tv Bloombergs Studio 1.0 Bloomberg June 2, 2019 3:30am-4:01am EDT
david: he grew up in a working-class neighborhood in baltimore. his single mother working nights and weekends to graduate from college and go on for a masters and phd, while his public and private education taught him that talent is distributed without regard to wealth or zip code. dan porterfield went on to become a national leader in education as senior vice president at georgetown and then as president of franklin and marshall college in pennsylvania, leading the way in making sure talented low-income students got the same opportunities as others. now porterfield is taking on a new challenge is the head of the aspen institute, taking what he has learned in the field of education and applying it to issues ranging from health care
to poverty to national security and, yes, education as well, seeking to make sure we are bringing all the talent to the table for the benefit of us all. on this week's "bloomberg: big decisions," dan porterfield. dan porterfield, welcome to "bloomberg: big decisions." dan: thank you, david. great to be here. david: you have been described as a leader in ensuring access to high achieving low income students for colleges. take us back to baltimore, maryland. what in the small, young boy of dan porterfield led him to that decision? dan: i grew up in baltimore city in a couple different neighborhoods. one of the neighborhoods, it was my parents, me and my sister, we were pretty much the only white family. and then after my parents divorced, we moved about a mile away, very similar neighborhood.
there, there was only white families. and that neighborhood felt like a fine neighborhood. i didn't know it at the time, but it was segregated. eventually integration came to that neighborhood. a family, i believe from africa, moved in, a doctor, his wife, and two little kids. there were a number of people that really greeted them with great hostility and tried to get them to leave, threw tomatoes at their house or wrote things on the sidewalk. my mom, single mom going to night school, made friends with his family, went up and brought casserole and said she wanted them to feel welcome. they should belong here. eventually the families that didn't want them there moved out themselves -- pretty fast, too. within about six months, the neighborhood became about half white and half black and it stabilized that way, integrated neighborhood. i grew up and really enjoyed playing touch football in the street, little league baseball, basketball around the corner. it was a good neighborhood. and so, for me, i took away a lot of important lessons from all of that. one, though, is that there is a lot that people bring to life
from all different backgrounds. and if we give people a shot, give them an opportunity, they will rise and climb and make society better. but i also learned how important it is if you are a person who is born white, who has that as a privilege -- even though she was in foster care, she was born white. she grew up poor, but she did have a chance to move forward. so i think she taught me how to be a white person. at the time i was growing up, going to a public school, single mom, didn't have a lot of advantages. but she taught me in our society with all the different structures and values and codes we have, you will have a chance to rise. when you do, make sure you share that with others. david: you said you were in public school. did the children back in that day have an equal opportunity of a first-rate education in the public school? dan: it was northwood elementary school. there we thought it was a good school. it did become integrated sometime between my fifth grade and sixth grade years. interestingly, though, for seventh grade i was sent to a
school called hamilton. that school went on shifts. so my mom, a single mom, got a letter saying in august, hey, in another week or two when your son comes to school, he will either go in the morning from 8:30 to 12:00, or in the afternoon from 12:00 to 4:00. what is a single mother going to do with a kid who is that age, have him around the house alone all day long? so she scrambled and in late august of that year, took me around to different private schools around baltimore and found one that would take me and give me a scholarship. so i went to st. paul's school in brooklynville. i was behind when i got to st. paul relative to the students in seventh grade. you hear today the term achievement gap or opportunity gap that speaks to what lower income students have been able to learn in the schools they have been in, compared to other students. i had to close the achievement gap. i did, pretty fast, with great teachers and my mom's example. i never forgot we were in a school system that was so lacking in accountability to working families, that you could
say on the first day of school, your child will be at school for only half a day. and secondly, i never forgot as great as that school in northwood felt, relative students with other backgrounds, i had to climb and had a lot of work to do. that helped inform my belief that talent is universally distributed across every community and zip code. the proper role of education is to make sure talent can rise. david: you went on to a jesuit high school. why did you go to that school? dan: i transferred from st. paul school to loyola high school in baltimore after ninth grade, because i wanted to play baseball. st. paul's only had lacrosse. what i learned at st. paul's school -- at school was that i had the talent if i applied it. i had to work hard. david: how much of your realization you could apply yourself to succeed, even your desire to do that, came from your mother? how much from the school and how much from your peers? dan: that's so interesting.
definitely my mom was the big example. she went back to school around the age of 30 or 31 to the local college, townsend college, and went to school at night and on the weekend in summers. it took her three or four years to get her ba, at least. she was the first in her family to go to college. it was a big deal. at the same time, i think my parents both left it to me and to my sister to create our own education. they weren't hovering. they didn't know what my homework was. they were supportive had high standards, and it was up to me. i think that is one of the lessons you get from that kind of upbringing, is that each of us has a responsibility to create our education. it's not a gift. you can't buy it. you can't order it on amazon. it is something you create with your actions, your own endeavors. i really picked that up from my mom and felt a great deal of pride for her when she got her masters degree, when i was in ninth grade, and then when she got her doctorate, when i was in college. she went on to become one of the foremost historians of women in the american west.
she didn't even start her career until mid 40's or later. she ended up writing four or five books about women in the west, was a university professor at utah state. if you think about it, this is a kid that spent 14 years in foster care and then was a single mom. so what happened? she had access to great education. david: you went on to georgetown, as you say. when you were at georgetown, you founded not one but two different programs, as i understand it, for washington, d.c., to help children who had ability but didn't have means. you went on to a distinguished academic career, you had a stint in government, and you ended up going back to georgetown. why did you go back to georgetown and what was your mission while you were there? dan: so i had earned a phd from the city university of new york in literature, while also working as first a speech writer and then communications director for then-hhs secretary in washington. it was a pleasure to work with her, who i think is one of the best public servants i have ever seen. i left four years working with her more idealistic about the
importance of good government and the proper government role than i had when i went in. but i wanted to work hands-on again, and so georgetown invited me and gave me an opportunity to create a role that combined -- essentially the title changed, but it was senior vice president for strategy and also to be an english professor. so i designed and taught my own courses for 14 years while also helping lead the university on major strategic initiatives. in the last eight of those years, my wife and i and our three children lived in a dormitory as faculty in residence. the thing about georgetown as a younger employee or midcareer employee, compared to being a student, also was that i saw the jesuit mission in a different way. as a student, to me the jesuit identity was about being seen and valued as a young person with something to offer. as i came back as a midcareer person helping to lead the institution, i saw some other virtues in jesuit education in the fostering of leadership.
one is that loyola, who was pretty moderate 500 years ago in his formulation of a path forward, really believed in what he called the discernment of spirits, which means regular effort, sometimes assisted by a retreat director, to ask yourself, where am i today, where do i want to be going? what is moving me? what influences me? i think leaders should always be looking in the mirror and asking themselves that question. am i really following my true calling? how do i understand better what is at work? jesuits taught me one of the toughest things to deal with -- we don't know we are dealing with it -- is fear. often fear ends up influencing the way we approach decision-making. this idea of finding the discernment of spirits is to liberate one from the feeling of fear. the second thing that i learned the second time working at georgetown was that jesuits emphasize something called being contemplative in action. by that, they mean they are oriented in producing among their students people that want to get out and make a difference in the world. they want to make change and support the development of
culture and civilization, especially through education. which is the jesuit sort of center. and while they are looking for people who are women and men of action, women and men for others, they say, they also want to encourage them to reflect, to step back, to discern, to think. i think in leadership that is so important, even more today maybe when there is so much coming at every single leader in society, whether they work in a company, financial, management role, or they are a journalist, work in government, a multinational organization. everything is coming fast. how do you then step back from the pace of it all in order to ask, am i doing my best work? the jesuits taught me not to fear that question. david: after 14 years of georgetown, you got your own school to run. franklin and marshall in pennsylvania. what caused you to accept that? dan: you shouldn't be afraid to change -- change fields, change jobs, change direction. ♪ david: after 14 years at
georgetown, you got your own school to run, franklin and marshall in pennsylvania. take us into that decision. what caused you to accept that? dan: i think the big thing was i wanted to make another difference and i wanted to develop my talents in a way that would allow me to feel i was using whatever gifts i have. i think that's -- we shouldn't be afraid to change, change fields, change jobs, change directions. so i would think it is almost fair to say that when i was in georgetown living in that dormitory, i was kind of like the mayor of the campus. my apartment and my office were like a crossroads. whether we were working on a problem and opportunity or thinking another way georgetown could make a difference in d.c. or figuring out how to position the institution for leadership on something important, it was a crossroads. doing that for a number of years
gave me the preparation, i think, to be able to be the ceo, to lead a college, but also gave me the desire for that. i had to not just leave a job but leave a role. david: did you think long and hard about it, or was it easy? dan: i thought about it. i thought about it pretty hard. the most important thing was it was my wife karen and i, we had to decide what would be right for our children. at which stage of things, so i think that was the main thing. their own timing and my own readiness. i have a friend, kevin, who was the deputy secretary of hss -- he is the president of the clinton foundation now -- kevin said when we were younger, people make the mistake of trying to move to their promotion too fast. you want to make sure you are ready for the role you say you want. i did feel like family-wise ready and also professionally ready, so why not? david: once you got that role, there came a time you decided to put your own stamp on franklin and marshall. going back to the question of high achieving low income students, giving them access to first-rate higher education.
how long did it take you to come to that conclusion? what brought you to it? dan: so i think i learned it at georgetown, because georgetown developed what is called a full need financial aid policy back in the 1970's. which is why i was able to go to georgetown. i had a loan and grant and my family paid what we could and i worked. i already knew the value of saying to students, you pay your fair share, we will support you, go create a great education for yourselves. when i went to franklin and marshall, i had the idea that the georgetown approach would work well there, because the school is very rigorous and very much cares about students who want to create their education and be active learners. that kind of person that wants hard work and wants to give themselves to a great education, that type exists by the millions in lower income and middle income communities in america. they are not recruited enough by top schools, but they are there. with the intellectual ability and the grit, the spine, the
heart and stamina to make it count. when you fill your student body with students that are invested, everybody benefits. the best thing about having -- we called it a talent strategy. it wasn't actually framed as a diversity strategy. it was framed as talent. david: as persuasive as that sounds today sitting here, a lot of the concerns about higher education right now are financial. how can we get enough money in the door to support the institution? how did your institution react when you said, i have a great idea -- let's get as many pell grant students as possible? dan: franklin and marshall as a whole, the faculty, the board, are very committed to academic excellence. that was key. they are committed to that. so a talent strategy that would allow them to have access to more hungry students served the core value and mission of the institution. i think that going to a place, whether it is a business or university and wherever else, and say, i want to change your core values, it will not work, but the core value was there. it was their values, not just my idea, that led to the effort we developed.
we tripled our pell grant population because we tripled our need-based aid. that did require us to pull leverage to have financial flexibility. that included issuing -- rather restructuring our debt. it included emphasizing financial aid in our fundraising. some things we did not fund at the same level because they were not as central to the school's mission. david: when you say, we wouldn't be funding some things as much as we did, there is a lot in that. there are people who believe in what was being funded. how do you bring an organization around to your point of view where you are changing the direction? dan: i think in general -- this is each situation specific -- about a planning process that allows stakeholders to weigh in, so your alums, board, faculty, students, parents. to really weigh in is important. i think there is more legitimacy in tough decisions, at least in a people serving institution like a college or university, if it has been a good, inclusive process. that is number one. the second is it is important to
get and document results. we were able to show that within two years, those first-generation and pell grant students were outperforming the student body as a whole in some key metrics, including retention rate, which is actually ranked by u.s. news. and secondly, the grades were the same. now it is the graduation rates, the honors are even higher among the moderate income and lower income students. so it is built buy-in, document progress and results, and be agile enough to make adjustments. nobody can write a plan that predicts everything that will happen. david: it is great to have a good vision and great to have thought it through, but you have to get it executed as well. how do you make sure it is not just a few people around you that are agreeing with you and nodding enthusiastically, but is permeating the entire organization? dan: a couple things. first, at franklin and marshall we did a really serious strategic positioning research project early so that we could hear and share with the whole community how others viewed and
valued franklin and marshall and how franklin and marshall viewed and valued itself, it's best, core offerings, so that everybody could feel they had knowledge that would allow them to represent what the school was about effectively. that invites the whole organization to be, if you will, brand ambassadors. we don't use the word brand in higher education too often, but that is really the best position of an organization, when all the people associated with it know what it is about. the second thing is we created a faculty center right away at the end of my first year at franklin and marshall, so the faculty could have a place to go for themselves to work on pedagogical techniques that would be helpful as the demographic of the student body changed. this wasn't the administration telling the faculty how to adjust teaching, if there were going to be more first-gen students, it was giving the faculty the resources so they can figure it out themselves and that is extremely important. changemakers shouldn't be condescending. we should be trying to make it
open to all, inviting people in, more open source work. david: we talk about high achieving students of low income. what about the ones who aren't achieving? they have enormous aptitude, they have great intelligence, but they didn't have the experience you had in baltimore. dan: the question you are asking is really, how does our country respond to the unevenness and insufficiency in public education in many rural, urban, and suburban communities? the answer i believe is we need to really create a learning ecosystem out of our higher education institutions, community colleges, regional four-year colleges, private colleges, big flagship institutions and our private schools. i just had the pleasure of being at the miami-dade commencement two days ago. it is one of the most important institutions in our country, graduating 13,000 people a year with associate degrees. many go to four-year schools, many go right to work, but they all go to something productive. i think america needs more
miami-dades. it doesn't mean every student needs college, but every student needs a way to develop so that they are not essentially feeling that stuck feeling of having a light that is trapped inside of them. it is in our interest as a country, not just for the one, but for the many, that we really make education the thing we are best at. that's going to make the quality of our democracy and the quality of our economy so much better in today's highly competitive, global, science-driven, tech-driven, fast-paced economy. david: what is your mission at aspen? what do you want to do there? dan: to me, it means a working democracy, a fantastic economy, and a sense of opportunity and possibility and optimism. ♪ david: you now run the aspen
what is your mission at aspen? what do you want to do there? dan: i think our mission is to promote a free, just, and equitable society, with all that means, and that is a complex vision, of course. to me it means a working democracy, a fantastic economy, and a sense of opportunity and possibility and optimism that affects the young because it is held by their elders. the aspen institute is a devoutly nonpartisan organization. we are absolutely committed to improving civil discourse as a part of strengthening civil society. david: i don't think anyone could quibble with that as a goal. it is a pretty broad goal. dan: yeah. david: what is the risk that by trying to do everything, you end up essentially doing nothing? dan: that's the thing. you have a big vision, but you have to be strategic about which direction you move into. for us, i would say -- this is not exhaustive -- but if you have the high-level things we are focusing on is one,
developing midcareer professionals from the private sector. we have 15 different programs for highly successful midcareer people. secondly, we focus a lot on what i call the new localism, which is that working in partnership with other organizations on the ground to frame and solve a problem in a way that is not partisan and can be documented. another part of our work, we developed a whole focus on community college excellence and helping new college presidents of two-year colleges be able to increase graduation rates and increase the employment of their graduates. so the new localism, to me, is about confident, practical problem-solving. important, demonstrable, nonpolitical. david: there tends to be a duality, two poles in the united states. people who say it should all be private sector. it addresses the major issues of our day. another who tends to say it is all government, we have to have the government do it. where do you see the line being drawn? dan: i kind of go back to that famous line from president clinton's inauguration -- state
of the union in 1994 or so. the era of big government is over. and i tend to think that the best solutions come from local communities and they involve growing economic and educational opportunity. and so i tend to think that. and then where there needs to be a safety net is around vulnerable people and their lives. and so while it is important that government provide the safety net for families, they also need to, i believe, stay out of the way of key parental and local decisions, which can include the things like curriculum in a school or how the family talked to their children about risk behavior. one of the things the aspen institute is all about is supporting real discourse, real, honest discourse, so people can hash out these kinds of questions given the particular circumstances they are in. because at the end of the day, it is not about the writing of a rule, but the building of a good will among all people. that takes discourse, sharing of
ideas around problem-solving. looking down the road, i think that today's young people are going to expect stronger government work in the area of dealing with climate change, because it is a global problem that isn't going to fix itself, and i think they will expect stronger government effort around protecting core, basic rights, upholding the rule of law. those to me seem like moments when you need federal leadership. but i don't think what's needed is government leadership in areas like economic development. i think it's really best to remove the regulations and allow the economy to develop based on how the private sector is unfolding. we have to be able to stand together around the values of an open society. aspen stands for that, but even more exciting to me, in a way, in many places around the world, including places where nationalism is on the rise, they stand for those values. i would like to help with my board, with my team, to make sure the aspen institute stands for excellence, impact, sustainability, coherence in our mission, and high aspirations.
businessweek. i'm carol massar. jason: and i'm jason kelly. we are at bloomberg headquarters in new york. carol: in this week's issue, how one indigenous tribe earned $1 billion. jason: the battle between donald trump and two of the world's richest men over the famed plaza hotel. carol: we begin with one of the most difficult problems in learning, how to beat the stock