd be very successful here if you weren't open-minded. More culture, and because of the exposure across multiple disciplines and not where you're just getting your academic avenue such as math. You get more cultural exposure. I believe you're more rational, more consistent, and less authoritarian.

Decreased prejudice, enhanced knowledge of world affairs, and I couldn't tell whether you guys have that at all or not. If I was an example... and especially with what we were doing here.

Joe Hadzima is a very, very prominent professor who I respect a lot. I've been to a number of his lectures at MIT. He notes some other things. He works around entrepreneurship, and he sees -- again, see the number of asterisks that I dabbed in.

Ability to deal with risk; a results orientation, which is extremely important in entrepreneurship; energy; growth potential; team player; multi-tasking ability; and improvement oriented. These are all things that he believes are attributes that are necessary for someone to thrive in the entrepreneurial environment.

That's a very unique environment from something that's more structured. Disney was a very structured company that I worked for. Entrepreneurial companies do a lot of risk-taking and so forth, and these are the traits. He called that "having the right stuff" -- his way of referring to that for entrepreneurship.

If we think of it, Hutchens in his era was having this very same critical thought process going on in his mind as to what is a better methodology for teaching and educating young people and preparing them for life.

He put it his way: no longer are we talking about the three Rs in America; we're talking about the six Rs -- remedial reading, remedial writing, and remedial arithmetic.

I'm not so sure, viewing K-12, that that isn't stills an issue that we have. He also said the most distressing aspect of the world into which you're going is indifference to basic issues, which now are always moral. At Shimer, I remember hours and hours and hours and days of dialogue around moral issues.

Everything came back to some moral aspect. I'm not sure if I'm taking chem. at another institution that I'm going to have the same thought process around the morality of things. The objective of education is today for young people is not to educate themselves, or to prepare themselves for life. Anybody who feels at ease in today's world is a fool. That may be the case still.

Then I went to my own experience, and I've always measured people, or, and I've learned this somewhere. So it's not an original thought that people have basic skills, knowledge and behaviors. And that when, for instance, I'm interviewing someone for a job, I'm really trying to hone in on what skills they have.

What is their knowledge base, and importantly, very importantly, and most have come to understand, are their behaviors. Because behaviors are set at a very young age. Behaviors are set for many, before age five, six and then definitely thirteen; fourteen you're basic behavioral set has been set. And it doesn't mean that they can't change, but it's with more difficulty that you change behaviors.

It's so often that people will say, "That person has the right skills, the right knowledge," And they don't even look at behavioral traits. And then they can come in and they can be disruptive, they can break the team spirit; they can do all sorts of things. So that when I look at overall talent, I'm trying to look at skills, knowledge and behavior.

At lunch we were talking a little about the methodology we used at the Disney organization, and about hiring cast members. And not only did we spend a lot of one-on-one time, but then we would put six prospective cast-members in a room, throw something at them and just see how they interacted. And see if someone wanted to monopolize the group, if someone else didn't have anything to offer.

And none of those would be able to take ownership of the service experience that we wanted at Disney. We wanted optimally the service experience to be absolutely correct. So we were looking for those people that were confident enough in themselves, but more importantly as opposed to a taker, they were a giver. Because you have to have a giving spirit to be successful and to service others and to be of service.

And so many people that are in occupations that are non-business that are altruistic in nature are because they have the giving spirit more than the taking spirit. In fact, some hedge funds managers are really lacking in that.

[laughing]

They got the other one down.! So if that being the case and they went back earlier, and said that you can look at an education as a product. One way to formulate it, or formulate, would be to say, skills plus knowledge plus behavior, divided by the cost of the education equals its value. That's a little too simple. So you could, because it doesn't take into account the fourth one.

So you could take skills plus knowledge, plus behavior plus degree. Now, why do I say degree? Well, I'm telling you if you walk into an interview and it says Princeton or Harvard on there, it has some gravitas immediately.

It is going to open a door or have some merit. And my University of New Hampshire, it's good up in Berlin, New Hampshire but it probably didn't open up as many doors as some other things.

So the degree itself is important. By the way, having said that, I think that's all, very kind of sophomoric and thought process and so-forth, it's just the idea that clearly there are brands, educational brands, that have more value than others.

Now, you can get a job without a degree, so the proposition doesn't necessarily hold. Likewise, you can get a degree, and there are no degree requirements for the job, so that doesn't hold.

And you can clearly add some other positive outcome here to get a better formula for the value of the proposition. So, first of all, I do agree, that we have to view it as a product and view it from value. It's interesting. In America we spend 10% on our youth, and 90% on our aged. And that's largely because of social security, and Medicaid/Medicare and those sorts of things.

But if you look at the budgets across all municipalities, only 10% is spent directed at bringing people through the early years, and 90% is spent exiting our life. And, that's one of the discussions.

There are also many people that believe that college education is escalating much faster, the cost is escalating much faster, definitely than inflation. But it's also escalating at times that only healthcare is comparable to.

And again, value is not the cost of what you put into something; value is what people are going to take out of it. So often, in let's say in the restaurant business, which I've had a lot of experience in, in the restaurant business, people when they have a new item they want to put on the menu they say, "Well, it costs me $1.00 to sell, so the formula is you mark it up three times, well we need to sell it for $3.00, all right put it out for me, would you pay $3.00 for that?" That's where you want to start.

Is that worth $3.00? More importantly is that it may be worth more than $3.00. Perfect example of that is the day at Disneyland when its 90 degrees a bottle of water can sell for anything you wanted. And they did, we did.

So, there are variations that go in that. The product's content divided by the price is only one aspect of valuation. Far more important is what you take out of it. Interesting thought, education actually appreciates in value.

Many other things, you buy a new car, it's going to depreciate over time. But a college degree is going to appreciate over time, because as you get more job experience and you have the degree, the degree opens up doors, because as you know many, many, many positions require the prerequisite of having a degree.

I came across, then I started thinking about the students in Tulsa, then I came across this quote, talking about the value here in higher education. And Jose Matis said, "Students are the rampart in the strongest army of freedom. When liberty is in danger, a newspaper threatened, the ballot box in peril, the students unite, and on and on they go through the streets demanding justice."

And if we look at the world around us now we can prove that proliferation. It happened in Europe and the Iron Curtain in the '80s. It's happening now across North Africa and the Middle East.

And it is the students who are leading this, and thank God that that is the case. Because as we all know as we become more vested and entrenched, the less often we take on the structures that are there. So thank goodness that around the world students are leading this. And education is essential to the ideal, the very ideals of a constitution, of our Declaration of Independence.

And it is those ideals that are really impacting people around the world now, as more and more, and again Shimer’s emphasis on that, Shimer’s' emphasis on understanding the constitution and the declaration and all the founding documents and what they mean about personal liberty, and about individual responsibility.

So earlier we saw the critical thinking com, and written communication, and again I've because I think they're important.

There is also in business very often what's used is called the 360 evaluation. And the idea of the 360 is to get the total view of the individual. So I went and found some old 360s that I had in business and used in business, when evaluating both incumbents and new people.

And, so I want to show you what a 360 is, what it measures and point out a number of them that I thought where a Shimer student would shine and who would do very well on a 360.

Communication, clearly there is a lot different between sitting in a lecture class, and being one of 700, and being one of less than 12 who is expected to engage in the topic that's at hand. And silence is not a real acceptable proposition.

Leadership, does leadership that is derived from being in a small group is also leadership that is derived from being in a class? We all know that we often times we sit in a group of eight/ten people, and we're just waiting for this one person to speak, who we always know that when they speak something really wise comes out, and that's often the case in a Shimer class, where someone has an insight.

But what's more important, though, are the insights of the eight/ten other people, and so Leadership.

Adaptability, the ability to take on the opinion of some other participant of the class, certainly made for adaptability.

Relationships, how good at building relationships. And again, at Shimer we were all very close to each other because we were small.

I actually remember my, I became very close to my roommate; he was a fourth year student I was a first. And my very first evening, just to give you a background, I come from the most rural part of New Hampshire, I mean really rural almost Appalachian.

It was the first time I flew to come to Shimer, and I flew my first flight was on a DC3, that haven't flown in the last 40 years, they were ones where the seats ran up this way and you had to walk up the aisle to get to your seat.

That was the first flight I was ever on and I remember the stewardess got out of the flight and she was vomiting because it had been such a horrific flight up from Boston to northern New Hampshire coming over the mountains.

And then I remember being on a Trans World Airline and coming here and my mother told me "You have to go to the Palmer House," because she'd arranged that that's where I would stay. And then getting the train and then arriving at Marijuana Junction, or whatever the theme of the day was.

But my first night was spent with the student whose name I lost, but I was in the building that was called the four minute building because if a fire caught you had four minutes to get out. And they told us this. Even then there weren't big capital budgets. So I remember all of the sudden, at about three in the morning, hearing [inaudible 36:24] music playing, which in northern New Hampshire I had not heard.

And I looked over to see my roommate sitting in concentric circles of fire. He had taken lighter fluid and he had these circles coming out from him. So after my flights and my overnight at the Palmer house, my first experience was that. And I really thought I had gone to the asylum. I actually did think it was a trick on my parent's part and they hadn't told me anything.

Although, as I will tell you at the end, it was totally my decision. Cast manager, productions and the development of others, I think Shimerians [inaudible 37:18] is this needs to focus on others in the class, and obviously personal development. You can't look into these classic texts as deeply as you need to without great personal development. And you can't engage your fellow students in dialogue, open dialogue and holding your place and your point of view without great personal development.

Some of the other things that are measured on the 360 are the ability to listen to others, taking back from Shimer students. Obviously, in a big lecture hall you do get to listen very actively, but if you go into most lecture halls now you'll see them multi-tasking, and they really are on Facebook, and all sorts of other things.

That's not the case at Shimer.

The ability to process information, the ability to communicate effectively, the instilling of trust; there is a trust that comes out of a Shimer education and dealing with them. You trust that when your students get in the room they're going to have read the text, and they are going to be ready.

You learn, again, to trust. There are always those who seem exceptional in the class. They may say "Wow, that's an insight I never had." Or "I've been studying at Oxford and doing PP&E there" -- and the thought process for doing that. There are so many ways that trust is built.

Provides direction, delegates effectively, adjusts to circumstances and reality, the whole Shimer community should be very high on that.

Thinks critically. Again, that's the whole basis of a Shimer education. Builds personal relationships, fosters team accomplishments, and motivates and inspires others. These are all on a 360 instrument that probably 60 percent of businesses use to measure. And look at the number of them where, at least to my belief, a Shimer education gives you a step up and an extra opportunity to these.

From my earliest time, I really came here and I had all the scripts that had been put on me by teachers, by my family.... There were prejudices; there were bigotries, and so forth. They're things that we fight all our lives, but you come with them a lot. And Shimer was the first point where I really had to engage myself very deeply and personally and say, "Well, where did I get that data point? Where did that script come from?" and "What's wrong with it?"

As I said, it was during the Vietnam War. And I had two brothers fighting, and myself engaged in a different dialog. And it was a very difficult time. But I did know that I was changing.

It was scary, too, not only because of bonfires, but it was also scary because, when you are having to critically look at your own thought processes, it does shake you to your core. But I will tell you, it's wonderful when you shake out your core, because you get rid of a lot of cobwebs of deceit and deception, and bigotries and biases, and so forth.

So I also learned to love reading here. It's something I do. One of my happiest jobs was as president of Barnes and Noble. Not only was it nice because I had my own private jet, but I had books galore. I would go out every week and then I would basically spend my paycheck really.

[laughter]

I spent a lot of money on books and I had a very, very large library, which then became a complication every time I had to move. [laughter]

But I did learn that. I felt that I was in a family, in a family of truth seekers, because we never accepted things on face value. As I said, the discussions went way, way, way into the evening; through the evening for that matter. As this is the last thing we talked every night about this. To me this type of education goes back to Socrates, "The unexamined life is not worth living." I don't think you can be comfortable and successful at Shimer without starting from that proposition. I think that is a great place to start and enter the business world from the very same thing.

Now, admittedly, you have to build up some skill sets and some nuances as to how to get others to the same point of view because there are some that think they have truth and justice on their side.

There is great power in a liberal education and especially in the way that Shimer defines a liberal education, which is more about the very essence of democracy, the very essence of lifelong learning, but citizenry and so many other things.

I can't tell you what campuses I've been on, as I said I spent 17 years at three major campuses. There wasn't one of them there that at some time or another that wasn't going through, "Well, what's the core curriculum? I think we need to change the core curriculum."

At Shimer it's as simple as changing a text and so forth because this is a great starting point the others don't necessarily have. At the University of New Hampshire we're going through this now and it's all the way to the trustee level as to what truly is core and how do we ensure a liberal education.

Again, Shimer is great on the idea of liberty and freedom of the mind, and I assure you if you're a student here now that you'll go forth with that same point of view as you approach life. It becomes the way of dealing with life, not just class.

Intellectual freedom. Shimer applying the highest liberty to consist of the freedom of mind that is the freedom from unexamined assumption swings and intellectual fashion, partisan politics and ideology. This is from your own mission statement and so forth.

On many campuses they teach you what they believe to be the truth. At Shimer I think they teach you how to find the truth. But I can tell you I know many, many professors who really believe that they have truth, and they will stand and administer it, same as what I'm doing here, I guess.

[laughter]

Because someone says it's so, doesn't make it so. Using the Socratic Method is just such the exception. This came out of Wikipedia, a quote that I found from a graduate. It said, "What makes Shimer unique is its dedication to the truth to be found by free and open inquiry and discussion." Again, I can tell you that 70 or 80 percent of your classes at a more traditional university that inquiry wouldn't happen until you were in your upper classes and your electives and, really, in your major discipline, that you would have any opportunity to do that.

A quote that I've always liked, John Dooley, who was also an awesome educator said, "Not perfection is the final goal, but ensue that to perfecting." I think that assignment will get you ready for that. All of these are things that I asterisked when we went through. I think all of them are of value.

In addition to all those skills and aptitudes and so forth, I just come back to the concept that it is truly a unique learning environment. It was so helpful to have a person really thrive in all of their life.

So much is the classroom, as I've said, and the required texts, which are just superb. Without that kind of discussion, dialogue, and questionings not out there, the very idea of reading non-textbook works. I just think that it's a truly unique environment.

I did come back to one point, and this was personal behavior. As I said earlier, it's a lot easier to understand what skills and knowledge you get out of something and behaviors. But if you notice many of those things measured in the 360s that I gave an asterisk to are behavioral. I think Shimer, for me, has done a very good job with building and developing that.

The focus on the liberal education is a commitment to enhance self-determination and a strong foundation. I think that trust is built in the behavior that will serve you well in life. Because if you enter situations with... You are either going to enter in a distrustful or a trustful manner, and if you can enter opportunity with an inherent belief and trust, the trustworthiness of the other one.

Now, listen, you'll be bitten a lot of times...

[laughter]

...but I still am going to start there. I think it's the only place to start. I was talking about it today again, many, many people that I know in business are very concerned about the generations that are coming through. They see them as different, not having the same values. Well, they don't. [laughter]

Whether they're GenX, GenYs, and Millennials they will fit into the work environment differently. That assumption is true and it's the job of business to understand how each of them do fit in because, clearly, they're needed. This last one is kind of scary, but 70 percent of respondents said there's big concern with the make-up of incoming workforces. And it's largely because they don't want a job for 40 years. That's the scary thing, and the most basic thing. Or that they're not going to take one answer as the answer and so forth. And many businesses would like it that way.

Ending up here, I would proposition without much effort to the affirmative, that positive behavioral attributes are maybe part of Shimer education. I look very favorably on those that teach here because they do so because of the work that is involved. So there is a great altruism in teaching here. Many of the people that you are dealing with as students now are the ones that I dealt with, so it shows you that there is a love of the institution.

The unexamined life is not worth living, starting here. And I don't believe on those other campuses even have it as wonderful as that was, and I had a beautiful time there that same way.

So Shimer rules. You cannot help but be struck by the skills, knowledge and behaviors that are impacted by the way Shimer uses the Socratic Method. Shimer teaches us all how to be open-mined and think critically.

Your classroom setting which you're going to have all the way through the four years as opposed to a little bit, just will develop so many aspects of your behavior. And the liberal education with all its implications is great for developing future leaders and also [inaudible 48:41] . And I know many, many people who have gone to Shimer really go on to become great educators themselves and PhDs.

The top quote many will remember...I think it was "Newsweek", but it may have been "Time"...had the article in '65 and it said "Shimer College: Unknown, Unsung and Unusual."

And I read that article and I decided it was the only place I wanted to go. I really did. My father was a Dartmouth grad and I was going to Dartmouth. And all right, if not we'll compromise on Bowdoin.

I had no idea what Shimer was other than this one article, but the article made a huge impact because it spoke to me. By the way, there was a thing that I just picked up here, something that you've developed that speaks the same way because it's self interested, because it's written by the university itself. But it does talk to many of the same things that hit me in reading that article.

I came in '65. I continued to be an enthusiastic supporter of Shimer's mission and the way it educates young. And I wish it was a model for more and more other places. Thank goodness [inaudible 49:52] are there. And I feel, am confident that I...and this is a person I can speak for...I received the value for every penny that I paid. And I don't even remember how much it was.

Thank you very much. I'm glad to have dialogue and so forth around what has been said. And you may contact me, there it is and call and write and ask me things.

[applause]

Any thoughts?



Transcript by CastingWords

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