John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

What Do Our Leaders Really Believe In?

Paul Ryan

John Gardner

Forgive me readers, I have multiple strands running through my head and fingers but I think/hope they all connect.

I am referring to Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate.

And this reminds me of the important question: what do our leaders (of the country, of higher education, of our campuses) really believe? And why don’t they take a stand and tell us clearly?

And then I am reminded of why I get so much reaction when I usually never fail to mention in my own speeches that most fundamentally my work is about social justice.

There are few things I know with certainly but one is that Paul Ryan does not stand for “social justice” as the term has been conventionally used for the last fifty years in American history and politics—that is unless we mentally qualify and redefine social justice to mean that for conservatives and the very wealthy who want even more tax breaks than they now receive.

Like many American voters, I have been asking myself for some time: what does Mitt Romney really believe in? He has finally given us an answer. It is clear. It is unambiguous. But it doesn’t really mean or reveal what he believes in other than he believes Mr. Ryan is his best chance to increase his chances of electability. There is no doubt, however, of what Mr. Ryan believes in and the consistency of those beliefs.

When I go to events like high school reunions and meet people I have known for over fifty years, and now see them on the downside of life, in their capstone periods, I marvel at how unchanged their basic characters and values are from those I knew in adolescence. So what does this say about the man who would be President and who created Romneycare and now wants to repeal Obamacare? It says we don’t really know what the guy believes in. But not Paul Ryan. We know what he believes in.

For the past 18 months or so, ever since my wife and I returned from our first visit to South Africa, where we constantly heard the phrase “social justice” being used to justify or remind of why certain educational practices and policies were being pursued, I have deliberately been reminding my own audiences of how social justice is the guiding intellectual construct for my own work. And it never fails that I have people either comment directly to me afterwards or write me, how much they appreciate the clarity of my expressed values and the fact that I would say this at all in an era when none of our elected officials dare call for this.

This also reminds me of how most of my fellow higher educators work on campuses where many of them do have fine leaders, who—unlike the Presidential candidate above, do have a consistent record of core values. But we don’t usually hear of them, especially if they are liberal values. We know our leaders are scared to death to espouse such values publicly for whom they might offend, whose money and political support they need. So instead of being able to hear their values espoused, campus personnelhave to watch very carefully the decisions their leaders make, especially about allocations of resources to read the tea leaves in our leaders’ cups. People in any group want their leaders to stand for something. I am saddened that so many of our educational leaders today correctly have concluded they cannot be so transparent.

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