The FINANCIAL — The most pressing investment needs of democratic nations today are to provide truly high quality education that proves to support democracy on a daily basis. This will require the creation of an entirely new university in Georgia—remarkably unlike any public or private universities the country has today.
Students and employees are demographically the largest group in any school, business, or government organization yet—for all intents and purposes—they have the least power or say politically. Not only should university leaders and officials give students and faculty colleagues greater say in decisions that affect them, they should share rights of governance, which are currently withheld by private interest groups, lawyers, financial accountants, chauffeurs, and bureaucratic bag men.
Everyone is all for talking about liberty and democracy, but many so-called democratic institutions fail to practice individual liberty or democracy on a daily basis. It all looks and sounds great in theory—but the copiously tired slogans of “freedom” and “democracy” have been drained of authentic significance by current organizations that can do no better than simply mimic the fast-fading frameworks of others.
All its constituents should influence how bureaucrats and businessmen run a university, not autocratically, but collegially and democratically. What passes under the flag and banner of intellectual freedom and democracy are really the armies of authority and might. Some politicians and university administrators can mouth the words all right, but their day-to-day rules and routines give them away.
Since the reality for which the words liberty and democracy once stood are quickly falling away in our universities, the words themselves are suffering from worldwide inflation since the real goods are so scarce. This depreciation of the currency of democracy corresponds to a general failure of confidence and trust in all our social, political, and financial institutions—however grand their proud marquees.
We need to encourage a wider participation of legitimate stakeholders in strategic decision-making—this includes students, faculty, international colleagues, staff, government, and community investors.
Ironically, in a world where students have almost infinite options in terms of where to get an education, the type of educational experiences currently offered them are nearly all the same. There can be no real choice if all that’s on offer is just more of the same. The democratic challenge for Georgia, therefore, is to establish a new university capable of coaching and empowering the creative development of independent, self-reliant, and self-directed lifelong learners—not simply replicate the same old worn-out subject matter under the cloak and banner of something new and imbued with status.
We need to authentically encourage a wider participation of legitimate stakeholders in strategic decision-making. This includes students, faculty, international colleagues, local staff, government, and community investors. Furthermore, we need to invest in university leaders who are intellectually and morally dedicated to cultivating mutual purposes with students, faculty, large, small, and even only planned businesses, NGOs, the media, and other community-to-community constituents beyond the clutches of current power brokers and profiteers.
However, with the right intellectual and emotional—as well as political and financial—backing and support, a new Georgian university can create outstanding international partnerships that will yield real inspiration and insight into both the practices and principles of democracy and ethics. A new and progressive social democracy based on tolerance, diversity, humanism, unity, and creativity is necessary to counter the over-specialized, private-interest, fragmented, and authoritative schooling that has proven itself to be primarily for-itself, rather than for the entire community on which it rests. Don’t take my word for it. Speak to the staff and students yourself and you will see that what I say is true.
A truly democratic Georgian university will need to provide programs specially designed to produce a cohort of leaders with the necessary skill and ability to discover new ideas—rather than simply indoctrinate students with the cumulative, stale, and static inertia of past practices. Tomorrow’s leaders—in any business or profession—must have the coaching to help them recognize and act upon unique patterns, adapt quickly to turbulent environments, and generate new knowledge. Above all, they must learn to act democratically and actually bring about planned change for themselves and the benefit of their fellow constituents.
Everyone is all for talking about liberty and democracy, but many so-called democratic institutions fail to practice individual liberty or social democracy on a daily basis.
It won’t be easy. Nothing born of necessity is easy. Higher education for a true democracy is even more than a difficult learning process—it is a character building process. However, with a profoundly creative, comprehensive, and challenging curriculum we can span the boundaries set between fragments and strict divisions of analysis. Then we will not only have a stronger base for understanding leadership and democracy, but also greater freedom for improving their quality and application.
It falls to more creative, democratic leadership in higher education to integrate the diversity and vast interdependence that binds us and helps us all to explore new alternatives and embark in new directions. Students, parents, staff, faculty, and the international community at large deserve higher quality education. We all deserve to be heard, we deserve a choice in what happens and a chance to take responsibility for what, how, and from whom we earn and gain support.
Creative students and citizens in a democratic society deserve to be treated according to the dignity of their character—not their grades, pay scales, friends, good looks, or credit ratings. However, as sad as the decline in humanistic education for a true democracy may have been, we must not suppose that this failure is entirely the fault of a comparatively few individuals in positions of power and authority. If democracy teaches us anything it teaches that they are nothing without many others of us who placed a blind faith in them. In a democracy we are each condemned to choose—or choose to accept whatever we are handed.
Without choice there can be no democracy. With choice comes responsibility to demand a higher quality education in support of democracy. With free choice Georgia will enter the future with more enlightened democratic strategies for avoiding a recurrence of those authoritarian confrontations that so plagues our confidence in what’s merely worked in the past.
Dr. Peter Chiaramonte is a writer, professor, and senior university administrator. Peter is a graduate of the University of Toronto (BA, BEd) and the University of California (MA, PhD). He has taught at the University of Western Ontario, Athabasca University, and Dalhousie University in Canada – at the University of North Carolina and Chapman University San Diego in the United States – and for the Grenoble Graduate School of Business and Georgian American University in Europe where he was vice president for academic affairs.
By Dr Peter Chiaramonte
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