Our decisions have consequences
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“As a person grows older and taller in stature, the shadow he casts upon the earth grows longer. His impact on the world becomes more profound as he matures and succeeds.” Well, that’s according to Barbara Floyd, the library archivist at the University of Toledo. But how do we become successful and impact the world and the people around us when our foundations are weak? I think that the opinions and decisions we make determine our life chances in more ways than we think, and that’s why we should think intently before acting. I almost forgot to welcome you home, alumni. You make us proud. And hey students, keep the hustle going, for it’ll surely pay off.
Let me tell you something about decisions. Adolf Hitler’s Germany decided that exterminating Jews, Gypsies and members of “inferior races” was a great decision to make the “master race” stronger. After all, their lives were more important than that of these people. These gravely immoral activities were decisions that people believed in. Then in the United States in the 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy and his friends used the institution of state to witch-hunt and trample the Constitutional rights of citizens and businesses in the name purging the country of communist subversives. Well, that was another strong decision and we know how that turned out.
The point is that decisions matter and we make them every day, either as institutions or individuals. But decisions also have consequences. Unfortunately, the consequences of ill-made institutional decisions are borne by generations who had no hand in how those decisions were made.
So in the light of this year’s homecoming celebration, I wanted us to look back at some of the decisions made in our university’s history and to imagine how they may have determined where we stand today. Barbara Floyd became very useful for this historical exercise in sharing both the good and the bad with me.
My first surprise was the knowledge that the University of Toledo could probably have been Carnegie Mellon University today and Carnegie is ranked 24th in the nation with 2015 endowments in excess of $1.7 billion. In 1900, Andrew Carnegie made a huge financial donation to the UT Board of Trustees to turn the then-manual training school into a technical university. His fault? He requested anonymity. The Board misunderstood and misinterpreted his intent and rejected the offer, only to find out the donor was actually Carnegie, the industrial magnate, who later used the funds to start Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh. Well, UT isn’t doing bad today, but just imagine how much more could have been achieved if the Board thought differently and accepted the offer.
Then came 1961 and Ohio wanted to establish a Medical College. The initial plan was for the college to be merged with and housed on the University of Toledo campus. In this situation, President William Carlson did all he could to see the merger go through, but politics won in the end. Governor James Rhodes and his newly-created Ohio Board of Regents established the college as an independent state university in 1964. Well, the city still won, as the college was located here, but did the two institutions benefit from the decision? History would judge this, as in 2006 the Medical College of Ohio eventually merged with UT. We would keep wondering what the two institutions could have achieved together if they started off as a merger.
Among UT’S presidents, Vik Kapoor was probably the most unloved. He was so enthused with transforming UT into the “crown jewel of Ohio” that he didn’t realize that the institution was crumbling right before him. So many staff, faculty and even board members were laid off or resigned during his 17-month stint as president. But one of his most terrible decisions was to have closed the then 2-year community college system that was housed on the Scott Park campus. It was not long after that decision that community colleges rebirthed across the nation. And today, instead of reaping benefits from that campus, the university is still struggling to find out what exactly to do with it. Sometimes, the immediate profit motive isn’t what’s best for the long run.
Finally, in more recent history, president Lloyd Jacobs also decided to split the 100 year-old College of Arts and Sciences into three separate colleges. And although the decision was hotly contested among faculty, it was still implemented. This cost the school both money and time; it was also the cause of discontent on campus. Last semester, president Gaber decided on reconstituting that college again.
Decisions have repercussions and it is important to reflect deeper before making them.
But hey, as individual alumni or continuing students, we’re not excused from this. We have allowed certain opinions to become more important in our lives than they deserve. We can all recall those times when we didn’t sign up for classes because someone told us they were difficult or that the professors were hard graders. There were also those times that we thought we were too tired to study and ended up with less desirable grades. Then there were times that we decided we were not going to take up non-paying internships because we were either too poor for that sacrifice or that the situation was unfair. Don’t forget about the many relationships that we destroyed because we thought they were not valuable or because someone fed us some negative opinions about these people. Yet, these decisions become the foundation for whatever success we’re chasing in life
Whatever it is we decide to do in the end, we need to recognize that there are consequences and take our time to think through these decisions more intently. We’ll be saved from a lot of trouble later on. It will make our foundation stronger, be more efficient and better our future.