Dean Allan Stam's Fall 2018 State of the School Address

View the full video here

Good morning. Thank you all for coming. It’s a beautiful day in Virginia—it’s not 98 degrees and humid. What I am going to do today is share some remarks and thoughts with you and then open up the floor to questions—see what thoughts you have, anything you want to share with your classmates and colleagues. Any questions about the year ahead, I am happy to answer them.

Always good to see all of you at the beginning of a new academic year. I hope you had a good and productive summer and that your fall semester is off to a good start—despite the past weeks’ blistering heat.

Before I begin, I want to give a warm welcome to the new Batten students, faculty, and staff. We have three new faculty members, handful of new staff people, and close to over 100 new students. Welcome!

One of the things that distinguishes the Batten school from any other school at UVA or from any other school like this in in the country is our size: we are very small. We have about 300 students total and that’s where we are going to be for the foreseeable future. The great thing about that is that by the end of your two years with us, you will know everyone and if not everyone in your cohort. If you look up at the ceiling, you will notice there are all these interesting things embedded in plaster, there’s a V for victory, and Virginia, a strange man with a thing pouring out of his head, then there’s cupid—for friendship, love, and affiliation. Every time you come into this room, for the rest of your life, I want you to look up at that ceiling, and think to yourself—have I said hello to one of my friends in the Batten School?

As in any new semester, there are a number of new developments—but this semester is particularly significant and noteworthy —we have a new University President — just the ninth president in the University’s two-hundred-year history. In the coming year we will also add a new provost. We will also have a new chief operating officer for the University of Virginia.

Now with new leadership brings with it a lot of change, I’ll return to this in a few minutes.

For those of you who have had a chance to do your homework on or with President Ryan, you may have noticed his emphasis on service—which he outlined in the three themes: community, discovery, and service per se—themes that I know in my tenure here as Batten’s Dean speak directly to the mission and vision of this school.

Anyone who spends any significant time with our new president soon realizes that he comes at you with a blizzard of questions. None of them are throwaways. Every single one of his questions are both pithy, important, and penetrating. The title of his most recent book, is a question, and the subject of his book is about questions.

President Ryan has asked all of us “How can we be of real service to our university, our community, the city of Charlottesville, the Commonwealth and beyond?” — He’s added that he believes it is fundamental to UVA’s mission that we provide service, both locally, nationally and internationally.

Now the good news is for most of the people in this room, and for everyone who was selected to be here, that’s already part of your DNA. Leaders lead essentially to serve—be it locally, regionally nationally, and internationally.

You here at Batten are already doing that and for the most part, are planning to dedicate much of your future lives to service related work.

For our STUDENTS as you move through the next year or two, keep in mind President Ryan’s themes: community, discovery, and service. For yourself, decide what that means to you. How you will respond to those three challenges – how will you be a part of a community, how will you be a discoverer, how will you serve others.

That said, let’s talk about you. First off, everybody in this room, a student, faculty, staff person, administrator you all belong here. Everyone here came for variations on a familiar theme—they wanted to be part of something new and innovative, they wanted to be part of something committed to both rigorous analysis, but most importantly committed to leadership—being part of a community and a team of leaders.

Why you’re here and the amazing things you are learning, doing and will continue to do.

For starters, you have already given back to the Charlottesville community which was evident in the Batten Builds project that took place on August 27th. Many of you spent one of your last days of summer—rather than at the beach—giving back to the community—distributing mulch in 90-degree heat to cooking lunch at the Ronald McDonald House. Let’s just say it was not a day for the faint of heart.  

Our emphasis on service— which is a defining part of this program—is one that sets us apart from many other schools—that are solely schools of policy analysis. On top of rigorous academics and demanding internships, we here at Batten commit complete 1000 hours of community service per year—an impressive amount that outpaces many other organizations at UVA. Ask yourself this: How can we become successful leaders or policymakers if we do not participate in our local community? Now, technology has enabled us to broaden the definition of what local community is—but that’s for you to decide.

As we welcome the class of 2020 into our community, I would like to point out a few things:

•    This class—your class is comprised of extraordinary talent, with the potential to lead meaningful change across the policy community.  A couple of highlights to help put it into perspective:

•    Our BA program continues to attract the best and brightest across Grounds, once again setting a new high for average GPA of 3.67.

•    Our Accelerated BA/MPP program also surpassed its previous GPA record, with applicants from 23 different UVA undergraduate departments.  They are not only bright and determined and passionate about change – they also represent the diversity of viewpoints so necessary to thrive in today’s policy landscape.

•    Our postgrad MPP program boasts:

•    Graduates from Dartmouth, Columbia, Cambridge, Michigan, NYU, Davidson, and other outstanding universities

•   If you have not met them already, please extend a warm welcome to your new classmates come from Japan, Brazil, France, Iraq, China, Colombia, Zimbabwe, and elsewhere.

•    Give yourself a pat on the back, you have served in the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, the military, on Capitol Hill, and in state and local government, at think tanks and NGOs like the American Enterprise Institute and International Monetary Fund, and with private sector leaders like HP and Atlantic Media

Your class has a tremendous diversity of experience and perspectives, hopes and dreams.  But there is one thing that unites you—everyone in this room:

Both the drive and the capacity to be leaders of consequence in the policy world.  Unlike other schools, who emphasize standardized tests and undergraduate grades, we look for people who demonstrate the ability to be leaders for positive change. People who believe in outcomes, not just process.

That is what makes us different. That is what will bend the arc of the policy world toward ethical, enlightened, evidenced-based leaders.  We welcome you to that shared mission.

This past year’s graduating class is evidence that this shared mission continues. Our graduating students accepted positions across all sectors.

Examples include positions in the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Commerce, Teach for America, Goldman Sachs, Accenture Federal Services, Booz Allen Hamilton, Deloitte, The College Football Playoffs, and the United Nations.

Batten’s global presence has been enhanced through students interning around the globe, from the United Nations in Bangalore, India for the United Nations, to Myanmar and Thailand for the State Department, to research positions, and the secret service in Washington, D.C. Shhhh…don’t tell anyone.

This fall, we are launching our first-ever Exec Leadership Course, which will chiefly focus on how to overcome divisions and resolve conflict. Whether we’re talking about office politics, political disagreement, or international conflict, being able to reach across the proverbial aisle is an important skill. Led by Professor Gabe Adams, this course represents Batten’s foray into making Batten research and teaching accessible to a broader public audience—a significant step for this program and an excellent resource for future policymakers and leaders.

The Exec Ed course is just one of many new programs we have this semester. As you may have seen on our news page, we have formed a partnership with the Japanese Army and the National Security Policy Center, opening the channels for a future of informed communication and stability.

10 years to come, Batten students will not only have a wide national network but one that extends beyond our nation’s borders. When it comes to global policy, this will be an invaluable resource both for current and future students, as well as alums. Having been involved directly in this partnership with the Japanese government and other institutions, I am thrilled—and also excited for you and how this will shape you in your studies and future career.

Here at Batten, you not only have first-rate professors, but you also have access to cutting-edge information technology.  Thanks to your IT department, (Scott Adams) Batten is the first school at UVA—and one of the first school in the country, to roll out SAL, Salesforce Advisor Link that focuses specifically on higher education needs. The unique thing about this program is that makes you, the student, and your record, the center of all our support activities. From admissions, to advising, to career services, to advancement. It’s pretty cool.

What we’re doing with Salesforce and a series of partners, is so exciting that Salesforce is the 4th largest software services company in the world, has asked Batten to be their keynote academic address for this year’s Dreamforce Conference in San Francisco. There will be 180,000 attendees— this is the largest conference in the U.S. 10.8 million people will be attending online globally. They invited us to talk about what we are doing with IT here at Batten. It’s super cool.

Speeches like this should always have a bit or two of advice as well. Start off with a welcome, transition to how amazing you are, how amazing we are, provide some moral support, then post some extraordinarily valuable piece of wisdom. Here it comes.

You have been told that in your early school days that there is no such thing as a bad question.

Well, that’s a lie. One of several lies you will be forced to confront in the coming years.

There is such a thing as a dumb question. Not to say you are asking them or have asked them in the past (don’t worry we know you’re exceptional), but what I want to say is that as future public policymakers and leaders you are going to have to be prepared to ask the critical questions and also be prepared to answer the critical questions. You need to be able to  demand an answer—yes and no do not count. 

The reason for this individually and collectively, you, your classmates, your generation are going to be held accountable for you actions and decisions—that is the beauty of focusing on outcomes and not just processes.

You are going to be held accountable for your decisions and for your actions—because in the future when you are working as a policy analyst or an advisor, you and other people must ask for more frequently that we do today:

How do you know?: what is the basis for your claim? What is the foundation for your assertion?

How sure are you?: for this population or some other?

What if you are wrong?: Null or something entirely else? Because you’re going to be wrong sometime in the future. 

Let’s take the example of the current opioid crisis, now one of the leading causes of death in America, and one of the greatest preventable health epidemics in our nation’s history. In all likely hood, 70k will die this year alone. More than wars, guns, cars.

If you look at the root cause, you will find that someone a long time ago made the recommendation—the prescription—that opioids were okay to use in a pharmacological basis. Not just OK, but best practice. With the best of intentions, health policy makers decided as a society we weren’t doing enough to manage pain. Seems reasonable?

Today, there is an addict in almost every extended household in America. There are three in my own. 115 people die a day from opioid abuse.

This is not only the result of bad advice, but people failing to ask GOOD HARD questions. To ask how sure are you that this will not lead to a fatal addiction? How do you know it will not be addictive? You get the idea.

So, in the late 1990s, when pharmaceutical companies reassured the medical community that patients would not become addicted to prescription opioid pain relievers, no one argued HARD, no one asked hard questions and soon healthcare providers began to prescribe them at far greater rates.

As a result, today the opioid epidemic has reached a scale that beyond the risks it poses to public health, has become a drag on the economy and even a threat to national security it has an impact on the aggregate life expectancy rate for adult Americans.

As part of our mission and I would also argue our duty here, is to make sure, when you leave this school you are prepared to handle tough questions, but also weirdly it can be harder to ask the question. You are in a meeting—the meeting being led by some aggressive type A guy, “We’re good here? Everybody we’re good?” You need to have the temerity to stand up and say, a couple last questions:  how do you know that and what happens if you are wrong. Bad public policies are insanely hard to undo, and their damage as we have seen with this crisis can be horrific and long-lasting.

Physicians take the Hippocratic oath—do no harm, we need to think about the same thing in our world.

Finally, in closing, this year will be my last year as Dean, but it will also be your first year with our new University President. Again, a year of change—one bolstered by a new vision emphasizing community, discovery, and service.

During my four years as your Dean, I have been impressed with the rigor, determination, and commitment of this schools’ students as well as faculty. You have been my inspiration.  I have no doubt Batten will continue to grow and to mold future leaders.

That said, I urge you to think about who and what sort of leader our next Dean here at Batten will be. She or he will be my dean also, I’m not going anywhere. Just as we look for certain qualities in our students, we also want certain qualities in our Dean. What you expect in someone will translate later to your work in policy and leadership—for you will be faced with such decisions. This is your chance to put that to the test.

Just remember to ask good questions.

Garrett Hall at Sunset

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