As viewed over the long arc of history, there are lessons to be learned from both pandemics and vaccines that inform our understanding of global prosperity. Good health and longevity are cornerstones of prosperity.
Seventy years ago, in 1952, polio cases exploded in the USA. Grade school students felt the brunt as they were kept at home, unable to play with friends and kept out of swimming pools, all because the consequences were so dire. If it sounds reminiscent of 2020 and COVID-19, it should. Fortunately, the iron lung had been invented to aid breathing for the sick. Unfortunately, there were not enough. People died. Bodies were deformed.
In 1955, Jonas Salk created a vaccine, and became a hero. In a televised broadcast he was asked who owned the patents to the vaccine. He famously answered, “Well, the people I would say. There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”
It took almost no time for a fearful community to accept the vaccine. Shortly thereafter, in the spirit of continuous improvement, Sabine refined the vaccination process. Children returned to playing together and swimming.
But this was not an American story. Polio did not respect national boundaries. Nor did the rapid vaccine adoption in the USA describe a global response. Vaccinations cost money. Distributing vaccine is a supply chain challenge. People are not all receptive to the good intentions of a “Western remedy.” The United States and the United Nations and other organizations championed a global response, funded a global response, and ultimately achieved most of the goal: decades later.
By 1979, the U.S. was declared polio-free. Yet globally, in 1980, only 22 percent of one-year-olds were vaccinated against polio. This increased to a coverage of 86 percent of the world’s one-year-olds in 2015. Cases of polio have fallen dramatically over time. In 1980, there were over 50,000 reported cases of polio worldwide. By 2021, this number was below 1,000 with various small estimates from different sources.
In his book “Enlightenment Now,’’ Steven Pinker focuses on public health and childhood mortality improvements such as the Global Polio Eradication Initiative as examples of global improvements in many aspects of life. By 2015, polio was very rare outside of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. Germ theory, antibiotics, vaccines, and other medical interventions substantially increased life expectancies in the last century. In 1840, life expectancy was about 40 years; in 2020 it had risen to 75 years. Reduced childhood mortality was the major explanation.
In this context, an article in The New York Times (July 16, 2022) headlined ‘Sharp Drop in Global Childhood Vaccinations Imperils Millions of Lives’ catches our attention. A vaccination rate of 94 percent is generally thought sufficient to create herd immunity. From 2019 to 2021 vaccination rates for DTP3 fell five points to 81 percent. While UNICEF continues to be a major supplier of vaccine addressing a broad array of diseases, people must engage with programs to make a difference. There is reason to fear that the loss of herd immunity across an array of childhood diseases will allow them to remerge.
The 1918 flu epidemic, and the 2020 COVID pandemic both briefly shortened the pattern of increased life expectancy. Decreases in global herd immunities may do so again. In recent days, NPR, the AP, The Washington Post and The New York Times have all featured news of the first polio case in the U.S. in almost a decade.
How does all of this affect the UConn School of Business? It reminds us of the importance of history, of understanding human behavior and decision making, and of the global interconnections of lives today. Our students take about 50 percent of their coursework in the liberal arts and sciences. We seek to educate global citizens, as well as prepared professionals. The AACSB, our accrediting body for high aspiration business schools, refers to our collective mission as supporting global prosperity. It is important to frame that goal as a quality-of-life goal, not a personal wealth goal.
After more than two years of virtual living without benefit of vacation, we landed in the UK for holiday. It created an opportunity to read (“Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis,’’ by Jared Diamond) and explore history up close and personal.
Diamond’s book explores crisis and change in seven countries over many decades: Finland, Japan, Chile, Indonesia, Germany, Australia and the USA. A notable quote is: “Fundamental to any functioning democracy are widespread literacy, recognition of the right to oppose government policies, tolerance of different points of view, acceptance of being outvoted, and government protection of those without political power.”
These words evoke the notion of the Scottish Reformation, a process that led Scotland in the late 1500s to grow a Protestant tradition and move away from Catholicism. It led to a commitment to universal education. Schools were built and the university system was reformed.
“Upheaval” and Reformation created a fitting backdrop for exploring the area around Stirling, the former center of Scotland, and to visit the nearby Innerpeffray Library. Innerpeffray is the first free lending library in Scotland dating to 1680. The library kept careful records and today many people visit to learn what their relatives from centuries ago were reading and learning. Lara Haggerty is the Keeper of Books, a title associated with the library for hundreds of years. She oversees the 5,000 titles still managed in the library. As Lara points out, “Scotland became a real literary nation. This place was a little spark that started the flame burning.”
Lara shared some wonderful stories with us. We held some very old books, including “Cookery and Pastry’’ as taught by Mrs. MacIver (1787).
Reading that early cookbook, I should not have been surprised that it did not include cooking temperatures and times, since cooking was not done in devices where you could specify the temperature. It was surprising that recipes did not include quantities of ingredients, and the typesetting was strange. It seemed that there were two versions of the letter “s.” One of them was much like this “s” and one more akin to an “f”. Lara explained that it was a response to early printing presses where the traditional “s” had a tendency to attract blobs of ink and become illegible, especially when adjacent to another “s” or “e” or “a.” The larger “f” form did not suffer that problem, so this innovation made books more legible.
Their records allowed them to learn that the most popular books dealt with history, and many people were frequent borrowers. She shared the history of one borrower, John Barclay, who as a young man read history, went on to begin study as a minister, and then shifted his focus to natural science. He ultimately became a professor in the university system. As Lara and I talked, I imagined a borrower bringing a book home and during the month or so that books typically were outstanding, the borrower and the family would have read, perhaps together, perhaps out-loud. They would have discussed the material and have become the educated electorate needed for Scotland’s reformation and for Diamond’s notion of an effective democracy.
When we visited, they were celebrating innovation, and had on display a working model of a passive heat-dissipating device, a close-cycle heat engine, developed by one of their readers and patented in 1816. It was created by Robert
Stirling, hence its name, “Stirling Engine.” Over the years, refinement and redesign have made it faster, better and cheaper. It is now an element for temperature management in some laptops.
And of course, the very existence of Innerpeffray arose because of the invention of the printing press. The printing press was introduced around 1450 and was adopted rapidly. Jeremiah Dittmar of the London School of Economics has demonstrated that about half of the 100 largest European cities adopted printing technology. Early on it was a craft and early cities that adopted it not only grew the printing activity but had significantly higher, broad economic growth than non-adopting cities. Indeed, Innerpeffray Library was only possible because the printing press had enabled large-scale production of books at “affordable” prices. By 1680, David Drummand, the founder, had collected a library which could and did support the reading needs of a community.
The Scottish Reformation and Innerpeffray Library seem to exemplify Diamond’s quote above: “Fundamental to any functioning democracy are widespread literacy, recognition of the right to oppose government policies, tolerance of different points of view, acceptance of being outvoted, and government protection of those without political power.” At UConn, and in the School of Business, we champion free inquiry and access to information.
It was great to explore how those themes played out hundreds of years ago. Today, there are those who want to ban books and control information, but Innerpeffray exemplifies the right idea: share the books, encourage reading and exploring ideas. Who knows from whom the next revolutionary ideas will come? Reading and debating will prime the pump. I am privileged to work with faculty, staff, students, and alumni who believe in ideas, and in investing today for a better tomorrow.
Reflecting from March 21, the global order is much changed. Three weeks ago, Putin did the unthinkable and invaded Ukraine. He justified it as a defensive act to protect Russia from NATO and liberate people of Russian descent who are “trapped” in Ukraine. His justifications have been dismissed by the world community and seem to be increasingly challenged among Russians. He has driven the NATO nations together and focused them on supporting Ukraine. The people of Ukraine have united in vigorous defense of their nation, with unexpected success.
As the dean of a business school, I am particularly struck by the importance of leadership in this conflict, by the power of commitment and community, by global interdependence and by the role of the supply chain in supporting initiatives.
Ukraine’s President Zelensky has emerged as a remarkable, inspirational leader. His early words ring out: “I need ammunition, not a ride,’’ he responded when offered assistance in escape to personal safety. Early predictions of Russian dominance, based on the assembled forces and weaponry, and Putin’s history in Crimea and elsewhere, have needed constant revision. Zelensky has been a powerful image on the world stage. He reflects the bravery and determination of the Ukrainian people and has also focused their energy and channeled their courage. Zelensky has been in the streets in Ukraine and in the halls of government worldwide, consistently communicating the Ukrainian commitment to self-rule, their willingness to die for their country, and their need for support from the world community.
President Putin has emerged as an isolated powermonger with an inflated image of Russian power and his own invincibility. His control of the Russian media continues to limit the awareness of people in Russia to the actions in Ukraine. Nonetheless, protests in Russia against the war belie his efforts to frame it as a humanitarian mission. Desertions by Russian soldiers, who say they did not know why they were in Ukraine killing civilians and inflicting massive destruction, underscore his leadership failure. It may be that his decision to invade and his failure to succeed on his timetable were due to massively inaccurate feedback from his subordinates and advisors. It appears that he overestimated the readiness of his forces and underestimated the strength and commitment of the Ukrainian people¬—additional indicators of ineffective leadership.
Commitment and Community
As the dean of a business school, I have my own lens on these moments: our students. Speaking with four Ukrainian students at UConn has afforded me a new, more personal perspective. These four students share a pattern of immigration to the U.S., while cherishing their Ukrainian roots: language, culture and family. They talk regularly with family still in Ukraine, hoping they are alive, and knowing they are suffering. One of our students shared that her grandmother was wearing four pairs of pants to remain warm in a basement in a city without heat and power. It makes the suffering excruciatingly real. This human spirit unites the Ukrainian people. They are a family. They would die for each other and, sadly, they are dying for each other.
Worldwide, people are sharing their pain. Poland has welcomed some 1.5 million refugees. Another 1.5 million have found other homes. The world is opening doors for the refugees and provided resources for their defense. Providing financial aid is not surprising, but the size and broad sourcing of that support expands the notion of a community of nations. The efforts to find ways to deliver high-tech defensive weapons goes beyond the financial. Veterans from many countries are converging on Ukraine to join the defense. They are from all corners of the world, ranging from Afghanistan to the USA.
Ukrainian suffering and Putin’s flaunting of international law have created an unexpected and compelling unity among nations. He who sought to weaken NATO, has ultimately strengthened it. He who doubted the possibility of collaboration among nations is facing a united force taking action. Trade restrictions are understood as a normal course. But these sanctions are massive, coordinated, and aligned among nations. Three weeks ago, closing off international banking was not seriously expected because it required complex agreements. It is now in place and is only one example of fast, powerful and unprecedented collective action. The United Nations just held its first emergency session since 1982, reprimanding Russia and directing its military to cease fighting and withdraw. Out of 193 members, 141 deplored Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, with 35 members abstaining.
The current sanctions have raised awareness. For example, most aircraft flown by Russian airlines are rented, with ownership in the hands of western companies. The massive disruption in the value of the ruble and restrictions on currency flows imperil corporate Russia’s ability to pay their bills. Some global owners of aircraft will lose in this instance, but their losses pale beside the losses and human suffering in Ukraine.
Equally unexpected was the action by many global companies to withdraw from the Russian economy. Many believe that the corporate world is “profits first and profits only,” but the actions of many to withdraw their services from Russia belie that conventional wisdom. It is hard to know if it is simply a principles-based decision to do the right thing; or is it a risk- minimizing decision driven by fear of corporate Russia’s illiquidity and her unreliability in a world-wide, rule-of-law environment?
As a business school we are interested in supply chains, and it is instructive to realize that Russia has overreached. Russia has supply chain problems. In Ukraine, the Russian military don’t have fuel where needed. They don’t have enough food for their soldiers. Some speculate they don’t have enough cigarettes or vodka. Such deficits are leadership breakdowns. Russian troops are not committed to their mission. Troops were told they will be welcomed as liberators and instead face unrelenting resistance. Russia has under-performed and morale is crumbling. Strategists disagree on the core reasons. Some suggest that the 20-mile parade of weaponry was under-supported and doomed from the start.
The last decades have been years of enormous global growth. Measured by human longevity, violence, educational opportunity, etc., the progress is real, although it has been accompanied by growing economic gaps between the richest and poorest. Putin’s war underscores the interrelated nature of economic activity worldwide. His country is a classic example of the disparity between rich and poor, where he and his oligarchs have extracted huge wealth from their country. Worldwide prosperity is built on the rule of law and global engagement. We are witnessing how a rogue nation can disrupt those relationships, but also how a common enemy, in conjunction with the inspirational leader of Ukraine, has galvanized the power of the global economy.
We stand at a moment in history.
UConn has long been focused on human rights; and the Business School proudly supports a Business and Human Rights Initiative. Our University-wide focus on Human Rights grew out of the Nuremberg Trials of war criminals. There are war crimes underway in Ukraine. We must, and will, engage in these issues through our teaching, our research, and our actions.
As we unite as a world to resolve this crisis, we must also engage to improve our collective future. Within the business school we are focused on efficient allocation of resources, but also on how leaders can make a difference, how teams can be more effective, and how individuals can be motivated and supported to reach their highest potential. The traditional business topics remain relevant, but today’s classrooms are richer for the attention to technology, to coding, to branding, to social media. The list is long. We focus also on CSR (corporate social responsibility), ESG (environmental, social, and governance) issues, and the UN’s Global Compact. These and other world views are inspiring our current students, their future employers, and the future companies these students will launch. My sincere hope is that they will build a more peaceful world with less war, brutality, destruction, and fear.
After a decade or so of study, of listening to our students and corporate friends, we launched our new, fully online MBA program in Fall 2021. Our experience with COVID and with this new program has led us to fully rethink our MBA programs. Our new approach is captured in the phrase: MBA Your Way. It places the learner, the student, at the center of the experience and properly grants the student enormous flexibility in selecting how to earn the degree.
The easiest way to envision the change is to realize that there were previously three programs and, once a person engaged in one program (Online, Part-Time or Full Time), it was hard to take courses in the other programs. We are removing the artificial barriers between those programs. We are in the process of modifying the UConn course catalog and admissions materials to reflect this, but operationally it is effective now.
Course modality no longer matters. Accounting, taught face-to-face or online, daytime or nighttime, synchronous or asynchronous, is still accounting. Students must still have proper preparation, but how they prefer to learn is up to them.
Many of our students are adult learners who must blend work and study. They sometimes prefer face-to-face learning and sometimes need the flexibility of online or mixed mode delivery. We want them to be free to integrate their learning into their lives. Thus, we will often offer the same content in multiple formats.
It is also true that some content is well suited to a traditional 15-week semester with two classes each week. Other content is well suited to three-hour sessions on consecutive days. MBA Your Way is constructed to make offering such options easy and transparent.
We will be holding open sessions to discuss these changes and updating our website to communicate about them, including frequently asked questions. One question which has emerged already is: what about existing students in the current two-year, full-time MBA program? We will continue to offer the courses and opportunities that our existing students expect and need to complete their degrees. They will be fully served, while we re-shape the UConn MBA for maximum flexibility going forward.
This month I am pleased to announce the release of the 2021 Dean’s Annual Report that celebrates the year that was. It highlights many of our students, staff, faculty, alumni, and friends, with particular attention to the ways they have made the business school a better place. They have contributed time and treasure to launch new programs, to create new companies, and to make life better for others. I have been privileged to know and work with so many of these inspiring individuals whose words and accomplishments adorn these pages. Continue Reading
Hundreds of faculty, staff, students and friends joined President Joe Biden and former U.S. Senator Chris Dodd in celebration and rededication of UConn’s Dodd Center for Human Rights on Oct. 15.
The assembly witnessed powerful comments from a host of luminaries including current Senators Murphy and Blumenthal, Governor Lamont and many others, culminating in a compelling speech from President Biden. Not present, but powerful in his absence, was the long-serving former U.S. Senator Thomas Dodd, the father of Chris Dodd, and a distinguished prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials. Continue Reading
Years ago, driving through Oklahoma, I stopped for gas. In those days, attendants pumped your gas, and my attendant was a high school student heading for college. When he learned I was a college professor, he asked if college would be better than high school. I asked what motivated his question and he cited discipline problems and unruly behavior by classmates who hated high school.
My own high school experience was in sharp contrast to his, but, more importantly, I could assure him that I had never had a day as a professor when I felt I was more of a guard than a teacher. I encouraged him to anticipate four years of enthusiastic growth with other highly motivated, hard-working, and interested students.
As we enter the Fall of 2021 at UConn, I am pleased to say that I believe our new and returning students face that same optimistic future that I envisioned for him. Our students are not only interested, but interesting. They come together from different places with different specialties and goals.Continue Reading
The recent U.S. Census informed us that population growth was essentially flat in the last decade, and more detailed analysis in the last year suggests that the birth rate has been declining, the death rates have been rising, and immigration has declined.
GDP growth derives largely from population growth and thus projections for GDP growth are minimal in terms of long-term trends, while better in terms of recovery from the negative effects of COVID-19.
As the dean of the School of Business at UConn, I am particularly concerned about the effects of these trends on our School, our University, and our state. All of the national trends affect us, but they are exacerbated by the emigration reality. Within the USA people move, and the long-term pattern has been emigration from the Rust Belt and the Northeast to the South and West. Continue Reading
In the business school we focus on strategic planning to guide future and continuous improvement as we implement our plan. The central theme is excellent education that allows our students to become their best selves. We design and implement a learning process that ensures that they emerge as well-prepared citizens and employees who advance their communities and drive the economics of the state. As academics, we explore important questions, convene important discussions, and enhance the practice and understanding of management.
In assessing progress toward our goals, we look outside for input. I will share three recent examples of external assessments of UConn and the School of Business: the Deshpande Symposium 2021 Award for Excellence in Curriculum Innovation in Entrepreneurship; a scholarly assessment of worldwide real estate programs; and our renewed accreditation by the international Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).Continue Reading
In a recent newsletter, I announced the launch of a new, Online MBA program at UConn. The program goes live this fall, and we have almost 40 applications under review, and another 53 in process.
Today I am pleased to announce another innovation, the launch of a Master of Science degree in FinTech. Our UConn Board of Trustees approved this program on April 28. This graduate degree will prepare people to participate in the rapidly changing intersection of finance, technology, and analytics. Continue Reading