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Why whistleblowing is the loneliest and most courageous act in the world
'Whose job is it to fix the bad stuff in the world?' asks Alice Dreger.
ALICE DREGER: The mob is very rarely turned. The best you can hope for with a mob is to calm them down a little, but they'll rarely turn. I think sometimes you have to walk and certainly choose your battles; you can't throw yourself against the wall constantly and survive.
The way I think about integrity is to remember that at the end of the day there's only one person I have to sleep with, and that's myself. And am I going to be able to, at the end of the day, feel that I acted with integrity, feel like I treated other people well, that I upheld principles that I really care about? And that on some days can be really, really hard, because it's not the evil people who challenge your integrity, it's the good people. It's the people you like, it's the people who most of the time do the right thing. And what ends up happening is, because we have interests in our lives, because we're interested in, for example, not unreasonably: making more money, wanting a more comfortable life, wanting to take care of our friends and family—those are the kinds of things that lead to corruption within systems, lead to misuse of resources, lead to people mistreating each other. And it's not really very hard to call out when somebody who is known to be awful is doing something awful; it's much harder when it's the good people around them cooperating or being complicit in that situation.
We see that, for example, with the MeToo movement where people are now exposing individuals who have been known to be creeps and awful people, but all the people around them decided not to stand up because it was too costly to them personally or because they have the attitude of 'it's not their job' to stand up.
So I think one of the things you have to ask yourself as you think about whether or not to call out bad behavior is: Can you get other people to do it with you? That will often help lighten the blow of the backlash. And then can you afford to lose what it is you might lose? And, for some of us, we can afford that so in my own life, for example, I've been able in many circumstances to go ahead and call out bad behavior because I have the resources to survive the backlash. But I always try to think of, at the end of the day and at the end of my life, when I look back, will I feel like I did the right thing? And that to me is really important. I was raised in a conservative Roman Catholic family and so the message from my parents all the time, especially from my dad, was always: If you do the right thing you go to heaven; if you do the wrong thing you go to hell.
Well, I never had faith. It never worked for me, so I became an atheist very cognitively by the time I was about probably 14, and certainly by 16 and 18 I knew that I had no belief in heaven and hell. So then there was the question: How do you make sure you do the right thing? And for me, it was really clear, because my mother had said it to me, 'All the dogma in the world you don't really need. At the end of the day what you need is to know, did you treat other people well? Did you take care of injustice?'
And, for me, that was a very clear organizing principle, so for me, I'm not thinking about what happens after I die, I'm thinking about the end of the day and the end of my life, and thinking if I look back, will I feel good about what I did, or will I feel crummy about what I did? And Catholicism irritates me for many reasons, but one of the reasons it irritates me is because it has the confessional booth. And what happens when you've done something that lacks integrity is you go into the confessional booth and you tell somebody—who had nothing to do with the situation—that you did it, and that person forgives you. That's a shitty system. You can bleep it out if you have to. That's a system in which there isn't really accountability, where somebody is able to just let you off the hook. And if you're going to live with integrity you need to not have that ability to go buy the little ticket and get out of jail free, you know, do your seven Hail Marys and be on your way; you need a situation where you have an inner voice that says, "Well you did that badly and you need to make good on it." And then you go and you apologize to the person you hurt, not to the priest, and you go and you promise not to do it again—not to God but to the person you did it to. And then you have, I think, moral accountability—on the earth, which is where we live the moral experience. We don't live it in the afterlife.
Every time I've ever called out bad behavior I've been called bad. Every single time. When I called out the FDA on inappropriate behavior, when I challenged the Office for Human Research Protections, when I named Cornell and Mount Sinai Medical School as participating in problematic human subjects research on pregnant women; when I, at my local newspaper, revealed that city council made deals that they shouldn't have made that were not in the best interest of the taxpayers—over and over and over again I've been called bad. There was one time in my life that there were some kids that were acting incredibly violently at the bus stop and everybody turned to me and said, "Alice has to fix this because Alice fixes everything," because I'm the New Yorker in the Midwest, so I fix everything. I'm the person who is expected to be obnoxious and call stuff out, because I'm a New Yorker, so that's what I do.
So I ended up trying to deal with this, trying to call the school system, which didn't help, trying to deal with the family, which didn't help, and ultimately one day just lost it and dragged one of these kids home and presented them to the parents who were not at the bus stop as they were supposed to be. And the father throttled me in front of the kids, which was rough for me because it's one thing to be throttled, it's another thing to scare a bunch of kids. And I had to do a lot of soul-searching about the question of whether or not I should have bothered. Particularly because everybody in the neighborhood kept coming to my front door wanting to tell me how bad they felt about this, but they wanted to me to take care of them because they were feeling bad about this.
And I thought to myself, "Well, like at what point do we say 'it's not my job to fix all the bad stuff in the world'?" But maybe if more of us thought it was, maybe if more of us had that "New Yorker" voice in our heads rather than the "Midwestern" voice in our heads—the New Yorker voice, to me, saying "Do get involved," the Midwestern voice says, "Don't get involved. Don't get involved. Don't get involved."
If more of us had the attitude of, well, maybe it is our job to step up and stand up to injustice then the pain of it would be distributed better and we might get things done faster. The reality of standing up in terms of integrity is people often back away and say, "Well you have the personality" or "You have the resources and you have the privilege so you can do this but I can't do it." And the reality of whistleblowing and doing the exposing of injustice is that you're often alone.
- Living with integrity means being able to fall asleep at night having asked and answered these questions: Did I treat other people well today? Did I uphold the principles that I really care about? Did I take care of injustice?
- If you feel you need to call out bad behavior or blow the whistle on injustice, Alice Dreger offers this advice: "Can you get other people to do it with you? That will often help lighten the blow of the backlash. And then, can you afford to lose what it is you might lose?"
- Choose your battles—you cannot fix everything. But, says Dreger, if more people called out injustice when they saw it, the world would be infinitely better to live in for all of us.
Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?
- Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
- It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
- COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
What conditions of the new normal were already appreciated widely?<p>First, we understand that higher education is unique among industries. Some industries are governed by markets. Others are run by governments. Most operate under the influence of both markets and governments. And then there's higher education. Higher education as an "industry" involves public, private, and for-profit universities operating at small, medium, large, and now massive scales. Some higher education industry actors are intense specialists; others are adept generalists. Some are fantastically wealthy; others are tragically poor. Some are embedded in large cities; others are carefully situated near farms and frontiers.</p> <p>These differences demonstrate just some of the complexities that shape higher education. Still, we understand that change in the industry is underway, and we must be active in directing it. Yet because of higher education's unique (and sometimes vexing) operational and structural conditions, many of the lessons from change management and the science of industrial transformation are only applicable in limited or highly modified ways. For evidence of this, one can look at various perspectives, including those that we have offered, on such topics as <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/rethinking-higher-education/lessons-disruption" target="_blank">disruption</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/education/learning/education-technology.html" target="_blank">technology management</a>, and so-called "<a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/Excerpt_IHESpecialReport_Growing-Role-of-Mergers-in-Higher-Ed.pdf" target="_blank">mergers and acquisitions</a>" in higher education. In each of these spaces, the "market forces" and "market rules" for higher education are different than they are in business, or even in government. This has always been the case and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p> <p>Second, with so much excitement about innovation in higher education, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that students are—and should remain—the core cause for innovation. Higher education's capacity to absorb new ideas is strong. But the ideas that endure are those designed to benefit students, and therefore society. This is important to remember because not all innovations are designed with students in mind. The recent history of innovation in higher education includes several cautionary tales of what can happen when institutional interests—or worse, <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/apollos-new-owners-seek-fresh-start-beleaguered-company" target="_blank">shareholder</a> interests—are placed above student well-being.</p>
Photo: Getty Images<p>Third, it is abundantly apparent that universities must leverage technology to increase educational quality and access. The rapid shift to delivering an education that complies with social distancing guidelines speaks volumes about the adaptability of higher education institutions, but this transition has also posed unique difficulties for colleges and universities that had been slow to adopt digital education. The last decade has shown that online education, implemented effectively, can meet or even surpass the quality of in-person <a href="https://link-springer-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/article/10.1007/s10639-019-10027-z" target="_blank">instruction</a>.</p><p>Digital instruction, broadly defined, leverages online capabilities and integrates adaptive learning methodologies, predictive analytics, and innovations in instructional design to enable increased student engagement, personalized learning experiences, and improved learning outcomes. The ability of these technologies to transcend geographic barriers and to shrink the marginal cost of educating additional students makes them essential for delivering education at scale.</p><p>As a bonus, and it is no small thing given that they are the core cause for innovation, students embrace and enjoy digital instruction. It is their preference to learn in a format that leverages technology. This should not be a surprise; it is now how we live in all facets of life.</p><p>Still, we have only barely begun to conceive of the impact digital education will have. For example, emerging virtual and augmented reality technologies that facilitate interactive, hands-on learning will transform the way that learners acquire and apply new knowledge. Technology-enabled learning cannot replace the traditional college experience or ensure the survival of any specific college, but it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale. This has always been the case, and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p>
What conditions of the new normal were emerging suspicions?<p>Our collective thinking about the role of institutional or university-to-university collaboration and networking has benefitted from a new clarity in light of COVID-19. We now recognize more than ever that colleges and universities must work together to ensure that the American higher education system is resilient and sufficiently robust to meet the needs of students and their families.</p> <p>In recent weeks, various commentators have suggested that higher education will face a wave of institutional <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/scott-galloway-predicts-colleges-will-close-due-to-pandemic-2020-5" target="_blank">closures</a> and consolidations and that large institutions with significant online instruction capacity will become dominant.</p> <p>While ASU is the largest public university in the United States by enrollment and among the most well-equipped in online education, we strongly oppose "let them fail" mindsets. The strength of American higher education relies on its institutional diversity, and on the ability of colleges and universities to meet the needs of their local communities and educate local students. The needs of learners are highly individualized, demanding a wide range of options to accommodate the aspirations and learning styles of every kind of student. Education will become less relevant and meaningful to students, and less responsive to local needs, if institutions of higher learning are allowed to fail. </p> <p>Preventing this outcome demands that colleges and universities work together to establish greater capacity for remote, distributed education. This will help institutions with fewer resources adapt to our new normal and continue to fulfill their mission of serving students, their families, and their communities. Many had suspected that collaboration and networking were preferable over letting vulnerable colleges fail. COVID-19's new normal seems to be confirming this.</p>
President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address during the Arizona State University graduation ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium May 13, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona. Over 65,000 people attended the graduation.
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images<p>A second condition of the new normal that many had suspected to be true in recent years is the limited role that any one university or type of university can play as an exemplar to universities more broadly. For decades, the evolution of higher education has been shaped by the widespread imitation of a small number of elite universities. Most public research universities could benefit from replicating Berkeley or Michigan. Most small private colleges did well by replicating Williams or Swarthmore. And all universities paid close attention to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. It is not an exaggeration to say that the logic of replication has guided the evolution of higher education for centuries, both in the US and abroad.</p><p>Only recently have we been able to move beyond replication to new strategies of change, and COVID-19 has confirmed the legitimacy of doing so. For example, cases such as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/10/harvard-moves-classes-online-advises-students-stay-home-after-spring-break-response-covid-19/" target="_blank">Harvard's</a> eviction of students over the course of less than one week or <a href="https://www.nhregister.com/news/coronavirus/article/Mayor-New-Haven-asks-for-coronavirus-help-Yale-15162606.php" target="_blank">Yale's apparent reluctance</a> to work with the city of New Haven, highlight that even higher education's legacy gold standards have limits and weaknesses. We are hopeful that the new normal will include a more active and earnest recognition that we need many types of universities. We think the new normal invites us to rethink the very nature of "gold standards" for higher education.</p>
A graduate student protests MIT's rejection of some evacuation exemption requests.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images<p>Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we had started to suspect and now understand that America's colleges and universities are among the many institutions of democracy and civil society that are, by their very design, incapable of being sufficiently responsive to the full spectrum of modern challenges and opportunities they face. Far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted. And without new designs, we can expect postsecondary success for these same students to be as elusive in the new normal, as it was in the <a href="http://pellinstitute.org/indicators/reports_2019.shtml" target="_blank">old normal</a>. This is not just because some universities fail to sufficiently recognize and engage the promise of diversity, this is because few universities have been designed from the outset to effectively serve the unique needs of lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color.</p>
Where can the new normal take us?<p>As colleges and universities face the difficult realities of adapting to COVID-19, they also face an opportunity to rethink their operations and designs in order to respond to social needs with greater agility, adopt technology that enables education to be delivered at scale, and collaborate with each other in order to maintain the dynamism and resilience of the American higher education system.</p> <p>COVID-19 raises questions about the relevance, the quality, and the accessibility of higher education—and these are the same challenges higher education has been grappling with for years. </p> <p>ASU has been able to rapidly adapt to the present circumstances because we have spent nearly two decades not just anticipating but <em>driving</em> innovation in higher education. We have adopted a <a href="https://www.asu.edu/about/charter-mission-and-values" target="_blank">charter</a> that formalizes our definition of success in terms of "who we include and how they succeed" rather than "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/17/forget-varsity-blues-madness-lets-talk-about-students-who-cant-afford-college/" target="_blank">who we exclude</a>." We adopted an entrepreneurial <a href="https://president.asu.edu/read/higher-logic" target="_blank">operating model</a> that moves at the speed of technological and social change. We have launched initiatives such as <a href="https://www.instride.com/how-it-works/" target="_blank">InStride</a>, a platform for delivering continuing education to learners already in the workforce. We developed our own robust technological capabilities in ASU <a href="https://edplus.asu.edu/" target="_blank">EdPlus</a>, a hub for research and development in digital learning that, even before the current crisis, allowed us to serve more than 45,000 fully online students. We have also created partnerships with other forward-thinking institutions in order to mutually strengthen our capabilities for educational accessibility and quality; this includes our role in co-founding the <a href="https://theuia.org/" target="_blank">University Innovation Alliance</a>, a consortium of 11 public research universities that share data and resources to serve students at scale. </p> <p>For ASU, and universities like ASU, the "new normal" of a post-COVID world looks surprisingly like the world we already knew was necessary. Our record breaking summer 2020 <a href="https://asunow.asu.edu/20200519-sun-devil-life-summer-enrollment-sets-asu-record" target="_blank">enrollment</a> speaks to this. What COVID demonstrates is that we were already headed in the right direction and necessitates that we continue forward with new intensity and, we hope, with more partners. In fact, rather than "new normal" we might just say, it's "go time." </p>
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
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Manly Bands wanted to improve on mens' wedding bands. Mission accomplished.
- Manly Bands was founded in 2016 to provide better options and customer service in men's wedding bands.
- Unique materials include antler, dinosaur bones, meteorite, tungsten, and whiskey barrels.
- The company donates a portion of profits to charity every month.
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