Awaken the Sleeping Giant

It is a privilege to join you today at this historic institution. For all these years, Brookings has been at the center of American public policy, bringing intellectual depth and the most rigorous analytical standards to the issues of foreign and domestic policy. In the field of higher education, Brookings continues to issue provocative and insightful analyses. Be it David Breneman’s examination of liberal arts colleges, the work of Lawrence Gladieux, Arthur Hauptman, and Robert Reischauer on issues of financial aid and tuition policies, or the research of Thomas Kane and William Dickens into racial and ethnic admissions preferences, scholars at Brookings compel the leadership of American higher education to look at hard questions and difficult choices.

For that, all of us should be thankful.

Within the past month, America’s colleges and universities have graduated thousands of young men and women who will inherit and shape the 21st century. To be at a college or university during commencement is to be drawn again to one’s own youth — the sense of unbounded potential, the complete absence of cynicism, the belief that problems can be solved and that hopes can be fulfilled.

As president of a liberal arts college, I find that commencement season reminds me in powerful ways of the responsibility that we hold as institutions of higher learning. We are the stewards of a tradition that celebrates learning for its own sake; a tradition that hands to each ensuing generation the accrued wisdom of ages past.

But worthy stewardship of the liberal arts tradition demands more than fidelity to what has come before us. It requires us to inspire our graduates to something more profound than self-satisfaction with knowledge acquired, degrees achieved, and job secured.

True stewardship of the liberal arts requires us to draw our students to a higher ethical and moral plane. It requires us to build on the potential of youthful minds and to inspire an informed awareness of what it is to be a citizen of the world — of what one individual owes to another, of what one person can achieve, and of what one community can build. True stewardship of the liberal arts tradition requires us to go beyond the simple engagement of ideas and to set knowledge at the service of humanity. It is not enough simply to find truth; we must use truth to improve the human condition. Such has been the standard of citizenship since the time of the Greeks, and such must be our mandate in the century that awaits us. We must send our students forth to apply the lessons they have learned to the service of their world.

The fact of the matter is that as one looks across the nation, very few colleges are doing enough to meet this test of stewardship. We are coasting — coasting on our past, coasting on our endowments, coasting on a self-congratulatory sense that the pageantry of commencement is in itself enough to sustain us into the new millenium.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

America’s colleges and universities have had it very good for a very long time. In the years after World War II we all sailed on the plentiful seas of the GI Bill. In the 1960s we were flush with research dollars and federal largesse. Even now, most of our institutions have enjoyed endowment growth somewhere in the range of 15 percent since the start of 1998. And, of course, we have all continued to find the rationale for raising our tuitions by percentages that are almost two times the rate of inflation.

American higher education stands at its moment of reckoning. Within the first decade of the twenty-first century, we will see a fundamental change in the state of higher learning in this country. The easy days are coming to an end. And, to paraphrase Walter Lippmann, we can no longer divert this reality by forgetting it.

I assure you that we who lead the country’s colleges and universities can no longer take for granted that the government and our students will continue to accept cavalier annual tuition increases of up to 5.5 percent.

I assure you that we cannot continue to sit atop cumulative endowments that approximate $150 billion, continue to argue that we should not pay taxes and at the same time state by our inaction that we cannot be burdened by duty to city, state and nation.

We must define a new leadership for higher education. That leadership must combine vision, a sense of time urgency, and a willingness to take risk and a capacity to move multiple constituencies. We must escape from the insularity that breeds institutional arrogance. We must move away from the notion that change can only be achieved in incremental units that are inevitably painful and expensive. We must accept that we hold a special responsibility as centers of debate on matters of local, national and international importance. And we must move beyond rhetoric in the face of injustice or social need.

Too many colleges and universities continue to hide behind a set of excuses for inaction. Faculties are too difficult, money is too scarce, outsiders don’t understand campus life, alumni are too demanding, students aren’t prepared for scholarship — on and on the list can go.

The bottom line is that these excuses are little more than rationalizing ineffectual leadership — the kind of failed leadership that has made many college campuses the most micro-managed and risk-averse institutions in America.

At a critical hour in our history, too many colleges are staid and self-satisfied islands unto themselves. They would do well to remember one of the great lessons of the liberal arts — the lesson of Dante: there is a special place in hell that is reserved for the morally indifferent and the safely neutral.

At Trinity College in Hartford, we are taking a different course. Trinity is investing in its city — $6 million to date. Trinity is embracing its city. Trinity has made a commitment to provide leadership, vision, and a forum for debate-to work in partnership with the city’s leaders and other institutions committed to improving the quality of life in our community. The College does not wish to be an island within its city, nor an ivory tower with walls so high they are impossible for our neighbors to scale. We intend to draw our neighbors in, not drive them away.

Trinity is spearheading a comprehensive neighborhood revitalization initiative for the community surrounding our campus in the heart of Hartford. The initiative links neighborhood groups in a truly unprecedented collaboration to create a safe, viable neighborhood which also is a central hub of educational, health, family support, and economic development activities. Our approach to revitalization starts by creating an infrastructure for local families that draws on the community resources and institutions already there. Its goal is to encourage stable home ownership and neighborhood economic development, and ultimately to generate jobs through research and through commercial and retail developments linked to the neighborhood initiative.

We’ve put together a package of public and private initiatives that will invest close to $200 million in the neighborhood, including approximately $100 million in new construction. It?s a plan that includes three new schools; new home ownership opportunities; a new science and technology center; recreational, cultural, and support facilities for the city?s children, families and communities; and significant retail and business incubation opportunities.

Our vision reflects a ?holistic? approach to the neighborhood which seeks to renew the neighborhood from within. And from day one — from moment one, in fact — we have emphasized citizenship in order to help the residents of our community feel empowered. No solutions have been imposed on them from without. The solutions have emerged from within the community through collaboration marked by common agendas, a sense of common purpose, mutual respect, and shared commitment to success.

For more than two years, we have lived together, walked the streets together. We promised each other that we would not let our neighborhood die and that we would not recuse ourselves to the easy but unproductive path of despair, self-pity, or bitterness in the face of common challenges. Instead, we dedicated ourselves to shaping our own destiny — focusing on our strengths and assets, not our weaknesses or liabilities.

Our initiative stands today as eloquent testimony to what a true public-private partnership can be and what it can do. Last July, the governor of Connecticut, the mayor of Hartford, the superintendent of schools, corporate leaders, the nonprofit institutions that are Trinity?s partners in the neighborhood, and most importantly the residents of the Frog Hollow neighborhood of Hartford gathered to break ground on the ?Learning Corridor,? which two years ago was an abandoned, environmentally contaminated bus garage site home to every imaginable stereotypical pathology of harsh urban life. Today it is the centerpiece of our neighborhood renewal plan. Today, on that reclaimed parcel of land, we are constructing three new schools — a Montessori public elementary school, a public middle school, and a math, science and technology high school resource center joined with a performing arts academy.

And just across the street a new building already has been constructed. It is the first-ever campus-based Boys & Girls Club in America, and I am proud that General Colin Powell will join us onThursday to dedicate this new facility. The Club, which is funded by a partnership of Trinity alumni, Hartford-based corporations and private foundations, will be staffed by our students — students who will provide mentoring and tutoring to neighborhood youth and who will in the process learn precious lessons about the realities of life in contemporary America.

The neighborhood initiative also includes a family resource center, funded by the Aetna Corporation and focused on programs that will assist parents not only with day-care needs but also with critical matters of family health and the pressures of childrearing.

Beyond this infrastructure for families and children, we are now implementing with Fannie Mae and local partners a housing strategy that emphasizes home ownership and fiercely resists the traditional urge to gentrify by creating a moat with incentives for our staff and faculty to move to the neighborhood, forcing the poor once more to relocate nearer the railroad tracks, nearer the highways, nearer the industrial zones. It’s not right, it’s not fair, and, for higher education, it’s not defensible.

Trinity’s role in this neighborhood revitalization effort has been as a champion of change and a catalyst for action. Our strategy reflects an extraordinary partnership among major health and educational institutions, the public and private sectors, city, state, and federal government, and community and neighborhood groups that share a stake in the future of this area and are committed to its revitalization.

We have assumed leadership of this effort because it is vital to Trinity’s future that our neighborhood turn itself around. We have also done so because it is the right thing to do. It would be morally bankrupt for Trinity to teach the liberal arts on our campus and ignore what is happening across the street.

How can we call our students to leadership if we lack the courage and vision to lead? How can we speak of the pursuit of truth if we turn our back on the truth that is our neighborhood? How can we encourage individual responsibility if we as an institution behave irresponsibly?

We have an obligation to Hartford and we intend to honor it. Quite frankly, every other college in America has this obligation to the cities and towns they thrive in.

Our commitment to communitiy renewal and social responsibility is not at odds with our fundamental educational mission. In fact, the two are closely aligned and complementary. Our efforts beyond campus are supported and indeed bolstered by a new educational strategy that will tie Trinity students to Hartford and to other great cities of the world. Just last week this strategy received unequivocal affirmation by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which awarded Trinity a $5-million grant in support of its plans to build College-community connections that emphasize civic responsibility and educational innovation.

Last month, our Board endorsed a new academic vision for the College. It is built around our belief that as a liberal arts college in a capital city we have a unique opportunity — and a special responsibility. At the heart of our academic strategy is our relationship to Hartford. We are proud of our connections to a great and historic city that now stands on the verge of renaissance. We are moving aggressively to build academic linkages to our own city and to cities around the world, so that Trinity graduates will understand the realities of not only one American city but also at least one other great city of the world.

Every student who graduates from Trinity will have experienced life in Hartford either through an academic internship or through volunteer service. Be it through an internship in the legislature, in a corporate office or in a hospice, or be it through volunteering in a school, a shelter, or a Habitat for Humanity project, our students will be in the city — reaching beyond the sheltered walls of this campus and making a difference in the community. They will graduate with liberally educated minds — and with a sense of responsibility to the place in which they live.

Beyond Hartford, every Trinity student will have the opportunity to study in a great city of the world. Trinity currently operates a very successful campus in Rome. Last year, we purchased a campus site in San Francisco. This year, we have opened a site in Cape Town, South Africa. Within the next five years we will open 10 additional learning sites in cities as diverse as Dublin, Barcelona, Santiago, Beijing, San Juan, Istanbul, Jerusalem, and New Delhi. These sites will be linked technologically, allowing students to share their experiences via “cyber-seminars.”

Our goal is that graduates of Trinity will be sophisticated, passionate, and sensitive citizens who are committed to the life of their neighborhoods and life of their world; graduates who will move effortlessly among cultures and with grace among peoples of all social and economic standing; and graduates who will never lose either their enthusiasm for learning or their belief that they can make a difference.

We have no less a goal for Trinity and no less a challenge for higher education in America. We call on colleges and universities to return to a time when they sought to make a conscious and well-conceived difference in the quality of this nation’s life — a time in which, as Frederick Rudolph has written, American higher education was “governed less by accident than by certain purpose, less by impulse than by certain design.”

Trinity has committed $6 million of its own endowment for the renewal of Hartford. This investment was the seed money which has generated, or leveraged, very generous support — millions of dollars — for Trinity?s initiative from both the public and private sectors. And many in Hartford will tell you that Trinity?s investment in Hartford has catalyzed other, even bigger revitalization initiatives for the city, including a recently announced $350-million commitment to Hartford from Governor John Rowland and a $1-billion riverfront and downtown development plan spearheaded by one of Hartford?s leading insurance companies, Phoenix Mutual Home Life.

For those of us who live in cities, the challenge is to resist the impulse to build higher and higher barriers — physical and psychological — around our institutions. Such ?distancing? techniques, used by city planners for decades to respond to poverty and racial difference, will not make the problems go away. Neither will pouring money into campaigns of clearing blight and encouraging gentrification.

To build — and sustain — a community of learning in cities across the nation, we need more than simple renewal of derelict neighborhood housing. We must build a community whose environment inspires children from their earliest days to hope, to learn, and to care; a community that encourages home ownership; one that nourishes entrepreneurial spirit and the work ethic and that offers parents the tools and support so necessary to the vital act of childrearing; and a community that respects education as the tool for personal advancement.

The time has come for fresh ideas. As a nation committed to the quest for a civic culture that honors diversity, responsibility, and achievement, we are obliged to open a new chapter in the struggle to revitalize our cities. The Brookings Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy suggests that, in confronting this challenge, we be guided by four defining principles. The first principle is that cities matter — as places where the issues that define the future of our nation are played out. The second is that cities and suburbs are inextricably linked — and therefore that we must develop policies that strengthen rather than divide metropolitan areas. The third principle is that the private sector matters; engagement of the private sector is critical to the task of building strong cities and metropolitan communities. The fourth principle is that ideas and solutions should come from the ?ground up? — from communities themselves, in other words.

This morning I?d like to suggest a fifth principle, and it is simply this: that the non-profit sector — and particularly institutions of higher learning — matter, too.

The process of building communities and rebuilding cities in America could, and I argue should, be marked by substantial effort and assistance from a quarter that has not always stepped forward in times like these.

Ladies and gentlemen, the time has come to awaken the conscience and assert the moral authority of academic institutions. We have an obligation to look beyond our gates, to come down from the ivory tower. We are privileged communities of learning, but we also belong to a much larger community that extends beyond our campuses.

Today, I call upon my colleagues in higher education to set a standard of commitment to the rights and privileges of citizenship and to stand as beacons to all citizens of this great nation, reminding us through their example that in responsibility and in service to society, to community, there is fulfillment.

Trinity?s $6-million investment, which I anticipate will grow to about $10 million, has been leveraged into a $200-million initiative that will benefit approximately 1000 schoolchildren in grades K-12 each year. Imagine if just 100 of the nations 3000-plus colleges and universities invested, on average, $6 million in their communities. Simple math suggests that this investment, arguably, could be leveraged into $20 billion. It might benefit half-a-million children who today have no good reason to hope, to dream of a better tomorrow.

Today, more than 21 percent of our nation?s children — 14 million boys and girls — live in poverty. America is spawning an abandoned, isolated underclass — hidden faces of the city streets who constitute a society set apart.

We must awaken the sleeping giant — higher education — and invoke its moral authority in a world seemingly caught up in the celebration of mediocrity. All of us in higher education, especially those of us in urban environments, must exercise our responsibility to society in our own sphere of influence — our neighborhoods, our community, our city.

This is an especially challenging and competitive era in American higher education. Those of us charged to lead colleges face very real and very rigorous challenges. This means that we run the risk of being too preoccupied with ourselves.

American higher education must put its house in order, but it cannot do so by turning inward and ignoring the world outside the campus gates. Those of us who lead institutions in cities, those of us who preside over institutions with sizable endowments — we have an obligation to invest in building community and rebuilding cities.

Our role must be spelled out clearly. Our leadership and our efforts will grow out of our identity and mission. We will act in the best traditions of American education — as conveners, as the wellspring of new ideas, as a relentless voice for truth. I have spent my whole professional life in public office and in higher education, and I believe we are reaching a watershed moment. Colleges like Trinity are vital because they are the repositories of civic values, ideals, and aspirations. And without these, our society will drift further into chaos and unbridled self-seeking.

We in higher education must do our part not to allow this to continue. And we must begin in our own neighborhoods. Block by block, we must rebuild. Block by block, we must restore the capacity of every American to dream great dreams. We must recommit ourselves to challenging society?s most basic assumptions. And we must rededicate ourselves to the task of community-building and purposeful change. We can no longer afford to be silent partners. We can and must affect the future of our cities and the destiny of this country.

Today’s college students possess a hopefulness and spirit unseen since the early 1960s. Unlike so many of my generation who never recovered from assassinations, war and a decade of fallen presidencies, the students of today are alive with the potential of youth and the faith to define a new century.

They want to build a world that reaches beyond skepticism and beyond limitations. They want their lives and their institutions to stand for something. They want more than pat answers and tired rhetoric.

These young men and women are the promise of America’s new millennium, and it is our responsibility to be worthy of their idealism and their potential.

That is our mandate and that is our moral responsibility as institutions of higher learning. Higher education must do better. We all must do better. The challenge of defining a new century belongs to each of us — be it on college campuses, in corporate board rooms, in the halls of private and public foundations, in places such as this, where great minds engage important issues.

Every one of us in this room needs to set the bar higher. History has afforded us the privilege of leadership at the dawn of a new century. And it shall hold us accountable for the strength and the character of our aspirations and for the energy we bring to make those aspirations real.

Ours is a world whose sense of balance is seriously askew; a world so captivated by the notion of celebrity that we often forget what it is that we deem worthy of celebration; a world in which the ephemeral and the timeless are easily confused.

The moment defines us, as we measure success according to the latest stock market quotations, the most recent box score, the wealthiest person, or the latest overnight poll. Coaches are measured by today’s game, politicians by today’s polls, villains by today’s atrocity, and saints by today’s miracle.

In such a world, values become marginalized, substance gives way to style, and integrity falls prey to empty rhetoric. We say what we need to say to achieve today’s goals. We do what we need to do to retain the spotlight. We look for the gray area in every issue and shape our value structure to meet our immediate satisfaction.

If colleges like Trinity are about nothing else, they must represent places where ageless values and timeless lessons stand as preeminent. The 21st century will no longer countenance an academic community that subordinates action to process; that hides behind the sanctity of scholarship as an excuse for campus isolation; that sacrifices moral authority on the altar of institutional arrogance.

I thank you for your invitation. I honor your mission. I’m grateful for the privilege of participating. Thank you very much.