Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Lawrence Bacow (President of Tufts University) and Mark Gearan (President of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva). Bacow is the out-going and Gearan the in-coming, chair of the Talloires Network steering committee. Speaking with both of them proved to be a great opportunity for reflection of the Talloires Network’s progress thus far, as well as to determine a vision for its future.
In a time where the value of education is being scrutinized – with high university fees and a graduate work force that struggles to find employment, universities are increasing having to display to communities and stakeholders the value they hold not only to their students, but to society as a whole. The Talloires Network aims to provide a platform for universities to share their best practice standards and implementation methods.
When I asked Bacow what single lesson he had taken from his time as chair he said, “the power of an idea”. Five and a half years ago, at the initial signing of the Talloires declaration, there were twenty-nine universities from twenty-three countries. Now there are two hundred and twenty universities from sixty countries. This illustrates the transformation of the roles tertiary institutions are taking, and indicates the need for them to create more value. And ultimately, the Talloires Network (through the leadership of Bacow) has provided a platform for these institutions to collaborate and become more engaged universities.
When talking to Gearan about his vision for the future of the Talloires Network he said that the most important thing was to take what Bacow had already created and continue to enable the Network’s growth. Gearan hinted that there were a few ideas he had for the Network but stated that he would consult his colleagues on the steering committee first. This truly displays the spirit in which the Network is run – through collaboration and consultation.
Over the period of the conference, almost every speaker attributed the success of the Talloires Network to Bacow’s leadership. He has managed to grow the Network to a phenomenal size in a short amount of time. Gearan admits that he has big shoes to fill but as previous assistant-to-the-president (during President Clinton’s term of office) and ex-head of the Peace Core, it seems that he is more than capable of filling them.