Wooten: Okay, I would like to invite each of the panelists to offer their parting thoughts.
For those of you who know me, you know I am certainly not deep, I’m not sophisticated, so please don’t laugh when I quote the poet Yeats. What Yeats said was an extraordinary insight, which is “talent perceives differences/Genius unity.” And if you look around in the world today, my opinion is that you have many talented people playing up differences in a negative way, and increasing the degree of polarization and separation that we see in the world.
And so what we really need today is the genius to tackle the persistent and pernicious issues of systemic racism. And in my opinion, the scarcest dimension of genius that we need is not IQ; it’s not even EQ or emotional intelligence, but DQ, or a decency quotient. And what we need is the decency to actually care about one another, to bring the best out of one another and give people the opportunities that they deserve.
And so, in my opinion, decency compels us to act to dismantle systemic racism and to act now. Thank you.
Very little to add to the comments that preceded mine, so I won’t go on unnecessarily. I will say that it is useful for us as leaders in the business school environment to articulate why it is that diversity, inclusion, belonging, and related concerns are so important to us. In many ways, that’s the most important thing we do as leaders: we speak for institutions. Seems to me that means reminding people — reminding all of our constituents, our alums, our faculty, the broader university — that we must address diversity, equity, belonging, anti-racism and related things, because it is essential to our pedagogy.
But one cannot teach, as well as one otherwise might, if the class sitting before you on Zoom or in person all is the same. The quality of instruction and what goes on in the classroom is diminished. We’re training people, after all, for success in the real world, to leave our hallowed halls and to enter and have successful careers in business. And so we cannot prepare people for successful careers in society broadly and business narrowly unless they have come into close contact, meaningful contact, with a diverse, heterogeneous group of people during their training.
We remind people, finally, that we have a moral obligation — a moral obligation — to amend the system, our institutions, that played a role in generating some of the racial inequities we observed by historically not admitting certain people from particular ethnic groups or not engaging with this issue in 1968 or ’75 or ’88, the way they could. We have come belatedly, I would argue, to an aggressive engagement with this problem. And because of our late start, we have more to do. So communication for me is an essential part of what we do. And I’ll just stop there.
Sometimes I think about what happens if we don’t get this right. It’s such an important issue. I mean, it’s just beyond the business school, is just beyond the “Do we look good if we don’t get this right?” — it’s really our future. And it’s so important and that is makes the stakes so much more than me and my business school and the students in the business school and everybody involved. It’s so much higher.
The problem to me is so humbling, so complex, but it’s the impact that we could make that will make so much more of a difference for our future. Whenever I talk to the students I always end by saying “I am an optimist,” so let me finish by saying, I am an optimist — I feel there is progress being made, you hear people talking about this, talking about racial injustice, and there is momentum. It doesn’t make the problem easy, but I think if we can we must work right now as hard as possible.
We’ve told students, “If you work hard, you go to college, you’ll have a great career — and it all depends on you,” without really pulling back and saying to students, “The reality is, there’s so many other things around you that determine your success. The family of origin that you have, the passport that you hold, and the race that you are.” And those systemic things are really important. And I think the opportunity that we have in business schools is to tell all of our students that, yes, you are hard-working, you are smart, but your success is not solely due to your hard work and your effort — there are systems and structures in place that contribute to and detract from one’s success.
We can get in front of our students and explain to them and help them make that connection, and if we do they will have a much deeper appreciation for the racial inequality that exists in the United States.
This has been in many ways an incredibly difficult year — maybe unprecedented difficulty in all of our lifetimes. But it has had some silver linings. And one of them is that it’s forced all of us to go through a process of incredible innovation in just about everything we do, and this event is an example of that. And another is that it has focused all of our attention on the issues of race in an incredibly productive way — and in a way that has a lot of potential to help the whole country.
And I think one thing that’s always important to keep in mind in all of our roles is that all of our institutions, at a fundamental level, exist to serve the public welfare. We have a fundamental public mission, whether we’re a public school or a private institution — either way. And I actually think that one thing that this year has done is, it has given all of us at business schools a sense of renewed purpose for that fundamental mission.
I really appreciate seeing this group come together and hearing all of my colleagues speak on these issues so eloquently and well. It makes me very optimistic for what we’re going to accomplish over the coming years. Thank you.
Bill began by quoting Yeats, and I’m going to go ahead with a quote from one of my favorite poets, the Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes. I think my fellow deans have articulated the challenges and problems that we are facing far better than I could have. We’ve come out of a season of despair, but also a summer of hope. Immense challenges, but there is also optimism because of what we are facing. And here is where this particular poems resonates with me very deeply — I don’t know how many times this summer I looked at it even though it’s imprinted on my brain.
This is a poem called “Dreams.” Hughes says:
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is barren field
Frozen with snow.
This is a time for action. It is a time for us to move together on what we’re doing, but it is also a time to make sure that we don’t lose the dreams of a better future, and we have a precise idea in mind of what it is that we’re moving toward.
Like my colleagues, I too am an unwavering optimist, and I’m inspired by the optimism that is apparent in this group. I want to thank my fellow deans — it is a true privilege to join you all for this dialogue. I respect you, I admire you and the work that you do, and I feel like we’re part of a community —part of a family — that is all sharing a common set of values and a common mission. And so I just want to express my gratitude to each and every one of you.
And then lastly, I want to reiterate the importance of our collective commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, not as a moment, but as a movement. We need a sustained movement whereby all business schools, all universities, embrace the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion as a core part of our values and our mission. We need a sustained movement whereby we recruit diverse talent and help them develop the skills to thrive in a diverse workforce. And we need to be role models for other schools and industry in business, and it’s in that spirit that I want to just again thank my fellow deans for joining the discussion today. It’s not every day that we get to come together like this, but it is always a joy when we do, and it is truly inspiring to know that we’re all in this together.
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