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Reading list

December 2012
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Reading list

Books and articles that matter

By Dean Andy Boynton

Sometimes, the best approach to complex challenges and problems is to put competing arguments on the table and hammer out solutions that combine them. That’s the approach New York Times columnist David Brooks urged Democrats and Republicans in Washington to take as they seek solutions to the country’s fiscal crisis. It’s a strategy, as Brooks noted, that is impressively described in The Bargain, a paper by Jim Kessler, Jon Cowan, and Ed Gerwin, published by the centrist Washington think tank Third Way.

Starting from the position that we need real GDP growth rate to return to the 3.3% level the country sustained for 60 years after World War II, the authors look at issues from education policy and infrastructure development to entitlement spending and tax policy.

They suggest a series of “grand bargains” that balance rival Republican and Democratic solutions to the country’s major domestic problems: the budget deficit, entitlements, education policy, infrastructure investment, immigration, trade, and tax policies. For example, in the area of education policy, they say Republicans must agree to more federal spending on schools while Democrats must accept more rigorous performance standards for teachers and students.

I’m not endorsing their specific recommendations. I like this paper because it shows how organizations—governments, businesses, or universities—can make progress in confronting polarizing issues. As Brooks wrote, “The more you put on the table, the more trading is possible, the better the atmosphere and the more you might get done.”

Having the best data on the table enables leaders to engage in real idea hunting, and to craft solutions that take a variety of views into account. At Boston College, I am part of a small team recently charged with revitalizing the University’s undergraduate core curriculum. Our leadership team is intellectually diverse, and made up of the dean of Arts and Sciences, who is a Civil War historian, a biologist, a sociologist of consumerism in contemporary society, a 16th and 17th century English literature scholar, a geologist, a philosopher specializing in pragmatism and phenomenology, an associate dean who directs our Academic Advising Center, and me, the dean of the business school. Our approaches reflect widely different disciplines, intellectual experiences, and ideas about the learning process and the purpose of college education. We are committed to learning from each other, and to encouraging faculty and academic leaders to express their views. (We recently set up a wiki to get their ideas to the table.) As The Bargain illustrates, we should lead by considering and combining competing interests; and by forging a grand bargain that strengthens our community and assures an even higher level of academic excellence at Boston College.