May 13, 1993
Indeed, we appreciate and value the encouragement of the. Association of Governing Boards for all the reasons exercised here today. The AGB represents uniquely, an American institution comprising shared public and private service and responsibility for education. Especially since the reporting of "A Nation at Risk" almost exactly a decade ago the prime national response is coming from the higher education community, just as those providing pre-college public education, slowly, oh so slowly, discover the deep and abiding validity of the National Commission's findings. In this regard, this week's confessional by Mr. Albert Schanker, President of the American Federation of Teachers, is one of the most moving. Although repeating the usual erroneous reference to President Reagan's disinterest in the National Commission, Schanker correctly repeats the essential themes and findings of the report, gives them proper approval and, in citing what is necessary for student achievement, says "'A Nation At Risk' told us this ten years ago, but we missed it. If we don't listen now, we will have ten more years without progress in student achievement." But of course, we can't possibly sustain these ten more years of decline; the groups comprising the Association of Governing Boards have and are rallying the total educational enterprise for the salvation of leaming and literacy in our United States.
We should demonstrate and praise this role of the AGB as a fitting culmination of the shared objectives of the past hours today, and of the passing years which you all give to this cause. The Governor's eloquence implies the work of you all in which public and independent board functions are so adroitly linked, and human talents are so carefully sought through Stephen Wiley's committee and the Board which Albert Merck and Stephen Wiley chair and vice-chair. But we shall not conclude with that deserved finding.
Rather we shall assert a quality of the Association of Governing Boards and thus of its leadership, its functions and its constituency, of which you all are a notable part. This quality applies to the AGB as embodying a rare and nowadays diminishing example of service to our Nation that cannot be bought or sold. There may be a few, very rare and very sad exceptions with respect to State Boards, but overall these governing elements of higher education both public and independent indeed among the very few elements of our democracy which as the 20th Century concludes are beyond the reach of the dollar, the deal, the dole, the delivery. So Dr. Tom Ingram's reference to integrity, in the foreword to "Trustees and Troubled Times" for which he makes no presumptions concerning AGB, is apt indeed.
Of course, there are millions of individuals who serve in thousands of entities who are themselves honest and honorable. But now in an Information Age and a free press, it is increasingly evident that the institutions of our Nation and thus in the abstract their human components, are not that way. If, in horrified projection of this bold but woeful assertion, you turn to education and say 'look at the 16,000 school boards,' the answer regrettably is the same as for the Congress, the Executive Branch, the state, county, municipal, local political structures of the cities and the country. Candor about it will be reaching new levels of outrage in the months directly ahead. (We already see sociopolitical woe in Italy, France and all of Eastern Europe, with much of Asia, Africa and South America.) Thus, President Clinton's current administrative and the Congressional actions on campaign financing and dozens of other ethics issues will continue to quantify ethical decay. This dramatization of recent decades invokes the challenge forwarded by President John Adams so many eras ago. Adams' thoughts applied especially to influences from education and our culture. They hit right at the global question of how can a free democratic and humane nation survive. For Adams said "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." Now this practical view of how America works was especially articulated by Thomas Jefferson, the 250th anniversary of whose birth we celebrated in the past couple of weeks in Philadelphia, as well as in Virginia where Jefferson spent twenty formative including student years in Williamsburg shaping an understanding of how the Constitution should guide a United States of America. From these recent conferences attended by leaders in learning and affairs from around the world and especially from the Atlantic Basin, the message of the Honorable Warren Burger, retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court epitomized our slide from what Jefferson and Adams and their fellow patriots designed as a basis for our survival.
Of course, a longer history than the quarter-millennium that we have been observing for Jefferson will show yet other meanings of honesty in politics and public service. But right now the AGB stands out as a truly extraordinary aggregation of citizens who guide and support one of the greatest endeavors of human history - the American aggregate of public and independent colleges and universities. The more than 13-million students (projected to be 16-millions by the turn of the Century) of whom some 12 and a half million are in the cities, represented in the public entities such as those of our pride in New Jersey, reflect a present national investment of more than 150 billion dollars a year. And most importantly they have a faculty of 824,000 of the best minds of our Nation, led by administrations of high skills and integrity. This is the constituency of the governing boards which comprise the AGB. We don't need to remind this sophisticated assembly that however worthy and honest are individuals in personal public servants of our governments, our welfare systems (read 'United Way') our environmental movements, and all the rest, the plain circumstance is that the AGB signifies an independence from PACs from dealings and dollars which is unprecedented and unexcelled.
W. 0. Baker