Episode 50 - Celebrating Our 50th Episode, Part One

In part one of their 50th podcast episode celebration, President Scott L Wyatt and Professor Steve Meredith look back on some of their favorite moments from the first 49 episodes. They discuss the importance of college rankings, the historic dual enrollment program between SUU and Southwest Technical College, the podcast summer book club, free speech on college campuses, the return on investment of a college education, and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Full Transcript

Steve Meredith: Hi again everyone, and welcome to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. I'm your host, Steve Meredith, and joining me today, as he always does in-studio, is our President, Scott Wyatt. Hi, Scott.

Scott Wyatt: Hello, Steve. Glad to be here.

Meredith: And it's nice that the weather is starting to warm up a little bit.

Wyatt: That's right. It's springtime outside our windows.

Meredith: We've had a pretty snowy, cold winter so far and so, it is nice to feel a little bit of warmth in the air. And today is a particularly interesting and maybe important to you and I, I don't know if it's important to our listeners, but today is our 50th podcast. This is…we're going to take a few moments to recognize some of the greatest hits of our first 50 podcasts.

Wyatt: Yeah. This has been a fun run so far and I can't wait to have the 500th anniversary.

Meredith: Yeah. [Both laugh] [Sounding older] You and I will be talking like this. [Both laugh] It's so good to see you again. [Laughs] I thought that it would be appropriate to go back to some of our earliest podcasts, and you actually chose a favorite from podcast number one, our very first podcast, which even our most devoted listener probably won't remember. But it was something that was on both of our minds at the time and it was college and university rankings.

Wyatt: Right. So, it…it seems like those that involve themselves in ranking colleges and universities tend to do the rankings based on things that are things that are easy to college, not based on those more difficult things—the outcomes.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: And the outcomes that we're talking about are, for example, what condition do we find a student on day one freshman year? And then what condition do we send them out at the end of their senior year?

Meredith: Right. The distance travelled.

Wyatt: Yeah. What is the value gained ?

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: And rankings typically rank based on the quality of the student on day one. That's actually kind of an overstatement, but you can sort of say that because they are saying, you know, things like, "How exclusive are you?" and "How big is your endowment?" All those kinds of things. And…

Meredith: "What percentage do you turn away?"

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: Yeah, the more you turn away, the better a school you are. When in truth, the more you accept and the greater the value you give to them, the better the school you ought to be.

Meredith: Right. So, here's a little snippet from our very first podcast that I think we were recording in your office, actually, before we moved to our luxurious…[Both laugh]. I wish you could see the place where we actually do our podcast. It's a bedroom of an old mid-century house, but it's quieter and nicer. But our first podcasts we did out of your office, and this is podcast number one, "College and University Rankings."

Season One Episode 1 – College Rankings

Wyatt: What are the criteria that are being used to evaluate us? And if you look carefully, what you see is U.S. News is ranking the universities based on things like reputation, faculty resources, student selectivity, alumni giving, endowment size. Have you heard anything yet that suggests whether students are learning?

Meredith: No, it sounds like it's a measurement of how elite the institution is, or how many resources it has.

Wyatt: Yeah, it's about potential, but it's not about actual. And so we are judging all of these universities and publishing these rankings based on our potential to do good perhaps, but not on whether we are doing any good, whether we are changing any student's lives, whether we are helping a student learn, became a more creative thinker, to be more prepared for the democracy that she or he is going to be a part of, whether the students can get a job. None of these things are in the rankings. So why is it that we care so much about student selectivity? You know, "That's really great, you've turned a lot of students away, so you must be terrific." Is anybody actually learning?

Meredith: It seems like to me that the best measure of learning would be to take an average student and have them turn out to be outstanding rather than to take an already outstanding student and graduate them, right? I mean, doesn't that seem to make sense?

Meredith: Well, that was an interesting little bit there. I still feel really strongly about the things that we were talking about with college rankings. It…I feel as passionate about that today as I did the day that we started with that.

Wyatt: So do I. And we all, in our lives, tend to do things according to how we are measured.

Meredith: That's right.

Wyatt: You know, I mean we…"Well, if you're going to measure this, then I'm going to do it. If you don't measure this then I'm not going to do it."

Meredith: "Is it going to be on the test?" The famous question.

Wyatt: That's right, yeah. "Is it going to be on the test? If it's not on the test, I'm not going to read it." And if we could just find a way to do rankings in a more enlightened way…

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: We would all find ourselves motivated to behave differently. Anyway, there you go. We're trying our hardest, aren't we?

Meredith: We are. So, an interesting project that I've been involved in, as well as you, of course, was your great idea and I've just really been involved in the nuts and bolts of it, but we have recently…

Wyatt: [Laughs] "I was just involved in the nuts and bolts of it," is that what you said?

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: Just? [Laughs]

Meredith: Well, you know? Yeah. There were lots of nuts and bolts. [Both laugh]

Wyatt: Every great idea is like 1% and the nuts and bolts are kind of like 99%. [Laughs]

Meredith: Well, yes. There were lots of nuts to this, but…

Wyatt: [Laughs] There were a lot of nuts and bolts.

Meredith: We're talking about our…

Wyatt: And some of them are big nuts and bolts.

Meredith: [Both Laugh] Yes, that's right. We're talking about our dual-enrollment agreement with Southwest Tech. Southwest Technical College is a sister institution here in Cedar City just a few blocks away from our campus, and it occurred to you and President Brennan Wood, who is the President of Southwest Tech, that it was silly that we were not more connected in more substantial ways. Being in a small town together and being two reasonably small, comparatively, institutions in our own particular areas, that it seemed like we could do more if we were connected than we could do separately. And so, that led you and President Wood to this idea of dual-enrollment. Why don't you talk a little bit about that for a sec?

Wyatt: Well, the idea is…I think the idea begins with we are taxpayers first and we should always think, "What's the best use of our resources?" And "How do we serve the general good and the public?" I think that's where everything should start. It's easy to forget that because we get caught up in our worlds and we forget that we're citizens of this country first, not leaders first.

Meredith: Right, right.

Wyatt: And we're students before we were faculty or administrators and so, if we can just focus on those kinds of ideas that, "What's the most efficient? What's the best thing for the community?" Then everything starts becoming more obvious, but this one, particularly interesting because now that we've done it, we think it might actually have been the first time anybody in the entire history of our country has done this.

Meredith: [Both laugh] It's pretty unusual we're coming to find out, yeah. Speaking of the nuts and bolts, I think probably the most interesting part of this to me was trying to get people to see the difference between what we do in terms of time-based education and what Southwest Tech does in terms of competency-based education. And that may have been the single biggest stumbling block was converting one of the other, if that's the way to say it. We haven't really changed, they continue to do what they do, and we continue to do what we do, but we worked out a way in nine really comprehensive articulation agreements to calculate—more or less in real time, simultaneously—what a student was doing at Southwest Tech and grant them credit over at SUU for that. And, as you suggest, that's fairly unusual. We haven't been able to find a lot of people who are doing that simultaneously. There are lots of examples of transfer programs, but the fact that students are really…are students at both places the minute that they enroll in one, they are a student that's accepted for credit at the other. So…

Wyatt: Well, and from start to finish, from conception to absolute completion and full validation from our accreditors just under a year.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: It's…that in and of itself is remarkable, Steve.

Meredith: Yeah, well…

Wyatt: And you led that.

Meredith: You're giving me some more credit for that, I think, that I deserve. [Both laugh]

Wyatt: Well, and compounding all this, of course, is the…you talked about the culture of time-based and competency-based education and we also have this other piece, which is a somewhat selective admission regional university that says to a non-credit granting technical school…

Meredith: That's primary career and technical education.

Wyatt: Uh-huh.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: "We value you equally to us. And we think that we both have contributions to the community that need to be seen as being equal partners."

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: And that is…that's been some of the fun part of this.

Meredith: Well, here's a little bit of our interview with Brennan Wood. This is from Season One Episode 18, and if you're wanting to go back and listen to any of these older episodes, keeping track and home and wanting to hear one that you missed, this is our interview with President Brennan Wood of Southwest Tech.

Season One Episode 18 – Southwest Tech

Wyatt: But we have one thing in common, and that's that we're six blocks from each other. We're in the same relatively small community.

Meredith: Zip code.

Wyatt: Same zip code. [Both laugh] We have completely different governing structures. We report up through different governing bodies. But we've decided that we're going to try to find a way to—without changing governance, without changing our institutions—finding a way to get married. So those who register at Southwest Tech are entitled to register for classes at Southern Utah University, and those that are going to be admitted and enrolled at Southern Utah University can sign up for classes at Southwest Tech. And we each will give our own separate credit to the other. That's the mission that we're on. Pretty simple, don't you think, Brennan? [Laughter]

Wood: I think it's simple, but if you really think about it, how awesome is it…well first of all, a community this size has a university and a tech college. That is amazing, you don't find that very often anywhere else in the country. So, to take the two entities and to then, as you said, a marriage, a partnership that creates positive outcomes for the residents of this area is a great thing. And why haven't we done it in the past? Well, that could be a long discussion. But today we're doing it, and the future is bright for both the university and the college.

Meredith: I'm really looking forward to this taking place when…we should tell our listeners that as we are recording this, we are looking forward to fall of 2019 when this kicks in fully, this Southwest Tech dual-enrollment thing. We're expecting several hundred new students that aren't actually, physically on the campus but are SUU students to begin to accrue credit in various areas and we're really excited about it. I can tell you that I spend a fair amount of my day and week answering questions about it and the minute that we actually went public with it once it was fully accredited, we have begun to…there's quite a lot of interest in this amongst our local students and even outside of our local service area.

Wyatt: Yeah. Time will tell how successful this is and the more we see students taking advantage of it and then community…and then we've had some discussion from schools in other parts of the country. So, we'll see what happens over time.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: This is though, I think, one of our happiest accomplishments, don't you think?

Meredith: I do. And I should say publicly I appreciate the opportunity to head that up, to handle the nuts at bolts. So, President, one of the reasons that I love working with you, and you and I have been working together since 2006? Is that right? Something like that? 2007?

Wyatt: 2007.

Meredith: '07, yep.

Wyatt: Yep.

Meredith: So, 12 years. One of the reasons that I really enjoy working with you is that you are a creative thinker. You are also an analytical thinker, as most attorneys are, but you have great ideas and I think one of the great ideas that you had for our podcast was the idea for a summer book club. You are—maybe people that know you know this, but for some of our listeners that don't personally know you—you are a voracious reader and you don't spend a lot of time on social media, you do spend some, but you're…I think it's not a stretch to say that when left to your own devices, one of your favorite things to do is to read a book. If you're not going on a long hike, you're probably reading a book.

Wyatt: That's right. It's always a question of, "Am I going to read something or…am I going to feed my mind or my body today?"

Meredith: That's right.

Wyatt: Or "This afternoon" or "This next 10 minutes?" But book clubs are things that are fairly common. I think that there's a lot of people that do them and not terribly unique for us, but we decided to try it and it was fun.

Meredith: Yeah, it was.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: You chose a book called The Ghost Map which was about the cholera outbreak in London and really the first…

Wyatt: This is…

Meredith: Public Health epidemiology successes.

Wyatt: Yeah, it's kind of the story of the birth of Public Health.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: And it's when they figured out what was the cause of cholera.

Meredith: It wasn't miasma—the idea of fouled air.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: Cholera is not an airborne illness.

Wyatt: So, it's a story that has a lot of drama and there's a lot hanging in the balance. So, if you want to read a terrific mystery novel, this is the right one because when you're done, it's not just that the hero got the bad guy, something really happened here.

Meredith: Saved thousands of lives.

Wyatt: This is a really cool story, yeah. And it's…but what I love about the story mostly, Steve, is that the story is a great reminder that the smartest people in the world can be dead wrong and that we have to always question our assumptions. We have to always be open to new ideas and we can never really just sit around and think we've got it all figured out. And this has an impact on the way I view my job and the way I view my life and everything else that even though all the smart people agree, we might be wrong.

Meredith: [Laughs] That's right.

Wyatt: And miasma was wrong.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: And the smartest people in the smartest city in the world were all wrong.

Meredith: So, this is our Episode 27 from Season One. We were interviewing Dr. David Blodgett from the Utah Department of Health, he's the head of the Department of Health in this part of the state.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: And…

Wyatt: And he took…so we were talking about the book, but then he gave a little local example.

Meredith: Right. [Laughs]

Wyatt: And talked about what happened in court in Iron County.

Meredith: This is a great story.

Wyatt: A long time ago.

Meredith: So, this is Dave Blodgett giving…recounting testimony that was given in Iron County court.

Season One Episode 27 – Ghost Map

Blodgett: The Iron County court. So, there's two characters involved here: Dr. George Middleton, he's the city physician and health officer as well as the mayor, and Judge Herbert Adams. So, let me just read this to you and then maybe have a note. So, Herbert Adams was appointed Justice of the Peace in the Cedar precinct, and the following is one of Justice Adams' notable cases. Dr. George Middleton, city physician, instituted proceedings against certain sheep men who ranged their herds in Coal Creek Canyon that were polluting the city's water supply—all of the water was taken out of Coal Creek at that time—the whole case rested upon the germ theory of sanitary pollution and the doctor's expert evidence was holding on this point. Suddenly, Judge Adams broke in with a question:

Judge: Doc, what is a germ? 
Doctor: Germs are minute, living organisms of animal or insect life of microscopic size. 
Judge: Doctor, have you ever seen a germ with your own eyes? [All laugh]
Doctor: 'Yes, through a microscope, I have' says the doctor. 
Judge: Why haven't you put some of those animals here before the court as an exhibit in this case?
Doctor: Your Honor, Judge, they are too small to be seen with the naked eye and the court has no microscope. If Your Honor desires, I can bring my microscope and slides from my office. 
Judge: You mean, doc, that they can't be seen by the naked eye or with common reading glasses?
Doctor: Yes, Your Honor. They are too small for that.
Judge: Anything that is too small to be seen by the naked eye is too small for this court to waste its time on. [All laugh] Doc, you show me a germ and I will eat it. Case dismissed.

Meredith: That makes me laugh every time I listen to it. It's…"Put the germs right here where I can seem them or else I'm not going to…" [Both laugh]

Wyatt: Yeah, it's hard to embrace new ideas.

Meredith: It really is.

Wyatt: It's hard to let go of things that we've been in. I…my mother grew up in a little farming community just over the border in Idaho and the saying was—during the winter because it was a dirt road all the way to town and it was a long dirt road to town and it was a very poor, poor community—but the saying was, "Pick your rut, because you're going to be in it all the way to Preston." [Both laugh] Because you can't get out of it.

Meredith: That's right.

Wyatt: It is so hard for us to get out of ruts.

Meredith: Yep. Yeah, that's right. So, I don't think it's any stretch to say, President, that one of the biggest, certainly national, news stories on college campuses has been freedom of speech and the idea that campuses should have enforceable speech codes that would allow certain ideas to go…to be suppressed or not allowed to be said is an ongoing issue. We see people being, I think they call it de-platformed, or not being allowed to speak on certain issues at college campuses, and as an attorney and also as a history buff particularly interested in the founding of our country, you actually have had some ideas about this. And we've actually had two different podcasts about this.

Wyatt: Yeah. We get caught up in trying to make the world a better place and forget the foundation for how we got to be and will continue to be a great place.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: We forget that democracy is designed to make the world better, but democracy is totally dependent on us allowing risk. That we have to let people say things that are offensive and if we don't do that, then we find ourselves outside of a democracy. We find ourselves increasingly becoming more like a totalitarian machine. And the worst dictator in the world is the dictator of the masses, not the dictator of one.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: Because if we're pursuing our own agenda, we can say, "Well it's just not me" it's "Everyone feels this way." But a dictator of one knows that she or he is responsible. So, the dictator of the masses is the worst and the only way to protect us against tyranny is to allow speech, both protest and ideas. If government gets to regulate all the ideas that are spoken then we're in trouble.

Meredith: You have often said…

Wyatt: And I…

Meredith: We work for the executive branch. Do you really want us to be in charge of…?

Wyatt: Of speech.

Meredith: Of what you can say? Yeah.

Wyatt: Yeah. Do you really want us to be in charge? And the answer is, "Well, yes, if you're going to enforce the speech that I want."

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: And "No" if it's not. But we always have to remember that the best defense of our own liberties is to defend others in theirs. And also that if we are right and we know we are right in our ideas, then we would never, ever feel like we have to stifle somebody that disagrees with us because we know we're right and we know that in the end, we'll win.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: So, anyway. That's the amendment number one.

Meredith: Yep.

Wyatt: The foundation of this government is free speech and college campuses today, it's not always obvious that we're pursuing those same values.

Meredith: So, we're going to listen to just a little snippet of an episode of Season Two, this is Episode 39. This is Jeff Landward who is…

Wyatt: He's legal counsel for the Utah System of Higher Education and an expert on free speech.

Season Two Episode 39 – Free Speech

Landward: That's right. And that's, I think, why people have so much trouble understanding why hate speech would be protected under the First Amendment. Because of that association, because they associate hate with violence, they assume that the speech is violent but it's not. In most cases, hate speech is an expression of an idea, an expression of a viewpoint. And you have to remember that even decades ago, a lot of what we consider now to be hate speech was acceptable and over time has been viewed as less and less acceptable now, ugly and horrid, but the thing…the distinguishing factor is that when we're talking about hate speech, we're talking about a speech that's been categorized, but really, it's not a category. It's just the expression of a viewpoint and an idea. And that's why it's so difficult to try and regulate hate speech, because you're ultimately regulating a viewpoint and regulating an idea, and that's notoriously hard. In fact, sometimes, it has intended consequences. In the Civil Rights era, many schools enacted speech codes on their campuses that prohibited hate speech with the intent of protecting their minority students, protecting their African American students, for example. But what they found was that most of the complaints being filed with the school for violations of that code were coming from white students complaining about speech coming from African American students who were protesting racism. So, it really got turned on its head and it just exemplifies why it's so difficult and dangerous for the government to be put in the role of determining what is and what is not hate speech, because really, it's just giving the government the authority to say, "One viewpoint is OK and one viewpoint is not" and that's the opposite of what the First Amendment was intended to do.

Meredith: I've always found this particular idea of hate speech to be interesting and Jeff's thoughts on that are particularly interesting, I think, that if we have…there are groups of people who think that hate speech is unprotected speech, when, in fact, it clearly isn't except in some very, very narrow exceptions.

Wyatt: Yeah, very narrow. And it's because who do you want to define hate speech? The Republicans when they're in power? Or the Democrats when they're in power? Or some other party when they're in power?

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: Who do you want to define this anyway?

Meredith: I'm in favor of the wigs. [Both laugh] A comeback of the bull moose party.

Wyatt: Do you want the know-nothing party to define it?

Meredith: Yeah, that's right. That's right. So, President, heading back toward our first season, one of the things that we tried to focus on early on was the questions that people have about higher education. What is its real value? And I think, actually, that's a…it's fair to say that that's a question that we get asked a lot. We get it asked by taxpayers, we get asked by the Legislature, sometimes we get asked politely. Other times less so. You know, "Are you doing what you're supposed to be doing? Are you good servants of the people? Are you taking care of the money that we give you?" And so forth. And one of the things that we wanted to talk about very early on was the return on investment that a college degree actually is. There is a great deal of discussion around that right now and neither you nor I, I think, would say that every single person in the United States should to go the college or university. But I also do think that probably you and I would say that almost every person that we can imagine can have their life enhanced by some sort of training beyond high school. It's one of the reasons that we engaged with Southwest Technical College, it's one of the reasons that we continue to do what we do is that we see the value. And not just the value personally and emotionally and philosophically strengthening people but the real, financial value to a college education or at least some education beyond high school.

Wyatt: Yeah. The return on investment. "What am I getting back financially from what I'm spending?" And the return on an investment is very positive and is still positive and it's going to continue to be more positive. And we haven't, Steve, we haven't done a very good job in the higher education community of responding to the various criticisms that are waged against higher ed and we…I guess this podcast was an attempt to try to really explore this and think about it a little bit.

Meredith: So, we did, mostly you did a fairly deep dive on what the return on investment can be for a university student seven years beyond their graduation date, I think was the parameter. Is that correct?

Wyatt: Right.

Meredith: And so, this is our discussion from Season One Episode 3, the Return on Investment.

Season One Episode 3 – Return on Investment

Wyatt: But if you look at those that have a bachelor's degree or higher, there has been an increase of 8.6 million jobs. There are 8.6 million more jobs in America available for those with a bachelor's degree than there were in 2008. There actually wasn't a loss of jobs during the recession for college graduates. And there's been a boom of jobs in the recovery. So, there's a lot more opportunities. The next question might be, "Yeah, but how much money can I make?" And the data there is really clear as well. The difference between the lifetime wages of a college and high school graduate is a million bucks. So, if you choose to just graduate from high school and go to work, you'll make a certain amount of money. And on average, if you choose to go to college, you're going to make a million dollars more. That's a lot of money over a lifetime. And interestingly enough, it's not just a college degree because the difference between the highest and lowest paying majors is about 3.4 million. So, while the average earnings of a college graduate is a million more than high school, you can really bump that up even more if you choose to have a major that's going to lead you to one of these higher paying jobs.

Meredith: So, there was never a time, even during the worst of the recession, that there were fewer jobs available for college graduates, and in the recovery it's been no contest in terms of the number of jobs available for college graduates versus non-college graduates?

Wyatt: That's right. If you look at the start of the recession to the point at which we say the recession basically ended, 2008 to 2010, the number of jobs stayed almost exactly the same. It went up and back a little bit, and then beginning in 2010 it started to explode again.

Meredith: Plus, you're going to make at least a million dollars more over your life time, which means that unless you have—well, I know people carry hundreds of thousands of dollars of student debt—but even still, you're going to be able to pay that off easier than have had you not made that investment.

Wyatt: Yeah. So, if you go to medical school and you borrow a couple hundred thousand dollars, you'll pay that off a lot more rapidly than if you go to a really expensive place and get a degree in a less remunerative career. But we took this data for Southern Utah University, and admittedly, Utah has a lower tuition than most states. We, in fact, have the fourth lowest tuition of all the states in the country. That's because the legislature has been generous and are still contributing at high rates for us to help us along and keep the tuition down. If you look at Southern Utah University, we charted this out. We said, "Ok, let's assume that one person graduates from high school and goes out and gets the best job he can. How much is he gonna make? And how much is he gonna make year after year after year with inflation?" And then we took the second person and said, "Ok the second person is going to graduate from high school, go to college, and so for four years, the second person will not be making any money—in fact, will be borrowing money—and then upon graduation goes out within a few months and starts a job…how many years does it take for that person to catch up?"

Meredith: How many?

Wyatt: Seven.

Meredith: Wow.

Wyatt: So, seven years is all it takes for it to be a positive return on investment. Seven years. That's not very long. We're gonna work for a long, long time. Now, if you go to a very expensive private school and, depending on your major and depending on where you choose to go work it will take longer to get that return investment, but remember, the average is a million dollars more over a lifetime. And so even if you have to borrow $50,000 or $100,000, you're gonna make that back. The cost of tuition and fees and books for four years at Southern Utah University is less than a basic pickup truck. Brand new without any extras.

Meredith: Even though both of us, I think, would agree that higher education is probably too expensive and it's one of the things that we talk about all the time in Cabinet and all the other various leadership gatherings that you host and you're engaged with, at Southern Utah University, a college degree still remains a great investment.

Wyatt: It's still very affordable. I meet with high school students every year in an assembly type format and talk to them about going to college and why they should consider it and we explore a lot of things for a better part of an hour. But the cost of going to Southern Utah University is less than the cost of buying a brand new pickup truck.

Meredith: That's…

Wyatt: And when you got the pickup truck, four years later it's worth less. And four years after you've started your college degree it's worth more and the value keeps going up for your whole life. It's…we are doing everything we can to keep costs low and the investment for students is fantastic. It's a fantastic return on investment. So, wait to buy that pickup truck. That's the message.

Meredith: That's right.

Wyatt: Invest first, and then…

Meredith: Get the truck later.

Wyatt: Get the truck later.

Meredith: So, during our season 1, the date came by that was marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and we invited our Assistant to the President for Diversity and Inclusion, Dr. Schvalla Rivera, to join us to talk about Dr. King's legacy.

Wyatt: Yeah. And what a terrific person. He's an example of so many wonderful people in this country that have flaws but helped move us to a much, much, much better place. He…I put him in the top list of all the famous Americans that have ever lived. He's right there in the top group for me.

Meredith: Yeah. He's a Mount Rushmore…

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: Kind of a figure for sure.

Wyatt: Mhmm.

Meredith: This is our discussion from Episode 17 in Season One with Dr. Schvalla Rivera on the legacy of Martin Luther King.

Season One Episode 17 – MLK Legacy

Wyatt: And then it was about at the age of 18 that he wrote one of the really impressive pieces of his life, which was a speech on the purpose of education.

Rivera: Yes. Would you like to discuss that?

Wyatt: Yeah, I really like this. He wrote this to the student newspaper, and in that, he wrote that the purpose of a true education is "intelligence plus character." And he spent a bit of time talking about how education has two purposes. One is a utilitarian purpose, which is preparing us for careers. And then the other purpose is to develop character. He referred to it as culture and we can be very intelligent and do a lot of harm in the world.

Rivera: Yes. He spoke a lot about sincere ignorance, and he also said, "conscientious stupidity." [All laugh] He said those are two dangerous things in the world is sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. One we can work with—sincere ignorance, you don't know what you don't know and that's just the basic meaning of ignorance, but when it comes from a place of sincerity, usually people are willing to talk and engage or at least consider something else. But conscientious stupidity means that you are making a decision to live in error or to believe untruths or misinformation, so that's very dangerous. I think we see a lot of that…that's very fitting for our current climate as well.

Wyatt: Yeah, and if we look at our role in education, we shouldn't ever feel badly when someone comes to a university sincerely ignorant. In fact, we want to fill our buildings with those kinds of people.

Rivera: Yes.

Wyatt: That's our goal, right? Is to educate? And we want people to come that need educating. [Laughter]

Rivera: Yes, open minds and open hearts—those are what we need. We're all ignorant about something. We don't know everything, but if we approach everything with sincerity, then we can hopefully humbly come to knowledge which is the goal of education.

Wyatt: Yeah. So, he wrote this article to his university student newspaper in 1947, and it's a great read. I think that everyone in higher education ought to read this. The dual purpose of both utility and culture helping us prepare…and then there are some other, if we move further into his life, there are some other really neat addresses that he's made.

Rivera: Mhmm.

Wyatt: Or messages that he's left for our day.

Rivera: Definitely. I love…I spoke a little bit at our past MLK celebration we had on campus, one of his quotes was, "Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness." And that means that we give to each other and we set aside our personal needs for the needs of the community and we come together. So, a little bit of that willingness to give is very important, so that's a quote that I love.

Wyatt: Those are interesting words put together.

Rivera: "Dangerous" and "unselfishness." You know, when I first read that, I thought, "Oh wow, dangerously unselfish…" And just rolling that around in my mind. And it can be, especially when we live in a society that tells you that "You need more, more is better."

Meredith: That's actually one of my favorite episodes. I love the discussion about not only the article that he wrote for the student newspaper when he was very young—he was, what? 15 years old or something? 16 years old…

Wyatt: [Laughs] That's right.

Meredith: When he started the university? But just…he was such a compelling figure in terms of, as you suggested, moving America to a better place.

Wyatt: That's right. And we still need people like him. We still need people like Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln and a long list of people. We need them today.

Meredith: Yeah. I love the quote about developing "dangerous unselfishness." [Both laugh] I think that's a…when you really think about what that would mean if we were all dangerously unselfish towards one another, it would be a much better place to live.

Wyatt: Yeah. And when I was a college student, I met his widow, Coretta Scott King. And I remember thinking then and I think more so today, "What would it be like to be married to somebody that's living such a dangerous life for the good of everybody else? But certainly not for the good of your family."

Meredith: That's right.

Wyatt: Because that was a very scary time for them.

Meredith: Yeah. A remarkable sacrifice by both Dr. King and his family. You've been listening to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast by Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. We thank you for listening, our devoted listeners, and we'll be back again with another run of brand new podcasts very soon. Thanks for listening, bye-bye.