Address by Allan C. Stam, Dean of the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, August 23, 2017

Good morning!

Welcome back to all members of the Batten community, and a heartfelt welcome to our new students, faculty, and staff joining our Town Hall for the first time.

Traditionally I try to use this first community meeting to give you a candid update on the state of the School. And today I will review the many opportunities and challenges ahead for our fast-growing school. The state of our school is strong. Our future, working together, is bright.

Before I detail our important work ahead, however, I want to share some thoughts on leadership.

First, I want to join President Sullivan in her eloquent and persistent rejection of violence and bigotry. Racism and intolerance have no place here. We in the Batten community stand as one in their rejection.

We reject the views and beliefs of neo-Nazis, skinheads, white supremacists, and the KKK. We also reject the violence and vigilantism of the Antifa and other provocateurs.

The deaths of two state troopers — Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates — and community activist Heather Heyer are tragic.

In the months ahead, take time to thank personally the first responders from the medical center, the firemen, police, and state troopers for the very difficult work they do.

Second, I want to reaffirm unequivocally the commitment of the Batten School community to thoughtful, and civil, conversation and speech.

Especially when our community is under stress, it is incumbent upon us to lead — both in action and in our words. One of the critical attributes of leadership is being able to maintain a dispassionate countenance when things seem to be falling apart.

People will look to you for a sense of stability and calm.

Emotions — and, in particular, fear and anger — are extraordinarily powerful tools available to leaders and their teams.

As leaders, you must not let your emotions get the better of you. There will be times in your life when your challenge will be to rally the emotional energy of your team, to inspire them to try to accomplish something they do not believe possible but you know is within their grasp.

There will be many times as well, when the greater challenge will be to confront the crowd, to tamp down anger, to channel fear into useful action rather than choices later consumed by regret.

Our psychologist colleagues talk about two kinds of decision making or cognitive processes, not hard to remember: Fast and Slow. Reactive and Deliberative. Emotive and Rational.

Both are part of us and both are useful if not essential at the right time and place. In the wrong time and place, relying on the wrong system will lead to failure and embarrassment.

In times of crisis, what is in greatest demand and shortest supply is rational, deliberative thought. People instinctively clamor for reaction, speed, haste. We can act quickly and effectively if we have prepared and rehearsed in advance.

If we simply react, absent adequate preparation, we more often than not will come to regret our actions after the fact, either for their unintended consequences or most commonly, simply for their ineffectiveness.

The reverse is true as well, and it is this which makes the challenge of managing these two paths — the leadership challenge — so difficult.

At times when our teams are down, when we need an immediate and fierce action, being able to rally one’s troops will fall to you, the leader.

Anger, fury, hate, rage — are powerful genies who should only be let out of their bottles in the rarest of circumstances and with deliberate, rational, slow thought.

While these emotions enable human beings to call on reserves of physical and emotional resilience and strength most are unware of, they are also the most destructive forces that reside within us all.

Joy, happiness, good cheer — are also powerful, but in the short run tend to be less so, which makes it necessary for those hoping to combat the power of fear and hate to plan in advance, to use their slow brain rather than their fast.

The best leaders possess quiet passion, great intensity, and dogged persistence to help drive progress while at the same time not exacerbating opposing forces.

I truly believe that your decision to pursue studies in leadership and public policy is remarkably timely.

Think about it. There is no better time — and no better place — than right here in Mr. Jefferson’s Academical Village to cultivate the leadership skills necessary to lead your teams and community forward.

So, I want to thank you again for your commitment to public service and to leadership, and also for joining us.

It is hard to imagine more important work than this. Please apply yourself with vigor and make the most of the opportunities you will encounter in the next two years.

Third, I want to assure you — even as you necessarily focus on syllabi and textbooks and drop/add deadlines — that this room, this building, this school is a place where we will convene scores of important conversations about the best means to address how we can sustain forward progress during divisive times.

There will be ample time for extensive conversation and reflection on issues both close to home and around the globe.

I returned late Friday night after visiting four cities in coastal and western China. It should be clear (but oddly is not always) to one traveling widely that we in this country face adversaries of increasing capabilities and influence. If we are divided as a country and people, there are those who are actively planning to be able to exploit those possible divisions to their advantage, and to our individual and collective loss.

Over 50 years ago, in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King observed that the tragedy of his times was not so much the violence wrought by opponents of equal rights, but rather the silence of the moral ones. I assure those of you who are new to the Batten School that we do not traffic in silence here.

At the same time, we are also committed to what my mother often referred to as the greatest leveler of all, simple politeness.

The Batten School is only ten years old. Yet we already have a national reputation as a fair and equitable forum for hosting difficult conversations, debate, community forums and candidate presentations. We will double down on this commitment in the weeks ahead.

One last observation on these issues, which candor and respect compel me to share.

In my opinion, we do ourselves a great disservice if we were to promise ‘safe’ spaces, to claim this school as a refuge of safety while at the same time honoring our unwavering commitment to free speech. Our community values diversity of thought and rejects intolerance. We want each of you to feel welcomed and respected in our community.

Our economist colleagues have long noted the relationship between risk and reward in competitive environments.

If you seek substantial rewards for your teams and communities, you will necessarily incur substantial risk.

Each of you — student, faculty, staff  — has been selected with an eye to you serving in a current or future leadership role.

Whether as a leader of action, thought, or conscience, leaders must be willing to tolerate more risk, more stress than those whom they are leading.

We cannot in full honesty affirm a commitment to absolute safety and at the same time encourage you to live lives of action and influence.

As we learned when it required 100 law enforcement officials to secure a community forum in this building last March 31, there are limits in the real world to our ability to protect.

We saw this a week ago Friday when armed groups descended upon the University, wielding torches as clubs.

Law enforcement will do their best. But you each must also be sober, realistic, and be willing to exercise independent prudential personal judgment when entering confrontational situations.

Some thoughts on leadership in challenging times:

Rudyard Kipling, in his poem “If,” helps us recall critical aspects of leadership. A few lines are particularly relevant for us.

Kipling’s and others’ art at times demonstrates that not everything is best described with data, though more often than not we should rely on data rather than our heart strings.

 

If you can keep your head when all about you  

    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you; 

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

    But make allowance for their doubting too;  

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies;

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

If you can dream — and not make dreams your master;  

    If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim;  

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

    And treat those two impostors just the same;  

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

    To serve your turn long after they are gone;  

And so, hold on when there is nothing in you

    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,  

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it.

 

The BEST decision I believe you have made is to commit to Batten. Let me tell you why, now, and be clear with you on where this community is coming from and where we are headed.

We are in great shape in our quest to fulfill the School’s vision. Our human and financial capital are in extraordinary shape.

Our shared vision is to continue building the best school of leadership and policy analysis in the country to supply and a network of alumni leaders and leadership in/for/and public policy.

We do this to address Frank Batten’s charge: “Never has there been a greater need for the university’s most important product: enlightened and ethical leaders who leave the Grounds prepared for public life — in their communities, in their professions, in the world at large.”

We will do so by supporting faculty both as scholars and as teacher-trainers.

On the research front, the Batten School is on its way to becoming the University’s clearing-house and focal point for multidisciplinary work in health, education, economic development, foreign policy, and environmental policy.

This year we open with a full complement of research and policy centers:

(1)      Leadership, Simulation, and Gaming: Noah Myung

(2)      Health Policy: Mike Williams

(3)      Education and Workforce Policy: Jim Wycoff

(4)      Global Policy and Humanitarian Policy: David Leblang

(5)      Social Entrepreneurship: Christine Mahoney

(6)      National Security Policy: Phil Potter

(7)      Legislative Effectiveness: Craig Volden

Following plans laid almost four years ago, our faculty is roughly 50 percent larger than it was then with the same-sized student body.

Our course offerings are broader and deeper, and our scholarship is more extensive and increasingly serving a role in intellectual leadership both at the University, but, more importantly, in the outside world.

Training and education are at the core of what we do. At same time, we must retain and sharpen our empirical, data-oriented research focus.

So how are doing this? The coming curriculum revisions are built on the “triangle of success”: Skills, Knowledge, Attitude.

Skills: What can you do that others cannot? The world is awash in data; analytic skills are critical now more than ever.

Knowledge: Analysts who ignore the weight of the past in the face of entrenched interest groups are doomed to failure.

Attitude: How to get things done is the art of leadership.

This focus will be baked into our curriculum. Training technocrats myopically focused on efficiency is not enough.

This year we are beginning the third and final stage of a multi-year curriculum review and renovation.

This past summer, to manage our increasing size, both of student as well as faculty and staff, we did not “flip the building.” We are as we have been.

For the past three years we have been engaged in a self-study process to begin the development of a new facility.

In December, we will know where we shall be headed in the midterm, for space for faculty and staff, for research spaces and work spaces, and for classrooms.

Our plans will lead us to select a site where the School’s physical plant will grow from its current 14,000 square feet to 60,000 square feet; we need to fulfill our promise.

The Batten School currently serves a community of more than 400 scholars, students, and staff. We offer more than 60 courses annually. At present, these are coordinated from our small home in Garrett Hall. However, this 1906 refectory has zero classrooms or research labs. It was designed to serve far fewer students.

To realize the full potential of the School and to advance the process of tearing down walls between academic disciplines, the School is committed to expansion.

Our strategic vision is to create a public policy precinct at the geographic center of the University.

Together, with pan-University programs from public health to law, education to business, we can build a national model for training public policy leaders and analysts.

Last but not leastthanks to staff in Academic and Student Affairs for collaborating to transform “Math Camp” into a more integrated two-week “Pre-Batten” experience. The two weeks began with a welcome reception in the Rotunda and ended with a day of team-building at Wintergreen, where MPP teams built and competed in a “cardboard regatta” on Lake Monacan.

We just completed the largest-ever Batten Builds. Special thanks to Batten Undergraduate Council (BUC) president Robert McCarthy for his efforts in organizing our community-wide service projects; NPR interviewed one member of our team, which should air on Thursday.

Career Services team members spent the summer planning for fall on-Grounds interviewing, with employer visits in Richmond, D.C., and New York City covering all sectors of employment, both domestically and around the world.

We are excited about the first-ever, school-wide “book read” organized by Batten Undergraduate Council. All first-years will be discussing Hillbilly Elegy with their new faculty.

This is the first of our weekly Batten Hours; we have a great line-up for the fall, including speakers who were suggested by students, faculty, and staff alike. We’ll even be featuring one of our own students who co-authored a recently published book.

Next week’s Batten Hour is a “faculty showcase” highlighting faculty research. On September 13, we will be discussing the School’s Strategic Plan.

In leadership roles, one of our students, Malcolm Stewart, is the head Lawn resident and fourth-year class president; we appreciate the special challenges he has been facing in these recent weeks.

Others are Student Council leaders, one of whom was instrumental in organizing the candlelit Lawn event last week. Still others are leaders in Residence Life and CIOs; we appreciate the leadership they are demonstrating.

Congratulations to our Director of Career Services, Hannah Rose Hintz, on her recent marriage to Eric Hintz; she’ll be returning from her Norwegian honeymoon on Friday.

Next, Doc will talk with you about our alumni community!