When they go low, we go high

av Curt Rice

Donald Trump’s attitudes about protectionism and immigration are going to damage the economy. That damage is going to affect a sector I care deeply about, namely higher education and research.


For the last day and half, I’ve been trying to convince myself that I’m in the business of hope, with the idea that that might give me a path to feeling it myself. But it’s hard.

I mean, education “is” about hope. That’s not difficult to believe. Education lifts people out of poverty. Education creates the middle class that is so dominant here in Norway and so threatened in my home country.

Education moves societies forward. We need more education; better education. We need it to have highly skilled professionals who can improve the standard of living in our country and our world.

When I think like that, I can convince myself that education does create hope – hope for individuals, dreams for their families, the promise of betterment for society.

But yesterday morning as I left a breakfast event at HiOA, which was the conclusion of the all-night American Election Party we had hosted, I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t find hope or dreams. I had just witnessed the ambassador of the United States making a speech in which he felt it necessary to reassure those present that good relations between the United States and Norway would continue. I had just heard a prominent American guest say privately to me, «You’re lucky; you have a permanent job here.»

This isn’t the language of «business as usual.» It isn’t the language of «ja, ja, sånn går nu dagan. Det her skal gå bra.”» It’s actually the language of deep concern, and maybe even fear.

As I left that breakfast meeting, I went down the stairs from our grand ballroom at HiOA, which is in a building that houses our Fakultet for lærerutdanning og internasjonale studier, and I walked towards the door out to the heart of our campus.

On my way out, I met dozens of students on their way in, headed to the first class of the day. A flock of 20-year olds who have made the choice to train themselves to become teachers. Think of the hope that is behind such a choice. Teachers. For schoolkids. Shaping the future. Today’s 1- and 2-year olds are going to have these HiOA students to follow them through the beginnings of their education.

We’re talking about a hundred-year perspective here. I met the students who are going to teach kids who are going to be alive in the year 2100. In fact, at the ends of their careers, they’ll be teaching kids who are born in 2050 and who might see 2150. That’s closer to a 150 year perspective about what happens in a classroom at HiOA today.

As I thought about this, I did start to feel hope. I did start to believe that there will be a future. But that future, which begins right now, is going to have a rough start. Every economist on the planet believes that Donald Trump is going to plunge us into a worldwide recession.

His attitudes about protectionism and immigration are going to damage the economy of the United States, and they’re going to damage the economy of Europe, including Norway.

That damage is going to affect a sector I care deeply about, namely higher education and research, and I’d like to share some reflections about that with you.

While it is the destruction of the economy that is going to be the main cause of this, there is more to the context when we talk about damage to higher education. Donald Trump is an anti-intellectual, he is skeptical of the content in schools, and he engages in conspiratorial thinking about scientific issues like climate change, which is to say that he believes that knowledge and research are not the paths to understanding.

With that contextual background, he is going to destroy the economy. What will this mean for institutions of higher education in the US and what will it mean for us in Norway?

In the US, there are about 4,000 institutions for higher education. Many of those are small colleges like the one my son currently studies at, Concordia College in Moorhead Minnesota. There are a couple of thousand students there who have excellent educational offerings.

But a very high percentage of the budget of the institution is based on tuition — skolepenger. And that means that variation in student numbers has a big impact. Concordia recently saw a significant reduction in their student body, and that has led directly to cuts in programs and firing of faculty — something that is almost inconceivable here in Norway.

Many US institutions are going to disappear in the coming years. They won’t be able to successfully compete. Those who survive will become lean deliverers of higher education. They will become effective. They will improve quality at the same time as they cut costs.

Think about that: they will improve quality as they cut costs. Where is that debate in this country? When we talk about cost cutting in Norway we seem to assume that it means a worse overall result.

Part of the improvement of quality that will come in the U.S. will be connected to the digital revolution and new ways of delivery. As that happens — and it already is — then HiOA’s competitors are not only BI and UiO but also the University of Arizona, Stanford, MIT and Harvard. U.S. institutions are going to offer high quality degrees online to students who are sitting here in Oslo. They’re going to admit students for degreees. Lånekassen is going to engage, and all of a sudden, the whole competition situation is profoundly different.

Today in Norway, absolutely no one is talking about this. And the Trump presidency is going to make it more acute because the economic turmoil he is going to cause is going to sharpen those who can survive.

That same economic turmoil is also going to affect our institutions in Norway directly because we’re going to have to become more effective, perhaps more quickly than we had expected.

Here’s what I would like to do in the face of this competition. I would like to work with those institutions in the US and elsewhere that become super effective in delivering higher education. I would like to be able to say to students in my barnehagelærerutdanning that while I’m very sorry we have to cut your valgfag options, I have a way to make up for it.

You can take your electives somewhere else, but you don’t actually have to go there. We have identified 10 online, credit-yielding courses at international institutions, and you can sign up for one or two or three of them and count them as part of your degree here in Norway. That’s what I’d like to say.

Why, after all, does taking a degree at HiOA mean taking all your courses at HiOA? That is a view from yesteryear, but the problem here is that it’s entrenched, even institutionalized. We have an accreditation agency that has responsibility for the courses that make up a Norwegian degree.

I want that responsibility delegated to each institution, and not only for courses we offer internally. I want to be able to put together degree programs for my students that are partially based on on-campus teaching and partially based on online teaching, where the online options might come from HiOA staff but might come from others.

Think about what this might mean. Imagine if I could say: Come to HiOA and take courses at Harvard!

Harvard, by the way, has a system in place for doing exactly this. The barriers are on the Norwegian side.

There’s so much more to say about this, but I bring it up today just to give a glimpse of what I think this election is going to mean in my sector.

The reason I mention these things is that this election is going to have an impact. It actually does matter who is in the White House.

In that context, I want to say a little more about the election and HiOA.

Because I’m basically an optimist, I want to ask myself what opportunities are going to come our way. And while it’s depressing to start looking for opportunities in a recession, that is in fact the only way out of that coming recession.

HiOA has a responsibility to communicate knowledge to society. We do that in many ways, and one of the ways we did it this week was by hosting the American Election Party on Thursday. We took an educational approach and had a series of seminars leading up to that day, and a series of lectures and debates that night.

It was a great party, full of energy, with American food, drinks, music, and even cheerleaders. It seemed like half of Norway’s government was there. Lots of people who love the US. Many Americans, too. But the energy didn’t last. And by breakfast, the shock began to set in …

I told you already how I experienced the end of that event. Let me add just a little to that.

I don’t want to be numb, or depressed, or panicky. I don’t want to participate in the cult of hatred. I want to find a way forward. And after I had met those students I already told you about, I went home and I read two quotes and tried to ask myself what they mean for me today. Let me share those with you.

The first comes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said: «Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.»

What does that mean for me today? I feel very strongly about the rhetoric of the Trump movement. I actually do hate it. What is the guidance Martin Luther King Jr. offers here? How can I live that out?

The second quote comes from Michelle Obama. Maybe you heard her speech this summer:

«When they go low, we go high.»

She, too, is a powerful moral voice in today’s world. I’m trying to figure out what those quotes demand of me. And I offer them here today, in the hope that you, too, will accept that challenge for yourselves.

Like I said in my introduction, it’s hard. But one thing I know, is that my students have hope. Their adult lives are in front of them. They don’t want to hate. They don’t want to go low. They want to engage, to argue, to influence. They want to teach. They want to go high. And I feel so lucky to live my days around them. Perhaps this week more than ever.

Publisert av:

Curt Rice


    • Stefanie A Christen

      Thank you, a lot of insight here. I believe we can transcend conflicts by painting our picture of the future and hold on strong to our vision. Light and Love will prevail.

  • Anders Jarlsby


    Jeg er mye enige i det du skriver , men synes ifm valget og det du sa i Ukeslutt lørdagen etter valget viser at du er selvsentrert og lite villig du er til strekke ut en hånd til folk for å forsøke å forstå folk du er dypt uenige med . Og jeg sier ikke at det vil lykkes fordi motparten ikke ønsker dialog . Men elitisme og krasse fronter er vel ikke det man trenger nå. Og jeg er heller ingen fan av Trump.
    Tør du ta en samtale med en av dine studenter ?

  • Curt Rice

    Hei Anders — Jeg er helt enig med deg i at krasse fronter ikke hjelper med å flytte verden fremover. Gjennom utallige samtaler med de som har “Trump-holdninger” (anti-intellectualism), har jeg blitt overbevist om at det er en tilnærming til kunnskap som ikke er forenelig med mandatet til en institusjon for høyere utdanning og forskning. Det er også skremmende mange tegn til en slik anti-intellectualism i Norge i dag, og jeg kommer til å fortsette med å jobbe for å forstå den utviklinga og til å motarbeide den. Dette er ting som jeg bryr meg veldig om, og samtaler med studenter er jeg bestandig opptatt av å få til 🙂

  • Pål Brandsborg

    Hei Mr Rice!
    Jeg oppfatter ditt innlegg som politisk agitasjon. Har du virkelig mandat til å gjøre dette i kraft av din posisjon som rektor? Skal vi altså belæres i “korrekte” politiske meninger på HIOA? Jeg blir faktisk litt skremt dersom dette faktisk er innenfor skolens etiske rammer og i tråd med rektors arbeidsoppgaver. Forøvrig har verdens børser hatt solid oppgang etter at Mr Trump vant valget. Just saying!

    • Karla

      Jeg er så enig med deg Pål! jeg har lest flere av hans innlegg og jeg blir selv skremt! Jeg har lenge lurt på om det er lov for ham å holde med på sånt! Han burde tar hensyn til at på en høgskole finnes det både liberale og konservative studenter og han burde klare å være mer nøytral. Det klarer ham tydeligvis ikke.

      • Curt Rice

        Hei Karla, og takk for at du lar deg engasjeres. En viktig del av oppgaven for en professor i det norske samfunnet er å bidra til offentlig debatt. Dette er nedfelt i loven som regulerer institusjoner for høyere utdanning, og heter formidlingsplikten.
        I dette innlegget har jeg vært opptatt av posisjonen som forskning har i politikk, viktigheten av digitalisering i høyere utdanning, og hvordan jeg som person blir påvirket av mine studenter. Disse er gode temaer til å skape debatt rundt, og jeg er igjen glad for at du velger å delta i den debatten.
        Jeg er opptatt av å ta hensyn til høgskolens mangfold — også politisk — bl.a. ved å legge til rette for debatt og i noen tilfeller til å delta i den debatten. Stå på!

        • Karla

          Hei Curt,

          Takk for ditt svar. Jeg er sterkt uenig med deg når du sier at du bidrar til offentlig debatt. Du blander kanskje formidlings ansvar med indoktrinering? Fordi for meg det er det du driver med gjennom dine innlegg både her og i diverse aviser. Dine artikkel er farget av din egen politisk tilhørighet og for meg virker som du prøver å “selge” dine egne politiske standpunkter ved å reklamere for den politikken (og politikker) du selve ønsker og kritisere uhemmet den du ikke ønsker. For meg er det uakseptabelt at du som beundrer Hillary, Michelle og Barack Obama, skal få lov til å drive anti-Trump rethoric i en av Norges største høyere utdannings institusjoner og bidra til en svært beklagelig trend. Tror du at du virkelig tar hensyn til mangfold? Mener du at å ha mange forskjellig bønnerom der kvinner og menn er adskilt betyr å ta hensyn, for eksempel? HIOA bidrar til segregering og ekskludering når du selv delta i debatten på den måte du gjør.

          Ha en fin dag.

      • Pål Brandsborg

        Hei Karla! Takker for støtten! Godt å vite at det finnes flere som reagerer når en offentlig finansiert høyskole bedriver politisk propaganda. Slik jeg forstår lovverket, så er dette ikke tillatt. Men har bedt om bistand for å komme til bunns i det juridiske aspektet. Jeg opplevde akkurat det samme på UiO og opplever dette som svært alvorlig. Finner juristene noe konkret vil jeg ta det videre. Urett må bekjempes uansett hvem som utfører det.

        • Curt Rice

          Hei Pål — Jeg ville bare si at dersom du er student her ved HiOA, har du adgang til gratis juridisk bistand gjennom studentombudordningen, som blir med stor sannsynlighet omgjort at høgskolestyret den 20.12 fra et 2-årig midlertidig prosjekt til en fast ordning.

  • Curt Rice

    Hei Pål — Takk for at du tar deg tid til å skrive og at du deler med meg din oppfatning av innlegget mitt. Min jobb krever mye politisk agering, det er riktig oppfattet. Jeg skal jobbe for å se trendene i høyere utdanning og forskning, og bidra til at HiOA posisjonerer seg for å møte de trendene. Jeg skal komme med mine meninger om slikt, ikke for å belære noen eller si hva er korrekt, men som en start på en samtale som forhåpentligvis fører oss til nye tanker og planer og muligheter. Fint at du deltar også i den debatten.

    • Pål Brandsborg

      Hei igjen Mr Rice! Takk for at du tar deg tid til å svare. Det setter jeg stor pris på. Synes dog fortsatt det er bemerkelsesverdig at høyskolens øverste leder publiserer en tirade mot USAs neste demokratisk valgte president. HIOA har et rykte for å være venstreorienterte, og dette bidrar til å forsterke det inntrykket. Jeg tror ikke at det er heldig. Utdanningsinstitusjoner bør søke balanse og være varsomme med hva som formidles politisk.

  • Paul Thomas

    Excellent article! What I fail to understand is the accusations of ‘elitism’ hurled against Hillary and, by extension, the ‘left’, by Trump and Farage supporters in recent months. If the Reagan/Thatcher years are anything to go by, we know that minorities (e.g. Blacks and non-white Hispanics, among others) will be on the receiving end of a certain kind of ‘vulture capitalism’ that further skews the socioeconomic landscape in favor of a ‘privileged’ few, as the Rector alluded to. With 37% of the US population being non-white, there is reason for some consternation in the years ahead.

  • Balaselvathi Balasubramaniam

    I will write comments later on. I have observed from that day I began in Hioa at the faculty of nursing that you are a very good professor for us, Curt Rice!

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