Speaker's Bureau

The Importance of Higher Education for South Carolina: A Career Academic’s Reflection

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Higher Education must prepare our students to face an increasingly complex, diverse, and changing world.  We must educate the citizens of tomorrow–and we must do it today. I recall once reading the quote: “To be faithful to our mission, to be creative, we must change.” This was not the wisdom of a Silicon Valley CEO leading a company at the forefront of disruptive technology—it was Pope Francis speaking of the Catholic Church.  So how do we change? First, we must imagine. It is hard to become all you want to be unless you can imagine what that is. Think for a moment of the enduring power of the Rev. Dr. MLK’s “I Have a Dream” vision of living in a world in which people “were judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” We want our students to imagine what the future they seek might look like. Second, we must innovate. Driving innovation is what higher education is all about. In our research efforts, all faculty know that our work must be innovative; unless we say or prove something that adds to or advances the existing body of knowledge, our work will not get funded or published. It is as simple as that. But we must also be innovative in teaching our students.  In a world where an iPhone is at least ten times faster than the first supercomputer at the Los Alamos National Laboratory boundless information is available at our fingertips. But as one Harvard educator put it, “Information is abundant; wisdom is scarce.”  The habits and skills of critical inquiry, disciplined thinking, creativity, and teamwork, remain essential to analysis, discernment, and even wisdom. These are crucial skills for a lifetime of success, both on and off the job. Today’s students crave active, experiential learning, they love getting directly involved in the subject matter, they desire “hands-on, participatory” learning. As a University, we must move to meet them where they are. And, as we innovate, we must also include all people in our efforts. Inclusion brings breadth and strength to our efforts; diversity brings vigor, energy and respects the dignity of difference. We look forward to meeting the challenges of imagination, innovation, and inclusion. But even together our efforts are not enough, we must do more, we must also inspire. We must learn from children’s fiction the lesson of the young prince of a small coastal region who yearned to build ships to sail the open ocean as no vessels had ever done before.  The young leader soon discerned that the path to achieving his dream lay not in hiring legions of shipbuilders, artisans, sailors, and navigators to build a new fleet.  Instead, the path lay in doing something far more fundamental: inspiring in all citizens a love of the vast blue sea. The rest would take care of itself. We must inspire—inspire in our students a deep love of learning. Our universities must be creators of knowledge, but we must be more than that. Above all, we must be creators of engaged, thoughtful citizens.  To do all this, we must not only imagine, innovate and include but inspire.  If we can do that, we will also be creators of prosperity, and better still, creators of justice.

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Lacy Ford