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January 22, 2016

Dr. Larson’s Spring 2016 Colloquium Remarks


““Where there is no vision, the people perish.” ”
– Proverbs 29:18

Opening music:  Creedence Clearwater Revival – “Up Around the Bend”

Everybody!  Put your hands together! Let’s get the juices flowing!

All right!  Good morning Ocean County College! Welcome everyone to the Spring Semester, 2015!

Our theme for today deals with creativity, vision, and change leadership.

Today, we ask the question, “How can the faculty be change leaders for student and institutional success?”

I hope our musical ‘intro’ got you in the swing of our theme.  Maybe you caught the connection:  This institution is moving onward and upward.  It’s time to leave that traditional ‘sinking ship’ behind!

Our commitment, each one of us, to the building of OCC’s future will help to secure our place in the rapidly changing world of higher education. But, that future requires that we are all fully engaged participants and that we move from a culture of self-interest to one that is mutually-supportive, professional, and civil.

Stephen Lundin, Organizational Culture Expert, asks, “Imagine a place where everyone chooses to bring energy, passion, and a positive attitude every day.”

Yes, indeed!  Imagine what could be accomplished!

As Bob Dylan sang,

…you better start swimmin’

Or you’ll sink like a stone

For the times they are a-changin’.

The times are most certainly a-changin’ folks!

Now, we are doing things a little differently in today’s Colloquium.

I am going to show a short film and then talk briefly about our upcoming steps in transforming OCC into a new kind of institution – one that will flourish for the long term in a world fraught with threats and disruption.

Then, we will break out into two groups led by members of our own OCC family.  They will facilitate discussion among a small panel of reactors, and the attending faculty and staff in each session, on the theme of today’s Colloquium:  faculty leadership of change.

Before I set the stage for our short video which, I am confident, (humor me), you are going to really like, let me introduce the distinguished guests and members of our Board of Trustees who are with us today:

Board Chair, Mr. Van Thulin and his lovely wife, Kathleen; Secretary of the Board, Mr. Stephan Leone; Treasurer of the Board, Mr. Jerry Dasti; and Trustee Mr. Emil Kaunitz.

Please note that Mr. Leone and Mr. Kaunitz have graciously agreed to participate in our sessions later this morning.

Also, Dr. Don Norris, and Dr. Tim Gilmour, Strategic Initiatives, Inc., whom by now you all should know … and love!

And, appreciation is expressed to our two interpreters here today:  Peg Jackowsky and Adrianne Adamo.

Thank you, each, for joining us today.

So, let me begin by sharing a few observations about our primary objectives as we progress with Charting Our New Course, the transformation initiative being guided by Drs. Norris and Gilmour:

In a nutshell, we are: 1 – managing change systematically, comprehensively, empathetically; 2 – evaluating and improving everything we do; and 3 – creating wholly new enterprises, services, models, and markets.

Of these three principle goals, clearly the most important, and the most difficult, is creating entirely new academic entities and thereby becoming an entirely new kind of institution.

Peter Thiel, co-founder of Pay Pal and a principle of the venture-capital firm Founders Fund, an early investor in Facebook, and philanthropist who pays smart kids to skip college in favor of creating their own businesses, has a new book out, titled, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future.

Himself a Stanford grad, he argues that MBA’s and similar certification degrees obscure rather than illuminate the creative impulse, maintaining, “All Rhoades scholars had a great future in their past.”

“It’s easier to copy a model,” he continues, “than to make something new.  Doing something that we already know how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar.  But every time we create something new, we go from 0 to 1.  The act of creation is singular, as in the moment of creation, and the result is something fresh and strange.  This book,” he writes, “is about how to get there.” [Thiel, Zero to One]

Zero to One’s theme is that, ‘when it comes to starting businesses,’ (or any other creative venture such as we aspire to here at OCC), “entrepreneurs should be looking for ideas that don’t just marginally improve on existing firms and practices.  You don’t want to be the second or third Indian restaurant on the block, no matter how much better you think your food and service can be.  Instead, you should be looking for a market segment you can create and monopolize.  With market-based monopolies come vast profits for as long as you can maintain your edge.” [Nick Gillespie, ‘Peter Theil’s Worldview’ book review, January 5, 2015]

Still, Thiel “stresses that for all of the recent fears about automation and the loss of jobs, ‘the most valuable businesses of coming decades will … seek to empower people, rather than try to make them obsolete.’” [Gillespie]

“Too many of us of whatever age,” he argues, “often assume that a glorious future will just happen on its own.  Zero to One exhorts us all to start working to create the future we want to live.” [Gillespie]

We cannot just sit back and wait for the future to happen.  That would leave us like the fellow who said, ‘I wondered why the baseball kept getting bigger. Then it hit me.’

Our future begins here with each one of us.

So, just how do we do that?  As the saying goes, “Great ideas are the fuel of progress.” This is the subject for today.  To get us started, please pay careful attention to the profound messages in this short video, “Everyday Creativity,” written and narrated by Dewitt Jones.

Please look for his insights into how every one of us can transform the ordinary into the extraordinary; how we can find the passion, the energy, to fall in love with the world – a world filled with opportunity if we can only find the right perspective to see it.

You will hear Dewitt Jones say, a la Thoreau, “The world is but a canvas to our imagination.”

As we complete our first full year implementing our transformation initiative, Charting Our New Course, we are in fact becoming more comfortable embracing the creative impulse and embracing change.  Our goal going forward is for each and every one of us to develop a true sense of the abundant opportunity that surrounds us.

It is up to us!

I hope you enjoyed Dewitt Jones’ take on creativity.  Did you like it?

We are going to continue discussing the concepts Jones presented, and exploring the notions of how to get there that intrigue Peter Thiel, but focusing specifically today on the roles faculty can and should play in helping this wonderful institution ‘get there.’

When we gather in our two breakout sessions, one right here in the theater and the other across the walk in the Black Box, we’ll take up the theme of how faculty, in particular, can utilize their capacity to seek out where we have the greatest potential to innovate, to find ways to remain relevant and contribute something new and positive in our rapidly-changing academic environment.  How can faculty – ten month, twelve month, and adjuncts – add value to what we do every day and find new and better ways to empower people.

As Winston Churchill has said, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”

Rather than simply railing against the forces of technology, changing demographics, and disruptive economics, how can we envision a future that leads students to a better life and this College to a better tomorrow … one characterized by growth, solvency, distinctiveness, and a stellar reputation?  How can faculty help us find an academic market segment we can create and maintain as a market leader?

For all of us today, it is no longer sufficient to howl at the moon in anguish because the world is passing us by.  Stephen Crane penned these words in his book, War is Kind:

“A man said to the universe:

‘Sir, I exist!’

‘However,’ replied the universe,

‘The fact has not created in me

A sense of obligation.’

Now is the time for all of us to acknowledge that shouting, ‘Sir, I exist!’ is irrelevant to a universe that rewards those who create something new, who advance the state of mankind by doing more than copying and adding improvements to a model.  Now is the time to create something ‘fresh and strange’ – something that adds value to humanity; that empowers people.

The headline quote for this speech is from Proverbs 29:18
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”

While some among us believe we suffer from “vision overload,” let me emphasize again that you are being given the opportunity to define our ‘official’ vision for the future of this institution … all of you.  Faculty certainly, but Charting Our New Course is all about inclusion.  Trustees, support staff, MT’s, administrators, Foundation members, community notables … everyone.

As we progress from year one, just concluded, to year five of Charting Our New Course, one of our principal goals will be to re-write our College mission statement.  While our present mission statement is reasonably eloquent and emphasizes OCC’s exceptionality, we are, truthfully, as an institution much more characterized by our commonness with the other 1,200 U.S. community colleges.  We, therefore, seek a revised definition of our mission and elaboration of our vision statement that adds the commitment to innovate things truly new, creatively ‘fresh and strange,’ that unquestionably sets us apart and raises our value proposition for the students and families of Ocean County and for those students elsewhere who enroll in online degrees.

In a new book, titled, Locus of Authority, William G. Bowen and Eugene M. Tobin, past presidents respectively of Princeton University and Hamilton College, argue that administrators need to seek and use the expertise of faculty, and faculty need to join administrators in seeking ways to ensure long-term viability of the academic enterprise, even when it requires role changes and crossing traditional boundaries.

While many studies have focused on the roles of boards of trustees and presidents, this book specifically examines the place of faculty within the academy’s governance structure.  It is a call for fundamental reform, but its authors question whether higher educational institutions have what it takes to reform effectively from within.

That is precisely what we are up to as we go about Charting Our New Course!  Predictably, the blogs by faculty members that accompanied the reviews of Bowen’s and Tobin’s book tended to excoriate the authors for failing to understand how universities ‘really work’ and for insufficiently appreciating faculty roles as they have evolved historically …

While this defensive reaction is understandable given the very fundamental role change for faculty called for in the book, such changes are a fact of life facing every institution of higher education today.  Shouting to the heavens the equivalent of, “Sir, I exist!” will not create an obligation by the universe to cease or impede the inevitable flow of change that is so much a part of contemporary life across the globe now.

Bruce Barton counsels us, “When you are through changing, you are through.”  At OCC, we have no plans of ever being through!

Recognize the value of this change; embrace it!  Through creativity and innovation, we will meet the needs of our students, stay relevant, serve our community well, and continue to empower our faculty and staff as they create our new future.

Our job today is to address how we can make effective use of the principles and techniques of creative visioning that Dewitt Jones outlined in “Everyday Creativity.” In particular, our challenge is to address how we can utilize these thought-and-opportunity-recognition processes to create something truly new in the ways faculty do their work.

We want faculty engagement in leading the institution and leading our students in new ways that utilize the special knowledge and expertise of faculty.  We want partners who will work with the Board and Administration as we strive to create a future persona for Ocean County College that places us, for as long as we can maintain it, in a ‘fresh, strange’ and unique category that assures our viability, our reputation, our value to our community and to all of higher education.

That future persona includes our promising potential partnership with the New Jersey Institute of Technology, NJIT. What you may not know is that through this partnership, and thanks to continuing support from the Ocean County Freeholders and some potential substantial philanthropic donors, we anticipate building a STEM building to house Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math programs.  We will be creating two new and exciting features in STEM education: a STEM Academy and an Innovation Center. The STEM Academy would offer outreach to elementary, middle, and high school students, parents, and teachers, and a place where they can all come together to learn, to become inspired to do the hard work of science and math, to rub elbows with NJIT faculty and professional engineers, scientists, major corporate sponsors, and get a glimpse of what the ‘new’ OCC has to offer.  The Innovation Center would offer a “home” to budding innovators and entrepreneurs to build and create something new, right here on our campus.  As integrated partners with NJIT, we would be involved in crafting ‘something new’; a learning environment not presently available to serve Ocean County, all of South Jersey, and perhaps more widely, in the delivering of STEM education!

Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, Inc., wrote, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

As we sit down together this morning and explore the dimensions of this issue, let’s all open our minds, our eyes, (and our mouths) with our best effort at achieving the magic that lies at the heart of the creative impulse!

“There’s a place up ahead and I’m goin,’
Just as fast as my feet can fly,
Come away, come away if you’re goin,’
Leave the sinking ship behind!”

You can ponder perpetual motion,
Fix your mind on a crystal day,
Always time for a good conversation,
There’s an ear for what you say!”

Let’s have a good conversation, today.

Thank you, everyone, for your kind attention!  Thank you!

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