Monday, March 18, 2013

Inextricably Interwoven with our Community

For a university to fully fulfill its mission, it needs to be inextricably interwoven with the community, both the internal community and the surrounding community. Some universities pay limited attention to their surroundings but I have always been proud of Hofstra’s history of embracing the community in ways that clearly meet important needs. Our NOAH program was the template for New York State’s Higher Educational Opportunity Program. This program has a long history of providing the support necessary for economically disadvantaged students who do not meet our regular admissions standards to receive a Hofstra education and ultimately receive their bachelor’s degree and an enhanced chance of succeeding. We also have a full service Community Service Center on campus which includes childcare, a psychological clinic, a speech and hearing clinic, a reading clinic, and a marriage and family therapy clinic, all in support of the community. We also work closely with many of the surrounding school districts in helping to provide support through STEP and Liberty Partnership Programs that enhance the chances for the economically disadvantaged students involved to succeed. Our Law School has multiple clinics in support of the community and our Medical School has a highly regarded pipeline program that serves to increase the numbers of economically disadvantaged students who are able to go on to medical school.

I am especially proud of two of our most recent initiatives, both making a major impact on and for the community. Through the efforts of two dozen Hofstra Democracy Fellows (Hofstra students) and with the support of the Kettering Foundation, the Hagedorn Foundation, the National Issues Forum Institute and the Goldman Foundation, we have moderated 100 nonpartisan issues forums in schools and libraries throughout Long Island. The issues of the day are so complex, our political parties so divided that nonpartisan discussions are harder and harder to find and solutions seems more and more elusive. We need less rhetoric and more discussion for the issues to be understood, and for workable solutions to evolve and consensus is to be established. These intergenerational civil conversations provide that setting and our students, with the guidance of a leading faculty member who is also a distinguished professor of nonviolent social change, are leading the way. Through this effort, which is called Deepening Democracy through Deliberation, we have been able to build on our hosting a presidential debate and facilitate this island-wide debate. We are also practicing democracy the way it should be practiced.

The latest initiative of our Center for Civic Engagement is also exemplary. Working as part of a team that includes our local community hospital, a new program has been implemented to help meet the non-medical health care needs of pediatric patients in the hospital. For example, what if a young child suffering from asthma lives in a home or apartment with a severe mold problem or a lack of heat in the winter time? The hospital and the patient’s physician will not be able to solve these problems directly but unless they are solved, the health of these children is likely to be compromised. Our students, under supervision, will run a help center that will work to resolve these issues. It is through their efforts that a total care initiative will be put in place for this vulnerable population.

For our students, we are providing highly worthwhile experiential learning. For our community, we are working with the community to address community and societal needs. The end result is that we are doing a better job fulfilling our mission, while promoting understanding and enhancing the quality of life. And as I stated in the beginning of this blog, I am proud of Hofstra’s record in that regard and even prouder that we are not resting on our laurels.

Monday, March 11, 2013

President’s Week- Part 2

Prior to this president’s week, I had never been in Las Vegas but now based on the experience, I should have gone sooner and more often. And I think my family feels the same way. It isn’t the gambling that turned me on, though I adjusted well to my overall loss of $2.00. Rather, it is the entertainment and just the sense that Las Vegas is an easy place to have a good time. Las Vegas also gave me the opportunity to explain to my kids the economics of gambling.

Everywhere you turn in Las Vegas gambling is prominent, starting at the airport when you disembark from the plane. Prime real estate in virtually every hotel is dedicated to gambling and clearly the public responds very favorably. My kids asked about winning a mega prize and talked about everything they would do with their large scale winnings. What I explained to them, and I think it registered well, is for so many hotels and other public places to devote so much space to gambling meant that it was a very profitable activity—for the hotels etc. Otherwise the space would be allocated for other purposes. And if these establishments as a whole are making substantial profits on gambling, the public was incurring substantial losses. I think they understood clearly that not everyone could be a winner and if the casino makes a tremendous amount of money, the public as a whole is losing that money. Yes individuals do win, but the odds favor the casino and the reality is that there are many more losers than there are winners. Just leave it to an economist to find those teachable moments to stress important economic concepts.

Las Vegas clearly benefits from legalized gambling but it also benefits from providing wall to wall entertainment, some of it free, others at varying costs. Many of the hotels had great free entertainment and great shopping malls; others had super amusement park rides and still others had thoroughly enjoyable shows that cost money but were worth the cost. We tried to cover as much as we could but there clearly is enough available to justify a few more visits. My kids loved the fire show at the Mirage, the pirate activity at Treasure Island, and especially loved the rollercoaster at New York New York. But the highlight of the visit was an unexpected stroll down memory lane that I took with my 15 years old daughter. We went to see Human Nature, which is a very successful Australian singing group, now in Las Vegas, that specializes in the Motown sound. I grew up on Motown and still love the music. My daughter had heard bits and pieces over time but it certainly didn’t make much of an impact on her previously. She loved the music and even loved the fact that Motown pioneers such as Smokey Robinson and Mary Wilson were present and introduced to the audience.

At the end of this vacation and especially at the end of this show, we were more in sync than before and what more can you expect from a vacation than great sights, entertainment, and being more closely aligned with your kids.

One last point, what impressed us most on this trip—the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam or Las Vegas? No contest—all of the above. I would gladly go back and the fact that there were some great chocolate desserts is icing on the cake.

Monday, March 4, 2013

President’s Week - Provost Prose

Up to age 18, I had never been on a plane and the furthest I traveled was to a camp in Pennsylvania.  My kids, who are not yet 18, have already flown hundreds of thousands of miles by plane and have flown across both the Atlantic and the Pacific. But the differences are even more profound.  Staying in touch with friends when I traveled, either with my parents or to camp, consisted of a once a week phone call and more frequent postcards.  I always looked carefully to find the right postcards, those that would give a friend or family member at least some sense of what I was seeing or experiencing.  Now my younger daughter stays in touch with her friends by facetimeing them and if she borrows my wife’s iPAD, she is even facetimeing multiple friends at the same time.  And since they are watching and talking with each other in real time, they are certainly remaining closely in touch.  Postcards have gone the way of phones with cords or payphones; replaced by instantly texting or emailing pictures or videos that show what you are seeing, once again in real time.  I’ve only used facetime once—for a work related meeting but I regularly text and email pictures.  I’m also the first to acknowledge that these changes are real improvements that we should all appreciate.

Finding a vacation that all of us want to go on for President’s week has become more of a challenge as my daughters have grown older.  This year we decided to travel to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, with a side trip to Hoover Dam.  My wife has seen all of the above previously; for my kids and me, all three were new experiences.  Hoover Dam impressed everyone. The scale of the dam and the difference it has made greatly fascinated us all.  And for my kids, it was important to hear, as part of the tour, that the dam was built without computers and without GPS etc.  It gave them a real sense—on a massive scale—that human ingenuity has transcended time and technology.  I can’t wait to take them to the Great Wall to reinforce that lesson.  Hearing what the workers on the dam went through as the dam was being built also gave them an important insight on why government regulations, such as the OSHA regulations, make such a difference in the health and wellbeing of workers.

The Grand Canyon was spectacular.  We explored various lookouts on the south rim, seeing the differences from different heights and locations, as well as the differences that time of day and weather related (cloud and sun) conditions made in what we were looking at.  No photograph can do justice to the Grand Canyon.  For me it was a dazzling look at the majesty and power of nature.  But here there was a difference in how some of us saw the Canyon.  For my younger daughter, she would clearly have welcomed a Disney effect, something that would have made the Canyon come more alive, even if it was all make believe.  For example, if Simba could have given a guided tour with the Canyon creatures singing a few songs, I think she would have appreciated the added action.  Think of it as an amusement park ride, instead of “It’s a small world,” we would have “It’s a large canyon.” No, I’m not advocating anything like this happening, though I think there could be a livelier film at the welcome center.  I also think that when we go back to the Canyon and take the mule ride down to the bottom, all of us will be fascinated by the experience.  And I am certain that as my kids grow older, they will more fully understand that an understated wonder of nature can still be dazzling.

Speaking of dazzling, we started and ended our trip in Las Vegas.  And stay tuned to next week’s blog to read about that part of our experience.