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:

You’ll find 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 constantly ask me for. Instead, I have some some simple advice: teach peace. Become the pacifist college. There’s a need for that, and the position is open. A zillion other small liberal arts colleges do what Guilford does. Replace “Guilford” on the page at that link with the name of any other good small liberal arts college and it’ll work for all of them. But none of the others teach peace, or wrap the rest of their curricular offerings around that simple and straightforward purpose. Or are in a position to do that. Guilford is.

Look at it this way: 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 one of the strongest, most high-integrity things a college can do. By positioning around peace and pacifism, 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 an overcrowded and rapidly changing world.

Yes, there are a bunch of 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: own the Peace Position.

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 asking for money constantly 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: just knowing emails from one’s alma mater aren’t almost always shakedowns for cash is a giant benefit by itself.

In case anyone at Guilford wonders who the hell 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 tops in search results. I even beat Howard Coble, Tom Zachary, M.L. Carr, Bob Kauffman and World B. Free.
  2. I was a success in the marketing business (much of it doing positioning) for several decades of my professional life.

So there ya go.

Peace, y’all.