President Obama’s decision to name Foothill-De Anza Chancellor Dr. Martha Kanter to be the next Undersecretary of Education will change the course of history. Dr. Kanter’s appointment was announced this morning by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and confirmed this afternoon by the White House. This may be President Obama’s most significant nomination. I know Dr. Kanter well. I am deeply proud to call her my friend. She will make a truly outstanding Undersecretary, one who will make an enormous difference to students, families and to our country by making higher education more accessible to people from all walks of life than it has ever been before. That has been her life’s work. She knows exactly what needs to be done to create new opportunities for millions — and soon she will have the tools and the resources to make it happen at the national level.
I’ve had the privilege and honor of working closely with her for the last six years as a member of her Board of Trustees, as her board president and also as her partner in our work to advance the cause of Open Education Resources.
I spent more than two decades, before I joined the FHDA board, writing about entrepreneurial leaders for a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites. In that capacity, I met, interviewed, and profiled the leadership teams at practically every major firm in Silicon Valley, from Cisco to Yahoo! I studied hundreds of CEOs and wrote extensively about their philosophies and abilities. Here is my conclusion: Dr. Kanter is the single most effective organizational leader I have ever encountered. She has a uniquely effective leadership style. One example: I don’t think I have ever seen her tell anyone what to do. At least not that I can recall. Instead, she often leads by asking questions. And typically, what emerges as those questions are answered is a collaborative team effort that is far more effective than any top-down leader could ever manage. It is really something to behold and from her I have learned much. Her team always knows not only what they are doing, but why. Her style also helps attract the very best team members, people who have helped our efforts at Foothill-De Anza primarily because they simply want to work with her. I’ve also marveled at her ability to handle tough situations, to stand her ground when the cause requires it, no matter the pressure, and her ability to find ways to win, on behalf of the students she fights for, that routinely turn opponents into supporters.
I salute President Obama and Secretary Duncan for this outstanding decision and I thank them from the bottom of my heart. I am certain that history will record this appointment as a defining moment for their administration. And like everyone who knows Dr. Kanter well, I will do everything in my power to help.
Here is a copy of the poem by Langston Hughes that I sent Martha when she called me last night to tell me the announcement would be made today:
Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean–
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home–
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay–
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again–
The land that never has been yet–
And yet must be–the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME–
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose–
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain–
All, all the stretch of these great green states–
And make America again!
Go Martha, go!