Convocation 2007

“How Do They Do That, They’re So Small?”

Robert Klitgaard

President, Claremont Graduate University

Welcome to Convocation 2007. This is an occasion for a kind of “state of the union” presentation, summarizing where we are and looking ahead to this year’s priorities. In a word, the state of Claremont Graduate University is excellent.

We begin this academic year with the largest endowment we’ve ever had, the largest faculty, the biggest budget, the most externally funded research, and notable increases in both the size and the test scores of the entering class of students. One interesting fact: our endowment per full-time student is now higher than that of other great universities such as Brandeis, Tufts, and the University of Southern California.

All this is good news. The most important news is your news: your achievements, your new ideas, your plans. How many of you in the audience are new to CGU since our last convocation? [Hands are raised.] Welcome! Please meet someone new in the reception afterwards, and please you Claremont veterans in the audience, take the trouble to greet some of these new colleagues. I’ll now ask Provost Yi Feng to highlight a few of you newcomers.

[After Yi speaks, other senior staff make brief presentations on endowment, budget, new students, philanthropy, and research funding.]

In the hopes of stimulating even larger research efforts carried out with professors at the Claremont Colleges, this year we are allocating a significant portion of the Blais Fund as seed money for potentially multi-million dollar endeavors. This week, a committee comprised of Vice Provost Dean Gerstein and Associate Provosts Wendy Martin  and Annette Steinacker, made the following awards:

  • To John Angus, Ellis Cumberbatch, and the School of Mathematical Sciences for the initiation of the Claremont Summer Mathematical Collaborative. This could set the stage for the creation of a Claremont Center for the Mathematical Sciences, spanning all seven of the Claremont Colleges.
  • To Lisa Loop and David Drew in the School of Educational Studies for the development of the Claremont Colleges Institute for Math and Science Education, to improve the pipeline of math and science teachers, a crucial regional and national need.
  • To Paul Zak in collaboration with Michael Spezio, assistant professor of psychology at Scripps College, for a pilot study on “building generosity and trust via mindfulness training,” a first attempt to research on the neuroeconomics of good behavior with interventions that might encourage that behavior.

Please give a round of applause to these excellent scholars.

From Planning to Action

One highlight of the past year has been strategic planning, which might also be called learning and remembering. Learning about our opportunities and constraints, about trends and competitors. Remembering who we really are, what we’re passionate about.

It’s interesting that much about planning for our future involves recollecting our past. Socrates said that all learning is recollecting. To the absent-minded among us, this is a daunting proposition. Since we forget so readily, do we have to learn all the more?

We may draw solace from another philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, who noted that “The advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the first time.”

How have we been doing the learning and recollecting? In so many ways.

Remember the vital, feasible strategies for each School? Where you examined trends in students and jobs, in philanthropy, and in research. Where you took account of what leading universities are doing given those trends. And where you compiled what you’re really good at. How many of you participated in discussions of the vital, feasible strategies? [Show of hands.]

Remember “Imagine CGU.” Where over two hundred students, faculty, staff, and trustees spent a Saturday recognizing what we love about this University and pondering how we can create even more of it. How many of you participated in “Imagine CGU”? [Show of hands]

Remember “From Good to Great,” using the framework and benefiting from the assistance of Jim Collins. Many of us read Collins’ book. Then trustees, deans, senior staff, and some faculty had a two-day retreat in Huntington Beach on this theme, followed by two days for nine of us with Prof. Collins. How many of you participated in “From Good to Great.” [Show of hands]

How many of you participated in the ultra hypnosis? A show of hands? No one? Do you remember this picture?

No? None of you. Ah, that’s right, guess that was just me. I told you I have a bad memory.

In any case, throughout our strategic planning we have learned, or remembered, how proud we are of Claremont Graduate University. After “Imagine CGU,” Prof. Phil Dreyer observed, “I’ve been here for more than thirty years and I’ve never experienced people from all parts of the university coming together like this and sharing their delight in belonging to a wonderful intellectual community.” This is a fundamental and encouraging result. After the event, Prof. David Drew noted four factors that create a uniquely stimulating and supportive institution:

  • Outstanding students, including mid-career professionals who bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to the seminar table.
  • World-class scholars, who become the colleagues of CGU students.
  • The stunning physical beauty of our campus and the campuses of our partner institutions, the Claremont Colleges.
  • The ease of carrying forward creative and entrepreneurial ideas in a small, private university.

David summarized: “As a small, private, graduate-only university with a history and culture of collaboration, CGU is able both to provide graduate students with a transformative educational experience and to provide faculty with an environment that nurtures and fosters research that matters.”

Follow the Problem, and Convene Great Conversations that Matter

During strategic planning a fundamental question emerged. “Do we want widely accepted definitions of graduate education to be the ways we think about Claremont Graduate University?”

Our answer: “No.”

We don’t want to succumb to the powerful critiques of business-as-usual in doctoral education, in management, and in schools of education—and we don’t have to.

We don’t want to be bound by the usual rankings of departments and schools, which turn out to be highly correlated simply with the number of faculty members rather than per-professor excellence.

We don’t want to be confined to endless academic dialogues driven only by budgets, test scores, and inputs—we want to focus on impact.

Like other graduate institutions, Claremont Graduate University educates scholars, experts, and leaders and creates new knowledge through research. But we can take distinctive approaches that produce an outsized impact on the world. Our university has extraordinary opportunities to be distinctive and remarkable. We are nimble and free from many constraints faced by other research universities. We have the capability to make people ask, “How do they do that, they’re so small?”

Intellectual audacity has not been beaten out of our faculty and students. We still believe that rigor and addressing big questions can go together. Our tradition says, follow the problem, across disciplines if necessary and out into the world.

Our tradition also values talking and listening across the disciplines. As CGU’s first president, James Blaisdell, put it, “The center of a college is in great conversation, and out of the talk of college life springs everything else.” In our seminar rooms and through our research, we want to convene great conversations that matter. Great conversations that are civil and humane, and value diversity in many dimensions. Great conversations that matter, in that they aim to foster a better world.

Our special gifts are to follow the problem and to convene great conversations that matter. Let me give you a few examples.

Prof. Marc Redfield’s recent work is following the problem, in his case across borders and disciplines and back through time. Marc’s issue: the concept of terrorism, and what a so-called war against terror can unwittingly spawn. His method: historical and almost etymological, as he traces the term “terrorism” back to its origin in the 1790s. His result: we see our current situation through new eyes.

Marc Redfield

Prof. Tom Horan is convening great conversations that matter. He and his colleagues are investigating how information technology can transform health care. One example is emergency care. Tom isn’t satisfied just to do a study and publish it. He convenes practitioners and policymakers to make the research come alive, to transform it beyond what he alone could do into something new, something owned by others, something that makes a difference.

Tom Horan

School-Level Plans

Follow the problem. Convene great conversations that matter. Each of the eight schools of Claremont Graduate University has developed a strategy that emphasizes these themes.

  • The Drucker School is taking on “the managerial equivalent of global warming,” referring to widespread and increasing shortfalls in leadership, ethics, and management in the United States and elsewhere. The new Drucker Institute will spearhead outreach activities across the university, for example in convening leaders from business, government, civil society, and academia to take on some of the biggest challenges facing our region and our world.
  • The School of Educational Studies will be the focal point of a university-wide effort to redesign public education for the next generation.
  • The School of Behavioral and Organizational Sciences is a national leader in evaluation, studying issues from education to health care, from individual well-being to civic engagement.
  • The School of Religion wants each student to learn what it means to be inside a community of faith and also outside that community. We hope that the insider-outsider perspective can promote religious understanding and tolerance, one of the gravest challenges facing our world.
  • The School of Politics and Economics creates unusual synergies across those two fields to bring fresh perspectives to issues such as religion and politics; “predictive modeling” of crisis points in the world; trust, collaboration, and “moral markets”; and globalization.
  • The School of Information Systems and Technology explores the interfaces between people, information technology, and social progress. The School is examining how “design science” exemplified in information technology might contribute to “social design”—not done from on top or from afar, but through networks of stakeholders who are inventors and critics at once.
  • In “theoretical” work in the humanities, disciplinary silos tend to preclude richer understandings of times and places, which we hope our School of Arts and Humanities’ approach can stimulate. Our world needs the knowledge, sensitivities, and skills of the arts and humanities. Yet, few graduate programs enable their students to engage with problems that reach beyond disciplinary boundaries out to real-world problems and organizations. Ours does.
  • The School of Mathematical Sciences has positioned itself to advance areas of national need: computational biology, computational science, and industrial applied mathematics. It has pioneered “clinics,” where students and professors work for businesses or government agencies on problems of practical importance and theoretical interest. The School aims to spearhead a Claremont Center for the Mathematical Sciences that would span all seven of the Claremont Colleges.
  • CGU is exploring the creation of a School of Community and Global Health, which would address the behavioral and well-being aspects of some of tomorrow’s most challenging health issues.

In each of these areas, we emphasize distinctive programs of intellectual value and practical importance, rather than generic degrees in the standard disciplines.

Through our strategic planning we have reminded ourselves that we share the audacious goals of providing leadership in graduate education and making a difference on some of the region’s and the world’s most important problems. We have learned that we have the potential to achieve both.

Our faculty and students are not afraid to take on big questions. Let me give you a few examples. What could be a bigger challenge than religious conflict, driven by fundamentalists of one stripe or another? Prof. Vincent Wimbush is at the intellectual frontiers of this challenge—and he’s adding another element, that of ethnicity. Might his approach lead to new ways to understand each other, even where faith and race may now divide us?

Vincent Wimbush

How can diverse societies turn diversity into an advantage? How can institutions such as universities help? Prof. Daryl Smith is completing a pathbreaking book based on years of statistical research and case studies.

Daryl Smith

Another wonderful example is what Prof. Jeanne Nakamura calls “good work.” A key ingredient of successful institutions turns out to be mentoring, but few scholars have focused on effective mentoring and how to promote it.

Jeanne Nakamura

I love both these examples because Daryl and Jeanne are taking their research results out into the world, helping institutions work better.

Another example of theory and practice coinciding is in the work of Prof. Allen Omoto. Allen’s earlier research discovered that civic engagement makes a big difference in how well people with HIV/AIDS and their loved ones fare. Many professors would have stopped there. Allen didn’t. He decided to create a multi-year experiment on how to enhance civic engagement. His results are promising for many areas of public life.

Allen Omoto

Our task is to extend these contributions, and to enable even more of our professors and graduate students to make them. What we do so well—following the problem, great conversations that matter—is what the problems of our world require, what often facilitates academic progress, and what some of the ablest and most adventurous students in the world increasingly demand.

How do we enable even more of this work? Our planning leads to four priority areas: focus, leaders, organizing for greatness, and funds.


First, we need to focus on CGU’s distinctiveness. We have to be “more like us,” developing and exploiting our wonderful brands of “Claremont” and “Drucker.” We have to emphasize distinctive programs of intellectual value and practical importance, rather than generic degrees in the standard disciplines. Generic programs in our three graduate industries—management, education, and Ph.D.—have been roundly and in my view correctly critiqued. Without reviewing the critiques here, let me state a conclusion. In each of the three industries, CGU has the seeds of answers to the critiques. Enhancing what we do well will lead to our own success and provide national leadership for graduate education. This means deepening our transdisciplinary offerings and enabling our gifted graduate students to follow the problems that fascinate them across the usual academic boundaries. It means explicitly taking on some of the biggest problems facing our region. It means new mechanisms for convening people from outside the university, to work together on the biggest challenges facing our region and our world.

In focusing on what makes us special, information technology can help. An example of emphasizing what we do well is the Claremont Conversation.


Claremont Conversation

Among other things, the Claremont Conversation creates a virtual capability for collaboration in research and teaching—for great cyberspace conversations that matter.


We have crucial searches in the year ahead for professors, a dean, and a senior vice president for finance and administration. We will be adding to the Board of Trustees and to the advisory boards of the Schools. These additions will have a huge impact on our future. These people will be selected as leaders—eminent people who are passionate about what makes Claremont special and who know how to mobilize intellectual and financial resources.

Organizing for Greatness

Third, we need to organize for greatness. We need even stronger collaboration across our eight graduate schools and with the Claremont Colleges. We need to expand our research platforms and infrastructure. We need to balance our decentralized structure against economies of scale and scope.

The key idea is to facilitate the right amounts of collaboration and innovation through the right incentives, information flows, and an “enabling environment” of brainstorming, experimentation, and openness. I look forward to progress in such areas as new cross-School courses at the professional or masters level; joint degrees (including better management of those we have) and joint appointments; and at the Consortium level, to enhanced collaboration in teaching, research, and the library.

A major result of our strategic planning is that we will focus our attention on longer-term outcomes rather than on shorter-term inputs. How will we gauge our long-term success? Our strategic planning led us to three categories of outcomes:

  1. distinguished graduates,
  2. making significant contributions to big questions, and
  3. long-term financial health independence.

A faculty committee will address the Board of Trustees’ request for two or three measures for each of these categories.


This leads to the fourth priority, funding. As we pursue our lofty goals and show measurable progress, we will attract people and volunteers, connect our alumni, galvanize leaders outside the University, and attain financial support. Measurable progress will beget further progress. Full success will not be immediate, but it will come.

Funding also follows great ideas; we need to sharpen ours and share them. Each Dean, in consultation with the Advancement Office, will present what we have been calling a “made-to-stick” case statement to key stakeholders.   The purpose will be to get friends and primary donors on board with school planning and make it clear that they are our key allies in fundraising. Conveying our messages even better on the CGU website is another priority.  

Even as we raise funds every day, we are also building CGU’s fundraising capabilities.
  1. Relationships, relationships, relationships.  The Vice President for Advancement and the development staff will identify for the President and the Deans the key relationships that are essential to our fundraising success.  The Advancement office will then lead the way in making sure we (the President, Deans, Faculty, Provost, Trustees, friends) are seeing the “right” people consistently, including individuals, corporations, and foundations.
  2. We will recruit new trustees with the capacity to help transform the institution.
  3. We will enhance the Schools’ advisory boards with new powers and new members.
  4. Under the leadership of the VP for Advancement, we will continue to expand and professionalize our Advancement Office in partnership with the deans, the trustees, the provost, and the president.
  5. Under the leadership of the Vice Provost, we will continue to develop our capacity to carry out sponsored research, especially large-scale, collaborative projects on major issues.

The Future

What does our future look like? As we succeed, we’ll produce even more scholars, experts, and leaders who can take bold, practical approaches to the big challenges facing our society.

We’ll come up with new data, new analyses, new frameworks, and new questions, all of which we’ll share in the usual ways (publications) and in novel ways (those convenings of leaders from government, business, and civil society).

Through courses, publications, convenings, and partnerships, we’ll catalyze others to be more creative, more data-driven, and more connected, as they probe the limits of what to do, how to do it, and how to know if they succeed.

We’ll provide an example for other universities, big and small, private and public, who share the aspiration to advance knowledge and make a difference in the world. Because we’re nimble and adventurous, we can try things that other universities simply can’t. We can then share what we learn, hoping to instruct and inspire others.

These are lofty goals for a small institution. But they are perfectly suited to our history, our passions, and our capabilities. We’ve already moved a long way to address the shortcomings of the usual Ph.D. programs, the usual MBA programs, and the usual graduate schools of education. Our professors and students have already “followed the problem,” often with theoretically and practically remarkable results. Claremont has already been a place for convening great conversations, in the seminar room, at conferences, and with partners outside the university. Now we’re ready to take what we do to new levels of impact.

  • To educate a diverse mix of scholars, experts, and problem solvers with curricula that can inspire other universities.
  • To carry out research on the most important challenges facing our region and our world.
  • To convene and enable partners in government, business, and civil society to take on those challenges with honesty, creativity, and practical effect.
  • To build the financial foundation for lasting excellence.

So that when people discuss Claremont Graduate University, they will say, “They’re providing leadership in graduate education and making a difference on important social issues? How do they do that, they’re so small?”


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