A simple suggestion for Guilford College

Guilford College with a peace sign

Guilford College made me a pacifist.

This wasn’t hard, under the circumstances. My four years there were the last of the 1960s, a stretch when the Vietnam War was already bad and getting much worse. Nonviolence was also a guiding principle of the civil rights movement, which was very active and local at the time, and pulled me in as well. I was also eligible for the draft if I dropped out. Risk of death will focus one’s mind.

As a Quaker college, this was also Guilford’s job. Hats off: I learned a lot, and enjoyed every second of it.

These days, however, Guilford—like lots of other colleges and universities—is in trouble. Scott Galloway and his research team at NYU do a good job of sorting out every U.S. college’s troubles here:

Look for Guilford in the “struggle” quadrant, top left. That one contains “Tier-2 schools with one or more comorbidities, such as high admit rates (anemic waiting lists), high tuition, or scant endowments.”

So I’d like to help Guilford, but not (yet) with the money they ask me for. (Constantly. Relentlessly.) Instead, I have some some simple advice: teach peace. Become the pacifist college. Hundreds of colleges and universities are about “a transformative, practical, and excellent education” that produces “critical thinkers in an inclusive, diverse environment,” guided by values such as “community, equality and integrity” and emphasize “the creative problem-solving skills, experience, enthusiasm, and international perspectives necessary to promote positive change in the world.” But almost none are about what’s buried in that roster of typicalities on Guilford’s Mission and Core Values page: simplicity and peace. Teach those and you get all that other stuff anyway.

Any institution can change in a zillion different ways; but the one thing it can’t change is where it comes from. Staying true to that is the most high-integrity thing a college can do. By teaching peace, and being the pacifist college it has always been, Guilford will align with its origins and stand alone in a field that will inevitably grow—and must for our species is to survive and thrive in a world on the brink of WWIII.

Yes, there are other Quaker colleges, and colleges started by Quakers. (Twenty by this count). And they include some names bigger than Guilford’s: Cornell, Bryn Mawr, Haverford, Johns Hopkins. But none are positioned to lead on peace and pacifism, and only a few could be. (Earlham for sure. Maybe Wilmington.) The position is open, and Guilford should take it.

Fortuitously, a few days ago I got an email from Ed Winslow, chair of Guilford’s Board of Trustees, that begins with this paragraph:

The Board of Trustees met on Dec. 15 to consider the significant feedback we have received and for a time of discernment. In that spirit, we have asked President Moore to pause implementation of the program prioritization while the Board continues to listen and gather input from those of you who wish to offer it. We are hearing particularly from alumni who are offering fundraising ideas. We are also hearing internally and from those in the wider education community who are offering ideas as well.

So that’s my input: take the Peace Position. Own it. Be it. Now, when it is needed most.

For fundraising I suggest an approach I understand is implemented by a few other institutions (I’m told Kent State is one): tell alumni you’re done shaking them down for money all the time and instead ask only to be included in their wills. I know this is contrary to most fundraising advice; but I believe it will work—and does, for some schools. Think about it: knowing emails from one’s alma mater aren’t almost always appeals for cash is a giant benefit by itself.

In case anyone at Guilford wonders who I am and why my advice ought to carry some weight, forgive me while I waive modesty and present these two facts:

  1. On the notable Guilford alumni list, I’m at the top in search results. I even beat Howard Coble, Tom Zachary, M.L. Carr, Bob Kauffman and World B. Free.
  2. I was also a success in the marketing business (much of it doing positioning such as I suggest here) for several decades of my professional life.

Peace, y’all.

[Update, 5 April 2022: It has been more than a year since I posted this, and right now, thanks to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we may already be in World War III. Seems the timing for what I suggest here is better than ever. And I’m still glad to talk with President Fambry (who just arrived at the beginning of this year—congrats to him on the appointment) about what I propose here.]

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