Dr. Sethna's Final Faculty Meeting Video
Messages from a Flattening World
By Beheruz N. Sethna
Originally published in the May 2006 issue of Georgia Trend Magazine
Like thousands of others, I have been fascinated by Thomas Friedman’s best selling book The World Is Flat - A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century.
Friedman describes global changes that are making our world increasingly “flat,” factors that are leveling the playing field for many countries that had until recently been essentially left out of the economic opportunities that America and parts of the Western world have long enjoyed. Inevitably, he presents the challenge of how we in America can prepare our children and young adults to survive and succeed in the new flat world.
Education is the key– if we do it right. And that means sending our kids a consistent set of the right messages.
Let me share my own personal example. When I was a kid in India, my father earned Rs. 500 a month. At today’s rates, that would be about $11 a month for a family of three. Even adjusting for inflation and comparative costs of living, by U.S. standards, our family income would be very, very low. I have no recollection of any “cool stuff” in my childhood.
My school uniforms were hand-me-downs. But in all the years I lived at home, there was never any conversation, never one question as to whether I would go to college and graduate. No matter what sacrifice it took on my parents’ part or on mine, no matter how much hard work it entailed, and no matter how many “cool” things I would do without, I was going to graduate from college.
My mother and father sent the right messages.
In India, every potential engineer aspires to go to the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT). There is almost no parallel in the U.S., where students may choose from a number of excellent engineering schools; in India, they all want to attend ITT. It is estimated that only two percent of eligible applicants get in. In contrast, even Harvard College accepts about 10 percent of its applicants.
Four years before I could send in an application, my father clipped the IIT entrance exam ad from the newspaper and showed it to me. Before long, the IIT entrance examinations dominated my existence. In the summer “vacation,” I got up early each day, went to an IIT entrance prep class, studied hard the rest of the day, and did the same the next day – six days every week. As hard as it was for me to get into IIT, it was even harder to graduate – competing with some of the best brains in the country. But, today, I am an IIT graduate.
Of course, there was parental pressure. But is that a bad thing? I don’t think so. I did not want to go to IIT – I did it because of parental pressure. Today, I thank my parents. They were right. I was 18; my parents were in their 50s. Was it unreasonable to expect that “Father and Mother knew best?” Between them, they had over 100 years of experience to my 18. Yet in America we often believe that, even when it comes to major life decisions, junior family members need not defer to their seniors. Yes, there is some value to letting kids make their own decisions and mistakes. But this is a more compelling argument for choosing a course elective or a car color than for a life-changing career decision.
Is hard work a bad thing? I don’t think so. Work habits I developed at ITT serve me well even today. People in other parts of the world are hungry and eager for American jobs and American business. They are used to hard work. If our kids are to compete, they need to be used to hard work, too.
When Bill Gates goes to India, he is a star. Kids who can barely speak English worship him and want to be like him.
As Friedman says, “In China today, Bill Gates is Britney Spears. In America today, Britney Spears is Britney Spears -- and that is our problem.”
We are sending the wrong messages to our kids. We should be working full time on an alternative definition of “cool.” What’s cool is not the cars they drive and the clothes they wear. What’s cool is having choices later in life, the ability to learn. What’s cool is being able to succeed.
Today, I am in my 12th year as president of an excellent American university and I owe it to my parents, their values, and their messages of hard work and perseverance.
Idea of Electric Cars Still Merits Attention
By Beheruz N. Sethna
August 16, 2005
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
I sometimes compare public reaction to gasoline prices with public reaction to SAT scores. While experts in both fields worry daily, the public reacts to SAT scores only on the few days each year when results come out. People pay attention to gas supplies and alternative fuels only when prices at the pump soar. We might do better with a consistent, proactive and strategic stance.
Georgia Power Co. is closing its electric transportation program after 13 years. This is unfortunate. Since 1992, the utility company researched and developed electric vehicles and tried to sell the idea of alternative fuel transportation.
Cost to manufacture the vehicles, lack of infrastructure that included recharging stations and limited battery range were issues that helped its demise, said Don Francis, former manager of the electric vehicle infrastructure product.
Facing those issues, most businesses would have done the same. Marketing alternative fuels has always been a problem because of the reactionary nature of our society.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, as an associate professor at Clarkson University in New York, I did research on electric cars with an undergraduate research team and a Department of Energy grant.
Almost every day from November 1981 through March 1982, I drove an electric car to work. Living in upstate New York, my daily route included heavy snowfalls and winter temperatures that reached 40 below zero. The car performed great under such stark conditions and my final report to the Department of Energy stated that it "never failed to start on the first try."
We were able to collect excellent data, which led to design, marketing and tax recommendations. The cost of electricity was computed to be 5 cents a mile over the test period.
The heater inside the car consumed gasoline. I paid a total of $2 for that gas for the entire five-month test period. My report to the Department of Energy included observations on the need for improved public opinion, more research in battery technology and a hybrid technology.
What has changed over the years? Hybrid cars using both gas and electricity are finally available and affordable.
Using old performance data with today's costs of gas and electricity, rough computations show that at today's prices, it probably would still take eight to nine years to have an electric car break even, but those test conditions were very harsh. Even if the break-even point were four to five years today, a person would probably buy an electric or hybrid car mainly out of a sense of responsibility - which is not a bad way to proceed. If gas prices increase further, and the government, realizing the strategic advantage of consuming less gas, sets aside more money for research and tax incentives, that break-even point would decrease significantly.
As the price of gas rises, we see human nature reacting to those prices and thinking of alternative means of transportation. Being proactive and havinga long-term strategy in place would ensure acceptance of alternatives like hybrids and electric cars by the general public.
Research into alternatives and a change in the way we think would be steps in the right strategic direction. The University of West Georgia is nationally recognized for its undergraduate research. As president of UWG, I see opportunities on this campus and others to delve into the necessary research if resources are made available. It's a matter of public and governmental will. The future is truly in our hands.
* In the early 1980s, as an Associate Professor at Clarkson University in New York, I did research on Electric Cars with an undergraduate research team and a Department of Energy grant. Today, while the industry still has a long way to go, there are more options available to the American public. Without any implication of endorsement, a couple of sites (neither of which exclusively endorse a particular brand or make of car) which may be useful to the person interested in finding out more on the topic includehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_cars and http://www.hybridcars.com/electric-car.
Computation of Margin of Error - In Limerick Form
Editorial on Tuition
By Beheruz N. Sethna
May 26, 2005
College tuition at the University of West Georgia and within the University System of Georgia (USG) continues to provide an outstanding “return on investment” for the citizens of the west Georgia region and for all Georgians.
Tuition and fees at Georgia’s state universities (which includes UWG) rank 41st out of 46 states whose state universities are ranked annually by the Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board. This new ranking represents the increased affordability of Georgia’s public state universities since 2001-02, when tuition within this sector of USG institutions was the 39th lowest nationally of the 46 ranked states.
When the Board of Regents approved new tuition rates during its April board meeting, tuition increases for USG institutions were kept in the single digits for the 2005-2006 academic year.
USG students will experience tuition increases averaging 6.5 percent – 5 percent for students at two-year colleges and four-year state and regional universities, and 8 percent for students at research universities. The increase translates to an additional $37, $58 or $135 per semester during the coming year, depending on whether a student attends a two-year college, a four-year university or a research institution. So, UWG students will pay an additional $58 each semester.
The 6.5 percent average increase comes during a period when tuition increases nationally continue to soar. The median increase in the South last year reached 10.6 percent for four-year colleges and universities and 20 percent for two-year colleges.
The new tuition levels reflect a three-pronged tuition strategy put forward by the chancellor and senior USG officials for 2005-2006. The strategy focuses on generating revenue to increase the number of full-time faculty among all three sectors of the University System. In addition, the strategy includes:
- Promoting admissions access and keeping tuition low to ensure affordability at the two-year colleges;
- Helping the System’s regional and state universities remain competitive regionally; and
- Fostering national competitiveness at the System’s four research universities.
During the 2005-2006 academic year, tuition will generate approximately a total of $43.6 million in revenue across the entire university system – based on actual enrollment – to meet these goals.
Given the excellent academic goals of UWG and the University System, we hope that students understand and support the need for modest tuition increases.
Destination University Vision Statement (PDF)
Dr. Sethna Image Gallery
Also, see President Sethna's retirement page.