Selected Speeches

What Business Is It of Ours: Why UMB Cares About The Gambia

World Trade Center Institute: Maryland International Business Leadership Awards
March 12, 2015
American Visionary Art Museum


Thank you, Deb. Thank you, WTCI. I’m deeply honored to be here with all of you.

This room is filled with people of special importance to Maryland. In the interest of time, I’ll acknowledge only three.

—    Gov. Hogan, I’m honored to share the dais with you tonight and eager to work with you to maximize UMB’s beneficial impact on Maryland.

—    Chancellor Brit Kirwan, I thank you for your immeasurable wisdom and vision. It’s been an enormous privilege of mine to have worked under your leadership.

—    And to incoming chancellor Bob Caret, I’m delighted to welcome you home into a university system that you helped strengthen. I look forward to working with you again.

While Sen. Mikulski is unable to join us tonight, I must dedicate just a few words of thanks to her. Sen. Mikulski is an alumna of our School of Social Work. She has been a relentless advocate for UMB and—and even more importantly—for our neighbors in West Baltimore.

She has challenged our University, and she has inspired me, to use the full power of our institution—our people, our expertise, and our assets—to transform the community we call home; to apply our scholarship and service to the cause of making this city more just, more fair, and more humane; and to make the state of Maryland better for this commitment.

It’s a challenge we’re proud to take up every day.

What Business Is It of Ours

I’ve titled this talk What Business Is It of Ours: Why UMB Cares About The Gambia. The title is, in part, rhetorical, because “The Gambia” could just as easily be Malawi, or Mali, or Hong Kong, or Zambia, the Philippines, South Korea, Israel, China, Saudi Arabia, or any other country where UMB has a presence.

Last year, 450 faculty, staff, and students at UMB made 800 trips to 103 countries—to teach, to study, to connect with their collaborators and the communities they serve. Tonight, I’m joined by a table of seven colleagues who’ve logged these miles again and again—overseeing treatment for tens of thousands of people living with HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia, Guyana, Haiti, Kenya, Nigeria; training oral health care providers in Rwanda; teaching graduate nursing students in—yes—The Gambia.

The question I’ve come here to answer is why. Why engage in global scholarship and service when there’s so much need right here at home? Why go halfway around the world when you can see profound devastation halfway around your block?

It’s not a new question to me. When I was dean of the medical school at the University of Kentucky, I was asked why my students went “looking” for problems when Appalachia had plenty of its own.

I’ll tell you why: Because “global vs. local” is a false dilemma. It’s not an either‒or proposition.

In America, we tend to think of global as “over there”—apart from us—away from us. No. Global is right here, too. We must figure out how we fit into this world and how the world fits into us. Because surely we are interconnected.

At any given time, more than half of UMB’s social work students have clinical placements in the city. Many of them are working with undocumented immigrants. And they’re doing so within systems largely unprepared to deal with increasing diversity. The world is coming to Baltimore—and Baltimore is playing catch-up.

For instance, how do you serve young refugees—children fleeing unspeakable violence in their home countries, children who have few resources in America and no English to articulate their isolation? How do you best serve a Honduran child acting out in school and at home, a child who’s angry or depressed, unless you understand what he left in Honduras and what he confronts now in the U.S.?

Our students will soon be Maryland’s practicing professionals. Of course we want them to have this kind of familiarity with each patient and each client they serve. But our students can’t possibly experience every country and culture worldwide. They can’t possibly know every endemic disease and every systemic social problem.

So we must teach students how to learn—about environments, about cultures, about people who don’t look or think or act like themselves.

This is what global experience does. It teaches students how to risk what they think—and what they think they understand. It teaches them to relinquish control, to rely on a community for the many answers that they don’t know—that they can’t know. It teaches them to confidently approach the unknown, and to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

This is critically important right here in Maryland because the unknown and the uncomfortable are as often in our own backyard as they are in a village thousands of miles away. And to disavow any similarities between severely under-resourced countries and the poorest of this state’s neighborhoods is to sell short the very real challenges our neighbors face.

A few years ago, one of our students joined a service-learning trip to El Salvador. He’d grown up in a part of Baltimore marred by extreme poverty. He said he felt a pang of recognition as he looked at the people in those communities and remembered the way that, years earlier, visiting researchers and students had looked at him: the observers vs. the observed.

Make no mistake: Our mission as a globally engaged university isn’t to observe the rest of the world. It isn’t to stand behind the glass dispensing opinions and advice. Global engagement is about interaction—an exchange.

I think it’s a particular brand of arrogance to believe we can’t learn anything from developing nations. I think it’s cowardly to want no international eyes on our own systems—systems that, frankly, can use some work. And I think it’s a deficit of imagination to believe we can’t adopt effective global strategies around health, poverty, education, and justice.

Dr. Bob Redfield is with me tonight. He’s a director in our Institute of Human Virology. Right now, the institute is treating 50,000 patients with HIV in Africa and the Caribbean, and nearly 5,000 more here in Maryland.

I heard Dr. Redfield speak just yesterday about an approach he learned in Africa that he’s applied with great success back home. In Africa, he found that the people who were already treated for HIV were incredibly good at helping clinicians connect with the people who needed treatment. These patients educated others about the disease, they effectively persuaded them to accept care, and they helped them access that care.

And, wouldn’t you know it? He’s applied this peer-to-peer model in Maryland, and it works just as well. This approach—brought from Africa—yields earlier treatment, which not only relieves patients’ suffering, but also reduces the significant economic burden that Maryland bears when treatment of disease is delayed. Global to local.

One more observation: Before I was the medical school dean at Kentucky—before I returned to Maryland as UMB’s president—I was chair of the pediatrics department in our School of Medicine. Our senior pediatric trainees had the opportunity to work in a large children’s hospital in Uganda. They learned a great deal there. But primarily they learned that what they thought were insurmountable problems back home were nothing compared to what they saw in Kampala every day. And that gave them renewed energy to tackle our own problems of health care access and equity, of challenged resources and distressed populations. Global to local.

And that’s why I say that if we’re sending students abroad to impoverished areas and we don’t then send them into West Baltimore—and every other disinvested community in Maryland—to apply those lessons learned, we’re failing them, we’re failing our neighbors, we’re failing our city and our state.

This is a rather new frontier for academia—systematically linking global learning to local practice, and vice versa. On a national level, the rigorous conversation is just starting, and I’m proud that UMB is leading it. We are the right university, in the right city and state to blaze this trail.

And it’s no coincidence that you’re the right leaders to engage with us in this effort. Those of you running multinational—transnational—companies, you understand globalization better than anyone. You understand the economics of it, the logistics, the real difficulties of working across national borders and the considerable rewards if you do it well.

As you’ve probably gathered from my remarks, UMB’s global work isn’t motivated by money, but we’re no stranger to its economic benefit. Over the last decade, the University has won about $500 million in federal and foundation support for our international activities.

I believe that public-private partnerships will prove key to advancing these important efforts. We’ll need your ample experience and your best ideas.

Because we share these communities, at home and abroad. We see the same profound needs—and the same extraordinary opportunities. We shoulder the same responsibility.

We are citizens of this world—and the price of our citizenship is action.

Thank you.

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