Higher education can learn from journalism's challenges, says Fireside Chat speaker
As a former journalist, Byron White sees many similarities between his previous occupation and the challenges facing higher education these days.
President Philomena V. Mantella and Provost Fatma Mili welcomed White, who serves as the associate provost for urban research and community engagement at the University of North Carolina Charlotte, as the guest to their Fireside Chat on March 14 at the Loosemore Auditorium on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus.
White said as newspapers faced its challenges in evolving beyond a print-based media, so too do higher education institutions face headwinds in their evolution process.
“If you look now at journalism and how it's being recreated, it’s former journalists who are reimagining it,” White said. “My real hope for higher ed is that we continue to see in our connections to community, opportunities to really reaffirm those values and those contributions that we make to learning and to students navigating their civic, career and learning journeys.”
Mantella asked White, in retrospect, what he would change about his time as a journalist, and how his lessons can be applied to the challenges facing higher education.
White said one of the downfalls of many newspapers was leadership not engaging with their own journalists, and vice versa, especially when it involved innovating.
“I hope that we can create environments with faculty who are on the front lines of really innovating with administrators and community partners,” White said. “Here are the values we need to retain, here are the data and realities of what’s happening, here are the shifts in the trends. Now, how in the world are we going to do this?”
Mili followed by asking White about a previous conversation they shared before the Fireside Chat. The two discussed broadening access to higher education to students with different needs and backgrounds.
White responded that it’s not a question of why universities should be doing this, but why they are excited about connecting with such students.
“The right thing to do to me is not enough anymore,” White said. “Why is it the essential thing to do? Because we are a better place with that student here.
“Some of that is the environment that we have to create for our learners, and if we're going to be successful, some of that is understanding and teaching in a way that's truly informative and transformational.”
White also drew upon his own experience with his five children to accentuate his point. When he was beginning his career, White said, he knew he wanted to be a journalist for The New York Times. Many students don’t see their career paths with such clarity, he said.
His daughter will be graduating with a master’s degree in public health, but White said, he’s never heard her describe her ideal job position.
“I’ve never heard her say the job she wanted, ever,” White said. “I’ve never heard her say I want to be a director at a hospital. What she said is she wants to reimagine urban health. It’s not because she’s more ambitious. It’s just that she doesn’t believe there’s such a thing as a job at a place.
“So what we’re really talking about is students having to learn a set of competencies that have value in the marketplace that they will carry for the rest of their lives and continue to build on.”