Kentucky Advocates for Higher Education
September 21, 1997

Thank you Ms. Mason, Mr. Geoghegan and thanks to the Advocates for Higher Education for this award.

I really appreciate what it stands for.

As anyone who's studied my public life knows, I've often said that education is the key to improving the quality of life of all Kentuckians.

For me, there's no greater honor than to be recognized for my cumulative commitment to education.

I know that the focus now is on the Kentucky Postsecondary Education Improvement Act of 1997, which I proposed and the General Assembly approved less than four months ago.

But my commitment to education in general, and to higher education in particular, is long standing and something about which I'm very serious.

My involvement in the Postsecondary Education Improvement Act is just the latest manifestation of that commitment.

I was educated at the University of Kentucky, as were my children, and I've been a strong supporter of my alma mater but I've also been a strong supporter of all of Kentucky's postsecondary education institutions.

And when I refer to postsecondary education, I'm including all of our schools past high school, our technical schools, our community colleges, our public universities, and our independent colleges and universities.

I've served for over 25 years on the Board of Trustees of Pikeville College and I fully appreciate the contribution of our independent institutions to our overall effort to educate our people.

Educating our people, that is the venture in which we're joined in common cause.

We're assembled here tonight to celebrate the first victory in a long and arduous journey to reach the destiny which has been the dream of Kentuckians for generations.

That dream is for improved economic opportunity and a higher quality of life.

Surely this venture is worthy of our efforts because it is no less than empowering every Kentuckian with the tools they'll need to fulfill their maximum potential as individuals.

The power of the human mind is so awesome as to be frightening and our careless waste of that power is so commonplace as to be sinful.

So when we endeavor to harness the power of the human mind for the benefit of all humanity, we're engaged in the most noble task in this temporal world.

We're gathered here tonight, the Kentuckians who govern our postsecondary education institutions, to share a vision of what Kentucky can be, through education.

Education is the foundation of our civilization.

The ability to pass along the accumulated knowledge of the ages to the next generation, and to add to that knowledge, is what makes man different from all other animals.

Insuring that that happens is the most important work of a society.

We tend to think that this process of continuous progress is the natural and automatic consequence of the human journey but we need to be mindful of the fact that at least once in the history of our western civilization we regressed on the course of knowledge accumulation and preservation and endured what has come to be known as the Dark Ages of Europe.

History is replete with examples of other civilizations which have failed because their systems of education failed.

Let us not assume that our culture is immune to this illness of neglect of education.

In fact, Kentucky has suffered from that illness in the past.

As I review the history of our state, I find that 200 years ago, Kentucky was a progressive state,

well-educated people, poised on the frontier of an exploding Midwest, positioned to be the center of, and the leader of, a nation destined for greatness.

As we look at late 18th century Kentucky, we see Louisville as the center of transportation in interior America; Bardstown, the center of the Catholic Church and its expansion into the West; Danville, the home of leading-edge medicine; and Lexington, the Athens of the West, the center of higher education.

We find in Kentucky the most advanced government in the Midwest, producing leaders who would shape the dawning 19th century.

We had the largest population, the strongest economy, the most industry, and the brightest future.

What went wrong? Before the Civil War, no state west of the Alleghanies could surpass Kentucky in economic might, political leadership or promising future. How then, did we fall so far behind?

My review of our course of action during the century following the Civil War leads me to conclude that our decline relative to our sister states was because we failed to invest; we failed to invest in infrastructure; and we failed to invest in our people; we failed to provide for the education of our children.

I lay all the blame for our current unfavorable statistical comparison to our neighboring states directly at the feet of our neglect of education.

Let me describe for you a place that didn't neglect education.

No doubt you're aware of the success story that is Silicon Valley.

According to a recent article in Business Week, there are some 7,000 electronics and software companies concentrated in a 50-mile long corridor between two mountain ranges in California.

Eleven companies are created every week.

Let me quote from that Business Week article: "The mere production of computers and semiconductors accounted for 45 percent of U.S. industrial growth.

And nowhere is that engine humming louder than in Silicon Valley, where 20 percent of the world's biggest electronics and software companies have taken root.

Indeed, the $450 billion market value of the publicly held high tech companies in and around the valley is approaching that of the entire French stock market."

The effect of the Valley's entrepreneurship is mind-boggling.

Last year, a company there went public every five days - creating hundreds of new millionaires.

What you may not be aware of is the effect of education on Silicon Valley's growth.

The economic explosion in Silicon Valley can be primarily attributed to the vision of educators such as Frederick Emmons Terman, an engineering dean at Stanford who, after World War II, saw the potential to build a community of technical scholars.

That's just what schools like Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley did - helped to create a community that is, to quote Business Week, "part science lab, part industrial park. . . a turbulent confluence of academic ardor, industrial intensity, unbridled imagination and money."

Today, the Valley produces more graduates in technical fields than any other region in the United States, more than 4,000 people receiving engineering degrees in 1995 alone.

And those people are reinvesting their knowledge in Silicon Valley.

From 1960 to 1990, companies started by Stanford graduates alone created more than a quarter million jobs.

It's almost expected for Stanford instructors to one day leave the prestigious school to start their own company.

My point in saying all of this is to point out that postsecondary education not only can be responsive to the needs of business, it can actually create those needs.

Closer to home, at the North Carolina research triangle, we can find a similar example.

Dr. Hooker's school, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a school we would all be well-served to emulate.

Let us get right down to basic fundamentals.

Education is the engine which powers economic growth.

Education has always been directly responsible for all forms of progress but during the years ahead the relationship between education and progress will grow exponentially.

Neglect now will be infinitely more costly than in the past.

Our neglect of education was because of the failure of our leaders to have the courage to look to the future.

They instead chose to live for the next election.

Regardless of what may be said about my administration today, I am determined that history will not label us as afraid to lead.

So long as we have the responsibility, we'll try to make fundamental change for the better in Kentucky.

My father once gave me a piece of advice that I'll never forget.

"Son, the failure is not to fail to win but rather to fail to try." I shall not fail to try.

We're convened here in Louisville to learn how we can insure that Kentucky lives up to its commitment to excellence in education and to guarantee that we will never again sacrifice our future by ignoring our present need for quality education for all our people.

So, I challenge you, the regents and trustees of our nine public postsecondary education institutions, assembled here, to make certain that you fully understand the responsibility you've assumed, to learn the mission of your institution, and to insure that it fulfills that mission.

That is your responsibility.

Your hands hold the future of Kentucky.

No greater responsibility could be assumed by any Kentuckian.

The advocates tonight have honored me for my role in bringing about our renewed commitment to excellence in higher education in Kentucky and perhaps I deserve some credit for the law which was passed but it'll be up to you to make quality education in Kentucky a reality.

In fact, the Governor's role in postsecondary education in Kentucky is relatively limited.

Certainly I have the responsibility to provide, within the limits of my authority, adequate funding for the schools you govern and certainly I must advocate improvements in the laws that establish and control these institutions, but these laws are very limited and provide a great deal of autonomy to our postsecondary schools, and I believe that's good.

In the end, I don't govern these institutions, you do.

All I do is appoint you, the trustees and regents , and even that authority is restricted to appointing persons nominated by the Postsecondary Nominating Commission.

So within you lies the power to govern and within you lies the responsibility for the success of your institution.

We're assembled here today and tomorrow to discuss how we as a state can go about the business of building world-class education institutions so the people of Kentucky will have the mental power to build a world-class society.

Tomorrow you'll spend all day learning about the commitment we've made to improve all postsecondary education in Kentucky but tonight let me give you an overview of the kind of Kentucky we can have, if we're successful.

I don't offer the people of Kentucky an easy course or a quick fix.

In fact, the new law recognizes the length of our struggle and fixes the year 2020 as the time we will have achieved substantial and measurable results.

But the new law mandates that we start now.

It's the old Chinese proverb that observes that a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

We've taken that one step. The rest of the journey lies ahead.

But that journey leads to a Kentucky where our people are not only much better educated, but perhaps more importantly, our people will understand and appreciate quality education.

Our vision for a better educated Kentucky starts with access; access for every Kentuckian, no matter where they live, no matter what other obligations they may have, no matter their economic circumstances.

Our commitment is access for all Kentuckians to quality baccalaureate and masters degree programs provided by a new partnership between our regional universities and our community colleges.

Access provided by new facilities to put these offerings within driving distance of every Kentuckian, and access using the most modern means of electronic communication.

The Kentucky Virtual University must lead the way in the nation with a renewed commitment to universal education at a higher level than heretofore ever imagined in Kentucky.

I envision a new partnership between our technical schools and community colleges which will build a workforce with the education, the skills, and the work ethic to make Kentucky the envy of the industrialized world.

I envision regional universities with programs of distinction recognized nationally as the best of the best.

And I envision two great research universities that'll put Kentucky on the leading edge of discovery and innovation.

I envision a new cauldron of intellectual power that'll expose Kentuckians to the greatest intellects of the world and instill in our people a thirst for knowledge which'll make us truly a society of life-long learners.

I see a Kentucky known throughout the land as a state which values excellence in education and a state about which our people can feel a pride that can only come from realizing that you're something special, something different, something other people want to be.

Yes, I see a Kentucky that we can all be proud of.

A Kentucky that'll be discovering the secrets of the universe, a Kentucky that'll be creating better economic opportunity for its people, a Kentucky that'll be the envy of our neighbors.

But this vision won't come easy. This vision will require the labor of all who would claim to be leaders in this Commonwealth.

This vision will require institutions who view themselves as an important part of a statewide system, serving first and foremost, the citizens of Kentucky.

This vision will require leaders who can subdue their own ego for the benefit of the common good.

This vision is up to us.

Each of us will hold our present positions of influence for but a fleeting moment and we must not waste one second of time nor even a sliver of opportunity to move a step further along this path which is before us.

But when our present assignment is over, cumulatively, we'll still be the people who'll guide Kentucky for the next 20 years.

If we maintain our commitment to these goals no matter what our station in life, we'll see Kentucky stir from its slumber of neglect and rise to its potential and serve its citizens like we've never even dared to imagine in the past.

And in the year 2020, we can all congregate in this place again and we can all claim to deserve the Oak Award for outstanding contributions to higher education in Kentucky because we will have all been responsible for the achievements which will have been made by our nine outstanding schools which we gather here tonight to serve.

Yes, the challenge is formidable, the sacrifices will be great, and the setbacks inevitable, but we must rise to the occasion, we will rise to the occasion, because this chance will not come our way again.

Thank you, goodnight and God bless you.