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Vanderbilt's Politically Incorrect Chancellor Bucks the System

September 1, 2002

Having lived nearly twenty years in California, I am sensitive to trend setting issues that start out small, but take on a life of their own, and soon become revolutionary change.

In my recent articles on Tennessee politics, I stated that the anti-income tax fever has the potential to seed a "no more tax increases" revolution here and in other states. Now I see another Tennessee based revolutionary seed forming: this time not in politics but in a more conservative-less institution - colleges.

In February 2000, Gordon Gee, in his second year as Chancellor of Brown University, a position which he wanted to keep for at least 8-10 years, abruptly resigned and took the chancellor position at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.

The Brown Board of Trustees and faculty were first stunned and then later adapted a "good riddance" attitude. Gee only stated that Brown was "not exactly the right fit".

As a Vanderbilt alumnus, I, like many others I spoke with, was confused and unsure of what was going on until I noticed in a local newspaper a statement from a Tennessee student at Brown. His evaluation of the situation was Gee was too conservative and traditional for Brown and would be better suited to Vanderbilt.

Now that got my attention. I might like this Gee fella!

I began to like him even more after I attended a small local alumni meeting where Gee spoke during his first year at Vanderbilt. Someone asked why he so abruptly left Brown. His response can be summed up with this: At Brown the political correctness (my words) so dominated the curriculum and the administration of the school that it had stifled debate/change and created hostility to any disagreement. Gee sees debate and disagreement as traditional cornerstones of the college experience.

In his 1st faculty meeting Gee said "I want you to feel able to debate me, and to disagree with me. ... I expect you to do it, and after that dissent, I expect us to work together on a common course of action." If actually followed, this is anathema to the institutionalized politically correctness found on most campuses.

A recent Wall Street Journal front-page article cited Gee's efforts in attracting more Jewish students to Vanderbilt by providing more Jewish social opportunities on campus. On the surface this appears to be liberal university diversity run amuck. But with careful reading of the article, one finds the opposite objective: admissions based on skills not skin color, ethnic background, etc. Nowhere does Gee promote lowering standards to attract more Jewish students. Gee's main objective is to improve the university by improving the quality of student coming to Vanderbilt. He found that the school was not doing a good job in attracting students from the group of high school students with one of the highest test score averages in the country? Jewish students. Smart marketing says you provide benefits for the types of customers you wish to attract. Gee does not appear to care what your skin color, ethnic background, hardship index is as long as you are a high performing student. He also adds that his experience tells him that every skin color and ethnic group has high performing students and he wants them at Vanderbilt. I suspect Gordon Gee would build a "meat and three" restaurant on campus if rural southern high school students - as a group - had the highest test scores in the country!

Most of Gee's college revolution - attracting a cross section of students based on skills, not skin color and ethnicity - is still in the smoldering stages. In rightturns.com's next edition I will describe the one area where it is beginning to show flames: college sports.

Follow-up to last edition's article "Coming Soon: The End of Al Gore's Political Career?" Several readers have asked how can someone help Janice Bowling hammer the wooden stake into Al Gore's political career, i.e. win her Congressional race against an Al Gore supported opponent for Al Gore's old seat. Very simple: go to
http://www.bowlingforcongress.org/ . I understand through very reliable local sources that the race is currently neck-to-neck.


Sam T. Harper graduated cum laude from Vanderbilt University.  Following a tour in the US Navy and a stint as Operations Manager at Roadway Express, he earned his MBA from Stanford University Graduate School of Business.  He was a contributor to “In Search of Excellence,” the best selling business book of all time.  Sam was also Manager, Economic Planning & Analysis at Sohio Petroleum, Partner and Chief Financial Officer at investment-banking firm Bridgemere Capital, and Chief Operating Officer of the Institute for Contemporary Studies, a San Francisco Bay Area-based think tank and international publishing firm that specializes in self-governing and entrepreneurial public policy.  Sam was a chairman of the San Francisco Republican party and the GOP co-host of California Political Review on KALW-FM in San Francisco.  Sam is currently the co-owner of the Tennessee based Institute for Local Effectiveness Training, LLC – a management consulting, training, and coaching firm.