In His Own Words
From a presentation originally made on Monday, March 5, 2001
Good afternoon. It is my great privilege and honor to appear here today as a candidate for the presidency of Goucher College -- this remarkable institution in a beautiful spot that has many proud traditions -- and a place that seems to command extraordinary loyalty from all who have been touched by it. I'm here mostly to answer your questions and hear your ideas about Goucher's future, but first, at the request of Marilyn Warshawsky, the chair of your Board of Trustees and its Search Committee, I'm going to speak for a few minutes about my own vision for a residential liberal arts and sciences college like Goucher during the next decade, especially in view of the many opportunities and challenges facing higher education.
First, a couple of basics about me: I am from a small town and a large family. My parents were immigrants from Central Europe who found their own piece -- albeit a modest one -- of the American Dream. I grew up at a rather tranquil time in a very trusting, supportive environment. It was hard to go a week, or sometimes even a day or an hour, without seeing some member of my extended family. When I picked up the phone, I expected to hear an aunt, an uncle, a cousin, a sister, or a friend -- never a telemarketer! I may not have had an abundance of material comforts, but I had the advantage of knowing people from many different religious and ethnic backgrounds. We understood each other, and we learned to respect people for their differences and their similarities -- for the fact that they worked hard and lived decent lives. We were easily shocked by events that today seem commonplace. We went to minor league baseball games and ate the same meals over and over again in the same unpretentious restaurants. We gained knowledge from school and from life, and we had modest aspirations to improve things where we could. Community service was not a graduation requirement, but an article of faith. When we parted, we may not have known where we were going, but we certainly knew where we were coming from. That place along the Susquehanna River in northeastern Pennsylvania was our touchstone.
I've had the benefit of many valuable experiences since that time -- a liberal arts education, for example, in a residential college setting at the edge of a big city; a place larger than Goucher, perhaps, but in retrospect, similar in many ways. As a Rotary Fellow, I studied European history in London, improved my writing, and met a whole new cross-section of people. My work as a journalist and author -- and occasionally as a crusader for free speech, democracy, and human rights -- has taken me to many places I never imagined I'd see: some two dozen countries in Africa; the factories of China; the mountains and jungles and barrios of Peru; the villages in Bangladesh where women have been empowered by micro-loan programs; and even my father's birthplace in a tiny town in what is now Slovakia.
For more than three decades, I have shared an egalitarian marriage with a bright and compassionate woman, a physician who has made a real difference in the world as a clinician and as a researcher of parasitic diseases. We have raised two children, a daughter and a son, now 20 and 17 respectively, who are happy people and independent thinkers. I like to believe that the four of us have good values, an appropriate perspective on what really matters in life, and a healthy sense of humor.
Along the way, I have written or edited six non-fiction books on a wide range of topics that were of concern to me and where I thought I could have an impact -- for example, on the furor over the Pentagon Papers, which were published thirty years ago and changed the course of relations between the American government and the press. On the FBI . . . on Africa . . . on American foreign policy . . . and on the recent change in immigration and its impact on our country. I'm proud that these books have been used in many college classes.
I also had the opportunity to build and lead a School of Communication, where we trained journalists and filmmakers, photographers and screenwriters, public relations professionals and new media specialists -- but required them all to gain a broad liberal arts background and to pursue a specific substantive field at the same time. I hear often from my own former students -- now State Department officials, sports writers, college counselors, foreign correspondents, and successes in many other areas -- and I feel proud to have helped them the way others once helped me. For years I hosted radio programs, and I could never forget some of my encounters on "All Things Considered" -- with the likes of Maurice Sendak, V. S. Naipaul, various heads of state, and vast numbers of little-known but extremely noble people. Now I run a government-funded network that broadcasts in 53 languages to more than 100 million listeners, viewers, and Internet users around the world, bringing reliable information -- and occasionally even hope -- to places like Afghanistan, Haiti, Cambodia, and Nigeria.
I indulge myself in these details, at the risk of boring you, because I think these experiences have helped shape my vision of what a liberal arts college can be, and what it must be, in the new century -- a community of scholars and learners and doers, of thinkers and activists, of artists and scientists and poets -- in a world that often seems so close to going berserk. A college like Goucher should be, on the one hand, a haven, a temporary shelter from some of the harsh realities that lurk outside this campus -- but, at the same time, an ambitious, optimistic place where we all work together on the old-fashioned concept of trying to improve that world, one concentric circle at a time. It should be a diverse, inclusive, and tolerant environment, where it is equally acceptable to be practical or idealistic, or both -- and, above all, to be an individual who does not feel pressure to follow the crowd.
It is not always easy these days to uphold some of these values -- in a materialistic, results-oriented culture that seems to move at a breakneck pace; at a time when fact and rumor and allegation are often confused, and loud assertion frequently substitutes for calm analysis; when celebrity status gets confused with genuine accomplishment, and some of our leaders have profoundly disappointed us. But if the tradition of independent inquiry and careful research is not nourished and exalted on campus, then where can it be? Where better to experiment and dream, to learn the lessons of the past and design a better future? "Progressive thought in action" are among the words that caught my attention -- perhaps on the web site -- as I set about learning more about Goucher. And why not? I couldn't put it any better. Here we should be able to wonder and to worry, to speculate, design, and envision -- and always leave time to laugh.
Higher education remains the major vehicle for advancement and achievement in American life. Open access to our educational institutions -- through an admittedly flawed merit system -- is one of the features that still sets us apart from many Old World societies, where a person's fate in life may be largely determined by the time he or she is ten or twelve years old. But the residential college, where the liberal arts and sciences are preserved and promoted with a skeptical eye toward the latest fads and fashions, has a unique role. It is the vehicle for trying to be sure that our future lawyers will listen to music and appreciate the latest developments on the biological frontiers; that our entrepreneurs will read a novel now and then and worry about the environment; and that our doctors will understand the political system and pause occasionally to appreciate a work of art.
And a college like Goucher -- given its location, its ties to other institutions, its reputation for caring about public policy and public service, and its international aspirations -- has a particular opportunity to help build world citizenship -- all the more necessary at a time when half the members of the United States Congress are said not to have passports! Indeed, this should be the kind of place where we can watch a spectacular dance concert, cheer on a lacrosse team, and worry about the nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan -- all on the same day. This campus is a congenial venue to sponsor debates on the great issues of our time, to ventilate controversy through responsible -- and occasionally even irresponsible -- dialogue, to hold forums that explore all the options for solving the well-recognized problems of our civil society.
Meanwhile, a liberal arts college like this one must also be an introspective, self-critical place, listening carefully to its own voices and constantly reexamining how well it is doing its many jobs -- making sure that it is not only disseminating, but also creating, knowledge; ascertaining that residential life is meeting the needs of students and contributing to their education; reviewing curriculum in a constructive manner and always leaving room for innovation; seeking new means of intellectual fulfillment for faculty; and enhancing the role of a dedicated staff that keeps the institution on an even keel. Goucher should show its pride in what it is already doing well, but look hard for new ways to build quality and excellence. Its path-breaking post-graduate pre-medical program and its other small and superb graduate programs may be models for other opportunities. Goucher should celebrate the achievements of its faculty, students, and alumni. And it should be a respected player in its city, its state, its region -- and yes, whenever it can, in the country and the world.
Above all, Goucher should be brightening and building the lives of the young women and men who come its way. It should send them off as critical and careful speakers and listeners, excellent writers and communicators, with intellectual skills that will serve them well, whatever their future directions. They should leave with a sense of trust, a spark of fascination, a fundamental tolerance for others, a temporary immunity to cynicism, and an instinct to share their blessings with those less fortunate. This place should continue to inspire their loyalty and appreciation, as they go out and have their own wonderful, complex experiences. Goucher should be one of their touchstones, a place they never forget.