Bravman, Bucknell Continue to Lead the National Conversation on Higher Ed
September 11, 2023
by Mike Ferlazzo
Bucknell President John Bravman is annually the moderator of The Presidents Dinner. Photo by Emily Paine, Communications
They may not have solved higher education's most pressing questions, but the 13 presidents from private, prestigious institutions who gathered in Washington's famed National Press Club Sept. 7 for The Presidents Dinner — hosted by Bucknell University and moderated by President John Bravman — had robust discussion with a record 28 members of the national higher education news media in attendance.
And because higher ed leaders have been contending with a number of critical issues this academic year — from the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action in admissions practices, to affordability and access, to the impact of artificial intelligence on college campuses, and even validation of the higher education itself — Bravman concluded that the nearly two-hour discussion could have gone on for several more hours.
Row 1 (L to R): Lori S. White, DePauw University; Tania Tetlow, Fordham University; Joseph J. Helble, Lehigh University; Paula A. Johnson, Wellesley College; Ed Wingenbach, Hampshire College; Robin Holmes-Sullivan, Lewis & Clark College. Row 2: Ed Feasel, Soka University of America; David Wippman, Hamilton College; Michael A. Elliott, Amherst College; David R. Harris, Union College; E. LaBrent Chrite, Bentley University; John Bravman, Bucknell University. Missing: L. Song Richardson, Colorado College. Photo by Emily Paine, Communications
In addition to Bravman, participating presidents included:
Michael A. Elliott, Amherst College
E. LaBrent Chrite, Bentley University
L. Song Richardson, Colorado College
Lori S. White, DePauw University
Tania Tetlow, Fordham University
David Wippman, Hamilton College
Ed Wingenbach, Hampshire College
Joseph J. Helble, Lehigh University
Robin Holmes-Sullivan, Lewis & Clark College
Ed Feasel, Soka University of America
David R. Harris, Union College
Paula A. Johnson, Wellesley College
Members of the news media represented ABC News, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Conversation, The Economist, Higher Ed Dive, Inside Higher Ed, Marketplace, MarketWatch, The New York Times, Open Campus, PBS NewsHour, POLITICO, Trusteeship Magazine, U.S. News & World Report, University Business, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.
SCOTUS Affirmative Action Ruling
L. Song Richardson articulates a point during the dinner conversation. Photo by Emily Paine, Communications
The Supreme Court's June ruling to strike down affirmative action in college admissions was fresh in the minds of both presidents and news media alike. It was understandably the first question and generated the longest discussion of the evening among presidents.
While they all agreed on the commitment to continue recruiting diverse student populations, there were differences on just how to go about that in the wake of the ruling. Colorado College's Richardson even suggested looking beyond the ruling to the bigger picture.
"Losing the tool of affirmative action was problematic; I am a beneficiary of affirmative action," she said. "And yet, part of me is happy about it, because we have been so complacent tinkering around the edges of what I believe is a broken business model of higher ed. So even the legacy admissions question, to me, is tinkering around the edges."
Bentley's Chrite concurred that while he may not have agreed with the decision, it may have forced his institution to look for more meaningful solutions in its admissions practices.
"Personally I was disappointed in the Supreme Court decision, but I felt intellectually that it was probably both necessary and inevitable and would force us to take a more innovative, forward-thinking approach," he said.
E. LaBrent Chrite contributes to the discussion. Photo by Emily Paine, Communications
"As the language and the discourse [at Bentley] have evolved, we have had less interest in the weaponization of DEI on the left as we do on the right," he continued. "I think this has been a really wonderful and productive opportunity for us to reframe conversations and has paid off immensely for us."
The Higher Purpose
Through all of the questions over issues higher education faces, Bravman agreed that there are no easy solutions. But he reminded all participants of the purpose of higher education and the profound life-changing impact it has on the students it serves. He drove home that point at the end of the evening.
"I'll end with two quotes that come to mind: 'If you think education is expensive, try ignorance,' and 'Education is what you have left when you have forgotten everything you’ve learned,'" he said. "I think those are very hard concepts to explain to a skeptical public, but I believe in both of those things very deeply."
Bravman also reaffirmed Bucknell's commitment to continue hosting The Presidents Dinner annually on the first Thursday of September in Washington. The next one will be held at the National Press Club Thursday, Sept. 5, 2024.