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11 Inspiring Quotes by HigherEd Leaders for Challenging Times

11 Inspiring Quotes by HigherEd Leaders for Challenging Times

In my role as Executive Director of the UIA, it's been my privilege to converse with many distinguished higher education leaders during the COVID-19 pandemic. In our dialogue, my co-hosts and I always included a few questions to help in surfacing key trends and commonalities that we've all encountered during this difficult year. This post collects some of the most powerful quotes about the challenges and aspirations that these leaders shared with us.

How Higher Ed Leaders Face a Crisis
We launched the Innovating Together Podcast during a global health crisis, and soon after that, the U.S. found itself facing a social justice crisis as well. So it seemed natural that many of our higher ed leaders viewed their work through a lens of crisis.

"This is the time when American higher education understands that our strength as a country will be inextricably tied to our success in bringing people from all backgrounds into the problem solving as we face the future."
Freeman Hrabowski III, President, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
Quote by Freeman Hrabowski re: U.S. higher ed’s role in bringing people from all backgrounds into the problem solving process.

"We now know the world is much more complicated than we thought. We need to instill the ability to adjust and keep performing our mission as a core part of what we do."
Michael Crow, President, Arizona State University
Quote by Michael Crow re: how institutions must adapt to high-speed changes.

"Find the space to have that deeper dive into the higher goals of the institution, the values to define the purpose of the university, that you don’t just park all of that because of emergency."
Ángel Cabrera, President, Georgia Tech

Quote by Angel Cabrera re: defining the university's spirit, heart, values, and purpose, even during an emergency.

"We’ve got a lot of important work to make sure that our institutions come through this pandemic and get stronger, at the same time that we address the issues that are right in front of us around systemic racism."
Mark Becker, President, Georgia State University
Quote by Mark Becker re: getting institutions through the pandemic while simultaneously addressing systemic racism.

"I want to make sure that students are able to continue their programs, but I am most concerned about who you are and how you're handling this internally as a person."
Daria J. Willis, President, Everett Community College
Quote by Daria J. Willis re: looking out for students’ academic interests while caring about their personal well-being.

"There’s the school of thought that says never waste a crisis. So you talk to people about that honestly and earnestly, get them on the same page, and then go forward."
Michael Sorrell, President, Paul Quinn College
Quote by Michael Sorrell re: "never waste a crisis" as a unique opportunity for honest conversation and shared progress.

Words of Hope and Inspiration
Week after week throughout a difficult year, we spoke with higher ed leaders who were committed to efficiently and equitably running their institutions while keeping their sights on a positive future. And week after week, we came away inspired by their commitment and hope.

"Alone we can do very little, but together we can do a lot. That's Helen Keller's wisdom, not mine. The leader's job is inspire, motivate, help, create the conditions where everyone can succeed."
Ruth Watkins, Former President, University of Utah
Quote by Ruth Watkins re: leaders creating conditions where everyone succeeds collectively through a shared agenda.

"You have to have a culture that embraces, supports, and is committed to these students and their success. Once you have that platform, then you can start to think about programs."
Kim Wilcox, Chancellor, University of California, Riverside
Quote by Kim Wilcox re: the need for supportive campus culture as the basis for any program focused on student success.

"I believe that care of the community is how we go forward together, and it's only by working together, standing up together, really having the conversations about how we find a path forward that we will be successful."
Wendy Wintersteen, President, Iowa State University
Quote by Wendy Wintersteen re: moving forward as a community by working together, standing together, and conversation.

"This place can be that bright spot for the world where you’re not only welcome, but you are celebrated because of what you bring to this institution. It’s education that transforms the world."
Alexander Cartwright, President, University of Central Florida
Quote by Alexander Cartwright re: schools celebrating students for what they bring, and education transforming the world.

"I'm going to dedicate my strongest effort to moving the needle in the right direction. It’s not about me. It’s about making a contribution and having an impact that benefits other people."
Ed Ray, Former President, Oregon State University
Quote by Ed Ray re: moving the needle in the right direction and making a contribution. "It's not about me."

Learn More About Our Leaders
We present these quotes as just a taste of the wisdom and eloquence that we always receive from the higher ed leaders we're privileged to interview. To hear and read more about their perspectives, please check out the UIA's podcasts and our blogs that summarize them.

Note: The interviews cited in this blog were drawn from the Weekly Wisdom Series and originally aired between April 13 and October 19, 2020 as part of the University Innovation Alliance’s Innovating Together Podcast, created in partnership with Inside Higher Ed.

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