Michael Bassis

President Emeritus, Westminster College, Salt Lake City
Served from 2002-2012

Another Important Learning Goal: Thinking Ahead

During my tenure at Westminster, I developed the practice of writing, every three months or so, to a core group of alumni and friends of the college to share my thoughts about what we were doing and where we were going. After I decided to retire but before I announced that decision publicly, I wrote a two part letter describing some of the things we had accomplished at the college but also pointing to the challenge we, and all of higher education, face in terms of the ever increasing cost of higher education. That letter is included here as the final ARTIFACT in this portfolio.

The letter illustrates, I believe, another critical ability that is important for success - that is the ability to look forward rather than backward and to anticipate how to adapt to changing circumstances well before those circumstances are upon us. To observe that the world is changing at a rapid pace has become almost a cliché. It's almost impossible for people in all but the most primitive cultures on earth to be unaware of today’s technological advances, changing demographic patterns, shifting economic, social and political ideologies, alliances and agendas and changes to our environment. Yet, as the Charles Handy quotes in my letter suggest, it's all too common for people to see the future by looking backwards in time as though the future will simply be a reflection of the past. As the pace of change accelerates, that practice is becoming increasingly dysfunctional.
“Because it is easy to explain things looking backward, we think we can explain them forward. The world keeps changing. It is one of the paradoxes of success that the things and the ways that got you where you are are seldom those that keep you there. If you think they are, and that you know the way to the future because it’s a continuation of where you’ve come from, you may well end up somewhere you 
would rather not be.” - Charles Handy

Well before I arrived at Westminster, I became convinced that it's absolutely critical to think ahead about the issue of affordability in higher education. The cost of a college degree is an absolute barrier to our continued economic growth and is a major cause of the economic inequality which undermines our democracy. I believe that we have made a good faith effort to address the issue of affordability but I am far from satisfied with the progress we have made. If the next president of the college has mastered our college-wide learning goals, which I am sure (s)he has, perhaps (s)he will be able to make more progress on this issue than we have so far.

Michael Bassis, President Westminster College, Utah
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