Many Americans are feeling today what could be described as a crisis in leadership, as many institutions on which they have relied have strained their credibility.
Although it too has its flaws, one of our institutions is a highly underutilized force for greater good. In spite of recent blows to its image, this institution may well offer the best and only hope to correct a nation currently on a course toward ongoing economic uncertainty, social unease and environmental hardship.
That institution is higher education, and its untapped potential includes the ability to raise issues, engage creative minds in the search for solutions, and bring together the intellectual and the influential to put those solutions into action.
For much too long, however, institutions of higher education have seen their roles in this regard as less expansive and less crucial to the advancement of society. Individual institutions, while believing that their missions nurture graduates who contribute greatly to the future, have for themselves established no high aspirations for what they can contribute to the common good beyond those student-centered institutional objectives.
At Emory & Henry, we are aware of our institution's capacity beyond a pure educational mission to affect greater positive change in our region. Most recently, we have acted upon this awareness by assembling a group of some of the nation's most influential and creative leaders to form what we call The Ampersand Institute.
Named for the symbol that connects two subjects, such as "Emory" & "Henry," this collection of minds seeks to bring together diverse perspectives and experiences into discussions that can lead to positive change through the efforts of higher education.
Members of this Institute include Socorro de Ande, president of the Lydia Patterson institute; Michael Gilligan, president of the Henry Luce Foundation; Nat Irvin, distinguished professor at the University of Louisville; W. Joseph King, executive director of the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education; Elizabeth Kiss, president of Agnes Scott College;William Pendleton, a respected Atlanta bank executive; Kerry Robinson, director of the Catholic Leadership Roundtable; Clyde Tuggle, senior vice president of marketing for Coca Cola; Gillian Williams, president of the Rensselaerville Institute; and Dr. Tracy Lauder, director of Emory & Henry’s Project Ampersand.
This group will seek to help Emory & Henry as it pursues a larger role in promoting social and economic progress for people of southwest Virginia. Through the workings of this group this college hopes to pull together resources, including students and professors as well as financial, leadership and professional assets beyond the institution, to set the stage for and implement action that makes a difference for all.
Ultimately, the solutions that are proposed through this group will also involve collaboration with a wide variety of other centers of learning—from community colleges and vocational schools to research institutions and larger universities. The potential of higher education in solving big problems is through its resources and connections as well as the energies and minds of well-mentored young people working together across disciplines and learning environments.
The opportunities that can grow from the Ampersand Institute and other such combinations of minds and collaborations of efforts are the kind of opportunities that only higher education can create. That is because the nature of higher education is such that, because of the young minds it educates, it is always focused on the future.
At a time when there is a crisis of leadership across the face of America, when higher education faces intense criticism for its costs, and when the collective pressure of the world's problems poses the greatest threats to the future of our students, it is imperative that colleges and universities step up and show their true value.