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National Faculty Group Convened at Atlanta HBCUs Urged to Help Determine U.S. Education Priorities

ATLANTA – The voice of higher education’s core – professors and administrators – must play a pivotal part of determining what education needs to look like in the future, said a high-ranking U.S. Education Department official last weekend. 

“We need your voice desperately,” Dr. Martha Kanter, under secretary for the U.S. Department of Education, told a group of educators gathered at Atlanta’s Morehouse College on Nov. 20 for a panel discussion during the Faculty Resource Network national symposium, “Challenge as Opportunity: The Academy in the Best and Worst of Times.” 

“We’ve had the last eight years of not hearing the full voice of the faculty,” she said. “The role you play is critical to the future of our American public. … We are asking professors, college presidents, others, what the federal government can do to have the greatest impact on student achievement and bringing American higher education to a far greater level of impact in this country than ever before. … We really are putting out a call to the country to redefine the role of federal government in education because we really have not clarified that role.” 

Her message about educating “the top 100 percent of Americans,” was part of the two-day Faculty Resource Network national symposium hosted by Morehouse, Clark Atlanta University and Spelman College. The Faculty Resource Network is a professional development initiative based at New York University that sponsors programs for faculty members from a consortium of more than 50 colleges and universities. Among its member institutions are 13 historically Black colleges and universities and 14 Hispanic-serving institutions.

 At the symposium, educators from across the nation talked about critical issues ranging from the challenges of advising the new-millennium student to teaching diversity and tolerance in the classroom to increasing capacity at historically Black colleges and universities. Kanter was part of a panel discussion with Spelman President Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, New York University President Dr. John Sexton and Clark Atlanta President Dr. Carlton Brown. NYU journalism professor David Dent moderated the session.

 In a wide-ranging discussion, the participants spoke about how the nation’s higher educational system is playing catch-up after eight years of the Bush administration and the public perception of what higher education should look like in 2009 and beyond.

 “We have disconnected the last eight years the very idea that colleges and universities are engines of change, that they are generators of economic development,” said Brown.  “We’ve disconnected these past notions over the past eight years and redefined higher education as a personal benefit as opposed to a social good.”

 “I have to bridle a little at reducing us to economic engines. We are that and much more,” said Sexton, who referred to his idea of F.I.R.E. (financial, insurance and real estate) and I.C.E. (intellectual, cultural and educational). 

 “Fire and ice together are what are going to create to create the centers of the world,” he said.  “These eight years are going to define whether we are going to be the (minor league baseball’s) Columbus Clippers or the (World Series champion) New York Yankees. … If we want to be a major league franchise in the world in the 21st century, then we’ve got to realize that the 21st century is going to be the Italian Renaissance taken global. Instead of Milan and Venice and Florence and Rome, it’s going to be Shanghai, London and New York. The big question is how many of these idea capitals are we going to have in the United States?”

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