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Highlights from the Convening of Texas University Leaders by the Bush Institute and SMU

Article by William McKenzie March 5, 2014 //   5 minute read

Here are some takeaways from panel discussions the Bush Institute and SMU hosted Tuesday with university leaders from around Texas:

First, when we think about the economic potential of North America after NAFTA, we need to think across several strands. It may be tempting to think only in terms of the massive energy boom or free trade. But the fact is the future of North America is also wrapped up in the right immigration policies, the development of human capital and the way in which we manage our natural resources.

Those were some of the themes that the domestic panel hit on during its 40-minute presentation. The panelists included David Chard, dean of SMU’s Simmons School of Human Development, Michael McMahan, who directs operations at the Bush Institute and has worked from the beginning on the Institute’s economic growth initiative, and Colonel Miguel Howe, director of the Bush Institute’s Military Service Initiative.

I moderated the discussion, and was struck by how North America has great assets in its energy reserves but major challenges in how the countries of Mexico, Canada and the U.S. develop their people. That probably sounds basic, but policies like developing effective teachers and strong school leaders have a huge ripple effect. They help determine the growth of our region of the world.

Immigration also is a major part of this challenge.  And not just immigration flows. There is a huge nexus between immigration and education. It’s all about how schools can best assimilate first or second generation students. As Chard put it, we need to celebrate bilingualism so that we can have a more seamless merging of cultures.

Not easy. Not many countries have done it right. But we have to keep working on it.

The same is true with integrating post 9/11 veterans into our society. Many have strong technical skills and the ability to solve problems on the run. But they also need that first job. Or universities need to work with them in helping them integrate onto campuses. Howe pointed out that the civilian-military divide is particularly strong on campuses, leaving returning vets feeling isolated.

Second, empowering people with democratic rights, proper health care and professional opportunities is the way in which developing societies can move ahead. That, too, sounds basic, but, my gosh, what hard work that often is in countries.

The second panel got into this reality during its presentation on international issues. The discussion also lasted 40 minutes. The panelists included Charity Wallace, director of the Bush Institute’s women’s initiative, Dr. Eric Bing, director of the Bush Institute’s global health initiative, and Linda Eads, SMU’s associate provost, director of its Hunt Leadership Scholars Program and a mentor in the Institute’s women’s initiative.

Wallace and Eads explained how the Institute’s work on mentoring women in Egypt and Tunisia is about creating networks that help support each other. The mentoring work is not about what we can do for them, so to speak, but what they can do for themselves and each other. Stay tuned for more about this as the fellows for this year from Egypt and Tunisia visit SMU, the Bush Institute and other places around the U.S. over the next few weeks.

Bing explained how fighting cervical cancer was selected as a goal for the Institute’s global health initiative. The bottom line is women in developing nations like Zambia will have no freedom if they are limited with this often overlooked disease.

As they talked, including about the new Liberty and Leadership Forum that the Institute’s human freedom initiative will convene with SMU this summer, it also struck me how partnerships are exploding. For instance, look at the work that gets done through foundations, school districts and governments working together in the field of education.

That’s just one example. Collaboration is also needed to develop the means to, say, provide adequate water supplies. It would be easy for energy producers and agricultural producers to square off over water rights, But they both need water and the best answers come with providing some shared solution.

Again, not easy. And many silos still exist. But partnerships are a big part of how we will solve problems at home and abroad.