Batten's Warburg and Fellow University Experts Share Tips for 2021

Professor Warburg advises one of his students outside Garrett Hall. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)
Professor Warburg advises one of his students outside Garrett Hall. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)

The first month of 2021 is nearly over, but that doesn’t mean your chance to make the new year a great one has ended.

The University of Virginia is known for its outstanding faculty. UVA Today reached out to several of them, and a vice president, to ask for their advice for a happier, healthier 2021.

Here, you will find a wide range of recommendations, from what those in public policy can do to make improvements in the new year to the importance of keeping joy, laughter and gratefulness in your life.

Read on for those and other tips for the new year.

• Gerald Warburg, Professor of Practice of Public Policy, Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy

How can effective and responsible leaders help us move forward? Crisis offers opportunity. Loss reminds us of those values we cherish. As at a funeral, when we grieve the attacks on our Capitol and the deaths of public servants, we also celebrate the core values that unite us.

The nation is at a pivot point. The fever of fascism has been broken. This pivot offers our national community a crucial moment for reflection and renewal. For those of us who are called to teach the next generation of public policy leaders at the Batten School, this work has a clear North Star: Our mission is to renew our national institutions, to call on the wisdom of our founders, and to continue working toward a more perfect union.

Young women and men who sign up for public service – and whose lives were at risk Jan. 6 during the U.S. Capitol riots – are central to this task. Like first responders in a disaster, they are the ones equipped with skills and courage needed as they run toward the fire, toward the danger, not away from it.

In our public policy classrooms, this means rededicating ourselves to first principles. Examining our key government institutions with unflinching eyes. If they require reform, first build a stable bridge – one that can get from here to there in a bipartisan, sustainable fashion. Reject ideologues and demagogues who are good at tearing things down, but clueless about how to build a new foundation. Look hard at policy history – especially the recent past.

At the Batten School, we teach leadership skills. We try to sharpen students’ tool kits, to equip them how to analyze social challenges, to determine which level of government – or the private sector – can best address the societal challenges, and then to weigh with facts and science the best, most realistic, achievable policy solution.

This work is doable. I am optimistic we will succeed. My late father, Felix Warburg, was a veteran of both World War II and Korea. Born in Europe, he returned to Vienna with troops as a skinny 20-year-old U.S. Army intelligence officer in 1945. No one in his mother’s neighborhood survived Hitler’s madness. Dad’s takeaway was simple: “Every day is a gift.” He returned to Harvard with a new career direction: architecture. He dedicated himself to building homes for people. His indefatigable optimism in the face of unspeakable tragedy inspires us. It is a well of confidence to draw from in difficult times.

We must hew to first principles. We must recognize that public policy challenges are difficult because public servants’ words and decisions are so consequential. We can do the hard work. Our nation is strong and the vast majority of our citizens are determined to work together for the common good.

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