Stanford distinguished speaker calls on higher ed to renew its mission

Graduate School of Education Professor Anthony Lising Antonio moderated a discussion with Nancy  Cantor, chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark. (Photo credit: John C. Liau)
Anthony Lising Antonio, associate professor of education at Stanford, left,  moderated a discussion with Nancy  Cantor, chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark. (Photo credit: John C. Liau)

Higher education leader NANCY CANTOR spoke May 29 on Stanford’s campus, urging that both public and private colleges and universities engage with their communities in meaningful ways.

Cantor, who received a doctorate in psychology from Stanford in 1978, currently serves as the chancellor of Rutgers University-Newark. She asserted that today’s faculty and administrators in higher education must “work with publics, for public purposes, in public.”

Her lecture, “The Looking Glass University: Listening to Strangers and Tending to Democracy,” was the 10th annual Anne and Loren Kieve Distinguished Speaker Series, hosted by the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity.

Cantor’s talk in Paul Brest Hall was followed by an open discussion with members of the Stanford community. The segment was moderated by ANTHONY LISING ANTONIO, associate professor of education and associate director of the Stanford Institute for Higher Education Research.

Cantor took aim at the longstanding notion of colleges and universities as “ivory towers,” arguing that they should instead step up as “anchor institutions” that collaborate with private and public enterprises and organizations to strengthen the immediate economy as well as the social mobility of local residents of all ethnicities and economic backgrounds.

Cantor said, “Not only do we have to learn how to listen and to partner, but we also must support and reward this collaborative, long-term work, the success of which may be hard to monetize and evaluate. Yet, that is what it will take to change the map of inequality and opportunity.”

Referencing a study by CEOs for Cities, a nonprofit in Chicago, Cantor said, “Across the 51 largest metro regions in the U.S., a 1 percent increase in post-secondary attainment rates of residents would translate into $154 billion in annual aggregate income across those regions.”

Cantor underscored how “cross-sector collaborations” in Newark have strengthened local higher education graduation rates and social mobility, as well as improved Newark’s economy.

In order to create an effective and enduring collaboration, Cantor emphasized the importance of listening to those who best know the lay of the land.

Among several working examples Cantor held up was GlassRoots, a nonprofit organization with strong ties to Rutgers and a recipient of generous corporate and government grants. GlassRoots teaches the science, art and business behind glassmaking to youth as a way to revitalize Newark’s art and education scene.

Such a “barn-raising” process helps link together higher education, private enterprise and communities, she said. A well-educated and socially mobile community can better attract talented faculty, students and business opportunities.

Cantor advocated a renewed focus on the Morrill Land-Grand Act, which benefited Rutgers University and other universities across the country in the Civil War era and beyond. This legislation committed the nation to educating the children of agricultural and industrial workers, as well as linking universities to the economic situations of their states.

“We need a new Morrill era,” Cantor said.

The Kieve Lecture, supported by Stanford alum and CCSRE advisory board member Loren Kieve,’69 and his wife, Anne, invites scholars, intellectuals and artists to campus to address critical issues involving race and ethnicity. Recent speakers include National Book Award winner and writer MAXINE HONG KINGSTON and Pulitzer Prize-winning author JUNOT DIAZ.