Commission for the 21st Century

Posted on January 19, 2021

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As we move into the third decade of the 21st century I think we need to do some planning. I suggested a few weeks ago on a way for UA to renew itself with vigor and imagination.

Establish a Commission for the 21st Century to study where we’ve come from, where we are, and what we need to do for the future. Appoint a commission of alumni, faculty, staff, and friends to do this. Make it a large commission and assign specific areas to smaller groups within the commission.

The commission should be appointed by the Board of Trustees. Perhaps Governor Kay Ivey, as a political leader in our State and an ex-oficio member of Alabama’s Board of Trustees, could suggest to kick it off.

We all do this in our lives: take honest stock of where we are, where we came from, and where we want to go. We need to do it as an institution as well.

I’ll be glad to give the Governor some ideas if she needs them, although I think she is quite capable of exercising her authority in this area. I can share with her a lot of names, largely alumni, who have written me over the past several years about UA.

Why a Commission? I read somewhere where the President of UA said they have a group looking ahead, twenty to thirty years, all the time. That’s good. But we need a group not anchored to the University, but representative of people across the spectrum of human activity, especially the alumni, who can put UA into the context of American values and reality across the board.

Besides, UA is a public university responsible to the public and not to a sector of the faculty or administrators or even students who represent perhaps narrow, political interests not reflective of the public at large.

We do this periodically in public life: they are called elections. Now don’t smirk or get snarky and blow away the whole process of voting people into and out of power as just a rotten waste of time since there is so much corruption in the process. This is the kind of issue the Commission needs to address.

The Commission itself should determine its own agenda but let me suggest a few areas it needs to not only study and investigate but also produce recommendations, both specific and general.

Start out with the very basics. We don’t ask these basic questions too often because we take the answers for granted. We shouldn’t. Why marriage? Why religion? Why government? Why education?

And as we move deeply into the role that higher education should play in our civilization or culture, we can become more specific. But, before that, I’d like to see the Commission deal with the big pictures. The whys? And then the answers, even if in broad, general terms.

It should be understood that—at least in my framework of thinking—there are three sources of training to be citizens in a republic such as ours: family, religion, and education. And I list those in the order of importance.

By family I mean the nuclear family, confirmed by marriage and the rules established by religion. And by religion, I mean the dominant religion—still—in the making of this country, Christianity. A subcommittee on religion could perhaps be established precisely to determine what role it should play in education and the family. Now, don’t bail out on me as you read. You may be an atheist or a Muslim or Buddhist and hold different perspectives and points of view entirely from the mainstream. But you are part of the “mainstream,” whatever that word means in its totality.

Then the Commission should move down to more specific areas, like sciences, types of government, the arts, humanities, law, the areas that make up any major university’s structure, public or private.

If all universities are about knowledge, and its transmission, then we need to investigate both knowledge and it’s spin off, wisdom. In today’s age, and predictably for the rest of the century, “knowledge” and “wisdom” have been downgraded to apps on your tablets and phones. Ask anyone under thirty why Abraham Lincoln’s statue should be pulled down and dumped into the trash heap of history, and I’m betting half or more will start tweeting madly on their phones, searching YouTube, Facebook, and I would suggest to them, try Wikipedia instead, for who Lincoln was.

Both knowledge and wisdom figure prominently in the Bible. In the simplest terms, knowledge is knowing the facts; wisdom is knowing how to use them.

Let’s close with this definition which is one of many on the Internet:

Wisdom and knowledge … are related but not synonymous. The dictionary defines wisdom as “the ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting.” Knowledge, on the other hand, is “information gained through experience, reasoning, or acquaintance.” Knowledge can exist without wisdom, but not the other way around. One can be knowledgeable without being wise. Knowledge is knowing how to use a gun; wisdom is knowing when to use it and when to keep it holstered.” (from Got Questions: https://www.gotquestions.org/wisdom-knowledge.html )

I think a Commission for the 21st Century is necessary to steer us for the next hundred years. As an old (literally and figuratively) pilot I know how crucial navigation is to the mission. Let’s move this great adventure called life boldly and wisely through the skies of our life.

Published as “Planning needed to chart course for education’s future” in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday Jan. 17 2021

Posted in: Education