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Public Papers - 1989 - November

Remarks to the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges


Thank you, Dr. Peterson, for inviting me here and for the introduction, for those kind words. And it's always a pleasure, of course, to be with my friend Larry Cavazos, Secretary Cavazos, who is doing such an outstanding job on behalf of American education. I'm proud to have him at my side.

As to the former Big Red over here, Ron Roskens -- [laughter] -- one of your own, now joining our administration to head the Agency for International Development, a terribly important agency; and, of course, others at the headtable -- I do want to single out Bob O'Neil, who was my host at the Charlottesville summit. And thank you, all of you, for your warm welcome, for the important work you do in educating our nation's youth, the promise of America and the promise of the future.

I'm told this is the third time that a President has addressed this group. Two other charismatic speakers, Calvin Coolidge and Ike Eisenhower, were here before me. [Laughter] So, it's tough. I hope they were as happy to be here as I am. [Laughter]

America is moving forward, and a lot of that is because you're moving forward. And I am very pleased to have this opportunity to come by in person to tell you just how important I believe your work is. I come during an auspicious week for Presidential speechmaking, because on yesterday's date in 1863 the Republican-owned Chicago Times ran an editorial slamming the speaking skills of their home-State President, Abraham Lincoln. And it read: ``The cheek of every American must tingle with shame as he reads the silly, flat, and dishwatery utterances of the man who had to be pointed out to the intelligent foreigners as the President of the United States.'' Of course, the speech they were so worked up about was the Gettysburg Address. [Laughter] And it was Abraham Lincoln who, one year earlier, as Chase alluded to, signed the Morrill Act into law, launching the great land-grant colleges and a uniquely American philosophy towards higher education.

America's State universities and land-grant colleges opened the door of opportunity to millions of talented kids whose backgrounds might otherwise have precluded their advancement and education; and it marked the first time in American history, in world history, that people of every background were given a chance to prove their abilities through higher education. Your institutions have continued to successfully evolve because you've always been there to address the needs of each sector, maturing as universities as America has matured as a nation. Step by step, side by side, the strength of America depends on the strength of our youth, and the strength of our youth depends on the strength of your schools.

Like America's bountiful harvests, America's system of higher education is the envy of the world. And your institutions are filled with powerful examples of what is right about education in America. And many of those examples were cited by your Governors in Charlottesville earlier this fall as we worked together to address the changing challenges in American education.

I noticed that William Fishback of the University of Virginia had a talk here yesterday. And I quote -- this is the title: ``Coping With an Educational Summit: How To Survive President Bush, 49 Governors, the News Media, and Other Strangers on Campus.'' [Laughter] Now, I don't know how well-attended the good doctor's lecture was, but it's a 20-word title. I know some of you plain-speaking educators would want to edit it down. [Laughter] But with my luck, the condensed version would be: ``How To Survive President Bush.'' [Laughter] And if Mr. Fishback thought it was rough, he should talk to Bob O'Neil sitting over here. Bob's Virginia hospitality was so gracious that it was 2 days before Barbara and I realized we had kicked him out of his own house. [Laughter]

The summit marked only the third time in our nation's history that America's Governors were called together to address a specific challenge. It was an important beginning. We all recognize -- only a beginning. In the weeks since, my administration, your Governors, have been working hard on the commitments made at Charlottesville to set national goals, seek greater flexibility and enhanced accountability, and undertake a major State-by-State effort to restructure our entire education system. Especially on this first new objective, setting national goals, your leadership is needed -- it is absolutely essential. This organization, this very room, holds a vast body of expertise and experience in tackling these issues. For those of you who are already working with your Governors, I thank you. And for those who have not yet had that opportunity, I invite you, I urge you, to lend your voices to this critical dialog.

Later today, Dr. Cavazos and I will be meeting with my newly created President's Education Policy Advisory Committee. And I look forward to hearing from three of your members who are on the Committee: Lamar Alexander, the president of the University of Tennessee; Joe Nathan of University of Minnesota; and Dr. Frank Rhodes, the president of Cornell University -- examples all of the kind of world-class reputations your member schools have attained.

To meet our new national goals, the Governors and I agreed that we must seek greater flexibility and strength and accountability -- all of this in the use of Federal resources. That doesn't mean that we need Federal regulations controlling the way our schools and colleges get the job done. Our colleges are the best in the world in part because they epitomize choice, competition, flexibility. And once we recognize that, then the way to close the disturbing gap between the performance of our colleges and the performance of our elementary and high schools is obvious. What's worked for you will work for them.

Our plan is called the Educational Excellence Act of 1989, and it's a critical first step in the effort to reverse the fortunes of our struggling elementary and secondary schools. It calls for choice, using magnet schools to promote the same kind of healthy competition that flourishes among our college campuses. Like our top colleges, magnet schools will attract top students and create a new incentive for innovation. Magnet schools will bring new flexibility and promote quality education; but along with new flexibility, we need new blood. And alternative certification is an innovation that will expand the pool of talented teachers.

One thing: Our plan also aims to seek out excellence and reward it, and by doing so, to promote competition and accountability. As with Federal grants to our best universities, we will provide cash awards to our best schools, to merit schools. These merit awards will not only boost the programs of schools with proven formulas for success but also boost the incentives for other schools to follow their lead.

But accountability means more than merely rewarding those schools that turn resources into results. Schools at every level must allocate their resources wisely and prudently. Your colleague, Harold Shapiro, who has been president at both Michigan and Princeton, recently spelled out the bottom line. He said: ``We all have to be much more selective about what we do and what we purport to do if we have any hope of keeping the costs of education within the bounds that can reasonably be afforded by society.''

One thing we can't afford is to fall behind the competition when it comes to training the educated work force that future challenges will require. And that's why another of our initiatives seeks to bolster an effort that many of you right here have led: the effort to revitalize campus interest in the study of math and science. We have proposed a new nationwide program of math and science scholarships for our best high school seniors. Five hundred and seventy national science scholars would receive up to ,000 a year for 4 years to be used at the college of their choice. Many of those colleges are likely to be your colleges. And many of you have already launched programs that will complement this new effort. Another part of our proposal calls for urban emergency grants to help our hardest hit school districts become drug free.

But as with the new science scholarships, the success of this effort depends upon all our schools; it depends upon all of them doing their part. We cannot give our students one message while they're in elementary and high school and another when they start to college. No school can afford to remain diffident when it comes to drugs because in the war on drugs there are no noncombatants.

Yesterday -- to interrupt with a personal note -- I went out to a school in inner Chicago -- 97 percent Hispanic, maybe 60, 70 percent of them first-generation Americans. And Congresswoman Lynn Martin asked them to hold up their hands about how many had been exposed to drugs in one way or another. These kids were 10 years old. I think there was only two or three hands in the entire class that didn't go up -- two or three in the entire class.

And yet this school -- in its own way, its own level, under a dedicated principal, a roomful of dedicated teachers -- going the extra mile to teach these kids that they must not use drugs. It cannot stop simply at the secondary and the elementary school level. Land-grant colleges, like all colleges and State universities, like all universities, must take a stand. Your students, like all students, must be told that society will not tolerate the use of drugs.

There is one final part of our education package that has special importance to me and a special place with this group as we approach the centennial of the second Morrill Land-Grant Act. The 1890 law inspired the creation of 17 historically black land-grant colleges in southern and border States, schools that changed the lives of millions of young men and women by replacing traditional roadblocks with avenues of opportunity. But not all the roadblocks are gone. Endowments at these vital institutions lag far behind many other schools. And so, we've proposed expanded Federal help in the form of matching endowment grants for these special colleges and universities. Each of these proposals will make a difference, improving your students or your schools or both. This package went to the Hill in April. It's time for the Congress to act. And let's make this coming year one of change and progress in education. Let's strike a blow for excellence. Let's make passing this bill a top priority in Congress.

None of these efforts will be a panacea. I don't present them as such. None will be a panacea for every ill that confronts our educators. And they don't stand alone. Other initiatives include our 0 million increase for Head Start; the new tax-free college savings bond program to help our low- and middle-income families send their children to your colleges; and continued progress to our goal of doubling the budget of the National Science Foundation, supporting thousands of individual researchers at colleges and universities by 1993.

Education is our most enduring legacy, vital to everything we are and can become. At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the schools you represent stepped forward and fueled the education and research that rocketed America from a frontier nation to the frontiers of space, the hands-down winner of the industrial age. And so, now we stand at the dawn of a new age, an age in which the triumphant will be not those who master the potential of the machine but rather those who master the potential of the mind.

We have the schools. We have the teachers. We have dedicated educators, like those in this room. We have the students, and we have the will. And working together, we will prevail, and we must prevail.

Thank you all very much for letting me come over. God bless you, and God bless the United States. And have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Note: The President spoke at 11:20 a.m. in the Grand Ballroom of the J.W. Marriott Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to Chase Peterson, chairman of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges; Robert M. O'Neil, president of the University of Virginia; and Joe Nathan, senior fellow at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

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