Sunday, May 19, 2013

SMU COX SCHOOL OF BUSINESS MBA GRADUATION - SPRING 2013

We and thousands of other brave, stalwart souls endured Dallas’ 95 degree heat and sweltering humidity yesterday to attend the Spring 2013 outdoor graduation ceremonies of Southern Methodist University’s (SMU) Cox School of Business (Graduate). Given the ongoing $40 million face-lift to Moody Coliseum (the traditional indoor venue), the ceremonies were held on the Main Quadrangle in front of impressive and historic Dallas Hall. Thankfully, SMU anticipated the heat with hospitality stations handing out bottled water and paper fans. As well planned and executed this commencement was, we do hope they stay inside from this point on.

Friend Austin paired his Master’s in English Literature with an equally prestigious Degree of Master of Business Administration (Executive program) mirroring his professorial parents impressive academic achievements. SMU’s Cox Executive MBA program is ranked seventh in the world.  So, Austin’s career is just beginning and he will, no doubt, ascend to a position of ultimate leadership wherever he decides to drop his hat.  For us he represents all that is good and right with the younger generation. We heartily congratulate Austin and his Family for his very impressive achievement.

Now, I hadn’t attended graduation exercises at the college level in many years and immediately noted some major differences.  Raised in the shadow of the Ivy League I was used to an academic community that saw representation from cultures all over the world.  Though far from the Ivy League and Son Geb’s alma mater, American University, which also always sees impressive numbers of foreign students (the sons and daughters of foreign diplomats and embassy staffers), SMU demonstrates an impressive academic reach.  The number of foreign students especially from China, India and from countries all over Africa while remarkable now appears predictable.  It punctuates the substantial increase, for example,  in Chinese students (207% increase from a decade ago) studying in the United States – now over 25% of all foreign students in the US. The number of other foreign students is also increasing.

While the lesson of stepping up to the plate and preparing our students for a far more competitive, global society seems to be lost at the high school level in the United States (especially here in Texas), that is not the case on the college level.  Universities like SMU have seen an increase in endowments targeted at attracting foreign students.  Lest we think that most of our Chinese students are from Taiwan, they are not.  And, if you’re wondering if we are reciprocating – yes, we are.  Through Chinese Scholar programs like the Schwarzman Scholars Program, more and more students are/will be studying in China.  Despite some obvious differences, it’s fast becoming evident that they are us and we are them. Austin as a part of his graduate MBA curriculum visited both China and Vietnam.  Please do not be fooled by political rhetoric or cultural differences and remember we all came from the same beginnings.

Dr. Al Niemi, the distinguished Dean of the Edwin L. Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University offered his welcome and charge to the graduating class of 2013.  I vaguely remembered (always favorably) Dr. Niemi from his days as Dean of the heralded Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia – the oldest business school in the South.   In his address Dr. Niemi reminded all in attendance that China is now the dominant industrialized nation in the world and despite some ups and downs, continues to increase its lead.

Niemi also offered a perspective from someone we suspect he may know one Ted Turner founder of TBS, CNN and winner of the Americas Cup in Newport (Captain Outrageous) among other impressive accomplishments.  I follow Ted for several reasons – 1) He graduated from Brown University where my Father attended, 2) Ted has always been the candid voice for every Man – speaking up when everybody else was afraid and 3) I was sent an invitation to and attended the 1980 opening of CNN at the old Progressive Club in Atlanta, Georgia, then Turner Broadcasting System (TBS) headquarters. It was quite a party and I was honored and certainly appreciated being a part of history. 

So, Turner is my kind of guy and we think the label “media mogul” really doesn’t do Turner justice.  As controversial as he has been over the years he is now very careful about what and how he expresses himself and represents the ultimate in philanthropy.  During the graduation ceremonies Dr. Niemi obtusely quoted what he reflected was, “reportedly, the world’s shortest graduation speech” where Duke commencement speaker “Ted Turner walked up to the podium and stated, ‘Your President asked me if I'd offer a few words of advice to you as you graduate. Here they are: 'Get out there and work your butts off.’  Then he sat down.” I had heard this story before though was also aware of a 1999 commencement address given by Turner to Duke University’s Fuqua School of Management graduates where we certainly waxed eloquent (and much longer) even touching on politics. I find no other record of a commencement address at Duke University.  So, while Turner could’ve/would’ve said, “Work your butts off”, however refreshing and welcome, that short, Turner-attributed address probably never happened.

Niemi was refreshingly brief (no clich├ęs or hearts and flowers, etc.).  He used Turner’s alleged remarks as metaphor to launch his more appropriate charge to “Work hard and earn your success, practice the Golden Rule, follow a moral compass, maintain your ethical standards, keep learning and maintain a safety net of relationships.”

This was a sound and well-delivered message, representing an excellent school and an outstanding class.  The future looks bright.  Well done, Austin.

Aye,

Ned Buxton

Saturday, May 11, 2013

IS TEXAS PUTTING YOUR SONS AND DAUGHTERS IN HARMS WAY?

For me gun control is putting common sense limits on who can legally buy a gun, period. The issue is all about gun safety not gun rights… Nobody is going to involuntarily register or take away our guns (mine included) and Barak Obama is not a new Hitler. Let’s stop all the political rhetoric and start making sense – for the good of the many. What we need to do is enforce existing laws and set up further barriers to those who would purchase guns with the intent to do harm to others. Will the criminal or mentally unstable element in our society find other ways to purchase arms?  They’ll probably try, but let’s make this as difficult as possible recognizing that existing laws denied firearm transfers or permits for almost 1.8 million applications from 1994 to 2008. In 2010 alone (the most recent year for which data is available) FBI and state law enforcement denied firearm purchases to 153,000 people. It would certainly appear that background checks are keeping guns out of the hands of at least some folks that don’t qualify for ownership or even possession. We obviously can do better and that doesn’t mean throwing out the baby with the bath water.  We all have a stake in this game.   

Just when states like Connecticut have adopted saner gun control laws that include background checks the Republican dominated House of Representatives in Texas is going full bore in the opposite direction.  Last week the Texas State House in a mostly in your face gesture passed a dozen measures that will turn our state (which is already gun friendly and very well equipped) into an even greater armed camp.  We think that this also puts more folks in potential harm’s way (more later). The current mentality running amok in the Texas State Legislature would probably not oppose gleefully renaming the state – Fort Texas or as Guv’nr Perry has inferred, engaging an option he doesn’t have and seceding altogether from the United States. Having said that, thank God many of these bills are probably going nowhere when they finally hit the floor of the Texas Senate. Alarmingly, though, some will pass into law.

Some of the Texas House proposals would allow college students over the age of 21 with concealed weapons permits to carry guns into classrooms and are you ready for this one – in a blissfully ignorant and embarrassing move, another that exempts the state from any future federal bans on assault rifles, high-capacity magazines or universal background checks.  Apparently our rough and ready legislators are not aware that state law does not trump federal law.  Among the legislation passed was a bill designed to punish by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine police officers and/or government officials who try to enforce federal firearms limits in Texas (Yikes!). This is nothing more than giddy, confrontational high stakes drama and juvenile posturing politics – just what you can expect from many Texas lawmakers – which for some will be their last hurrah – witness the next election season.  

And then isn’t it nice to know, as well demonstrated in a featured video at the NRA convention in Houston, that Texas Governor Rick Perry can kill a chicken egg at a hundred yards with a round fired from a scoped .308 LaRue Tactical assault rifle.  Perry’s victorious half smile/smirk and faux heroic gaze following the successful shot reminded us of his lighter than air demeanor many times during the last presidential debates – no Kirk Douglas/Spartacus he.  Perry admitted that he first shot a gun at age four and likened his shooting as a hobby – like golf… For me my time on the firing range was an interesting recreational pursuit and opportunity to learn how to handle, use, maintain and respect guns, nothing more.  Having said that, we certainly don’t begrudge any responsible citizenry the opportunity to buy guns for defense, hunt and even pursue legitimately sanctioned shooting events including NRA meets.  By the way, lest we think Perry’s hit a once in a lifetime lucky shot, please know that he really has a good eye and has been choreographing and practicing that shot for well over a year (we’ve seen his tweets). Yes, I have voted for him.

Now with all their bluster the mostly Republican proposed legislation that would allow students over age 21 and with concealed handgun permits to carry on their college campuses also allows the colleges and universities to opt out and enforce bans on concealed handguns.  If the initial outcry from Texas academics is any indication, most colleges and universities will choose to opt out and ban firearms on their campuses. There is, however, support for the proposal and as one Virginia Tech grad opined, “Guns on campus, that’s crazy!” We agree

Let’s take a look at a scenario where on a college campus a deranged gunman in the model of the recent Sandy Hook shooter starts gunning down people.  Law enforcement has been alerted and they along with campus marshals and police are on their way.  You have a concealed handgun permit and you are carrying that day.  The shots are getting closer and while you have a permit you have not had any training in law enforcement and the only thing you’ve shot at are some paper targets on a shooting range, some tin cans and that tree stump you vaporized with an AR-15.  You are now, however, confronted with a life or death situation. You are in the company of your girlfriend and several fellow students and were on your way to sociology class.  What to do?

You responsibly direct your companions to seek cover and draw your weapon anticipating the momentary appearance of the shooter and around the corner, here he comes – in full body armor and carrying a Bushmaster with a high capacity clip and what appears to be several holstered handguns, an ammo sack and a snake gun slung over his shoulder. You confront him and loose several rounds that hit him in his protected zones.  He returns fire at you and your already fleeing companions.  In a fortuitous, cinematic nick of time the police arrive and dispatch the shooter – and you - as you stood at the ready - gun smoking.  You see, the police were unable to determine if you were a perpetrator or a friendly. Thus the tragedy expands and the job of law enforcement is complicated by exponential degrees by a well-intended but poorly trained (and mostly young) citizenry.

Aside from a necessary and last ditch defense of Family, hearth and home when someone confronts you and you have to defend yourself, we think we should leave the heavy lifting to law enforcement and those trained for that job. We are reminded of the recent unsuccessful home invasion by two Oklahoma teens on a rural Maypearl, Texas home.  Confronted with gunfire they fled and then ultimately committed suicide rather than face Texas authorities. That scenario resulted in a rare and welcome win for the good guys. 

Many times, though, the police may not be able to differentiate between you and the criminal.  A SWAT Team coming into a hot zone is going to shoot first and ask questions later. And we ask what about your Friends who will most assuredly come under attack by a shooter and what if you hit an innocent bystander or like the police what if another gun toting citizen student mistakes you for the shooter… Thoughts to ponder.  We certainly understand the underlying emotion, but this is a complicated issue.  As with life, we are dealing with varying shades of gray.

We also ponder that disagreements once managed and reconciled by debate or at the extreme, a brawl on the back forty, now becomes the impetus to take the easy way out and just shoot your opponent in that crazy hyperventilated millisecond where emotion trumps reason and civil behavior. You can’t take that moment in time away. We are making it easy to take the low road…  

We looked at five major polls which reflect that up to 90% of the national electorate support expanded background checks, yet Congress failed to enact and pass that legislation.  This sure looks to be a wax and wane scenario as folks forget about Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Boston, et al though it would appear they will unfortunately be reminded of the issue many times in the future.

So who benefits if universal background checks and other gun control measures are defeated?  First of all, the gun manufacturers and the gun lobby in Washington who are paid to forward the agenda of expanding firearms sales to whomever benefit the most. The NRA who once supported greater gun controls now perceive that their influence would be greatly diminished if that ever happened thus they morph common sense gun safety into a gun rights issue – the dreaded gun registry. However they paint it, it’s all about the almighty dollar - money.

The NRA’s almost five million members are passionate and well organized – well enough to intimidate our representatives and defeat expanded gun control and background checks at the federal level. Now how does that stack up with the 66 million that voted Democratic in the last presidential election and those of the roughly 61 million Republicans that share gun control reform sentiments?  The overwhelming numbers of reform minded citizen voters don’t mean a thing until that silent and substantial majority demands their lawmakers engage reformed gun control legislation.  Until that happens we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past.

The Republicans didn’t learn any lessons from their most recent defeats with it appearing they think they won.   They didn’t and we need to remind them once again of their defeat at the polls along with those from other parties - Democratic, Tea Party, Libertarian or Green, etc. who failed to support and vote the will of their constituents.

So, let’s single one of those out – Senator Kelley Ayotte of New Hampshire who literally defied the highly publicized substantial majority will of her constituents and voted against gun reform - the only New England senator to oppose the legislation. Now, Ayotte’s term runs to 2016 and that interim will be a constant reminder of an elected representative who committed political suicide in front of God and Country. She is most likely going to suffer a decreased effectiveness in the Senate, the enmity of her now estranged constituency and as the Huffington Post opined, suffer a political future that’s, “in the toilet.”  We agree and encourage all to seek out the Kelley Ayottes on The Hill and vote them out of office. Please continue to remember and stay motivated…

The NRA’s reaction?  Though we’re talking about expanded background checks that would keep firearms out of the hands of criminals, the mentally incompetent and others adjudged a risk to society, the NRA lauded Ayotte for, “protecting the rights of gun owners.” Huh?

Then on the heels of all this rubbish the Texas Senate today approved and sent to Gov. Rick Perry a bill that drastically reduces the hours of training needed to get a state concealed handgun license. The bill that passed the senate without debate cut the training from a minimum of ten hours to from four to six. We’ve determined that most states concealed weapon permit training is all accomplished within a day.  We thought that expanding the training might be more appropriate but what of those that slip in between the cracks and adopt an empowered vigilante posture - an invitation to take the law into their own hands. One highly regarded range master who trains for the Texas Concealed Carry permit stated that the now further reduced course is woefully inadequate.

If you think your sons and daughters might potentially migrate to a state with a cowboy shoot em up mentality and on a college campus that doesn’t opt out where there is no limitation on who can carry a concealed handgun save a minimalist handgun permit that doesn’t include any formal law enforcement training, you better do some real checking.  Those states are many and well beyond the borders of Texas. In fairness we heard of one study by an chemical engineer from Texas which reflects that those with Texas concealed handgun permits were, “less likely to commit any particular type of crime than the general population, and overall were 13 times less likely to commit any crime.” We say being a good (untrained) guy doesn’t make them qualified to carry on any campus where the mere presence of firearms could provoke and incite conflict.  Maybe we will ultimately come to the conclusion that there are no real safe places left – that like crossing the street there are risks inherent in all activities – where life becomes cheaper and even just another commodity.

We say let’s make it more difficult to purchase any weapon and obtain a permit and encourage all of the fifty states, the District of Columbia and our possessions to participate and share local critical data on criminals and the mentally ill, etc. to our national databank for that purpose. And, yes, let’s hold all our politicians accountable for our wishes. And let’s wonder about those students who now armed get sideways with their professors and decide to shoot it out. This is sure a different world and seemingly not a better one…

When did we ever arrive at the conclusion that the lives of our babies and innocents wasn’t as important as gun safety. As one Texas educator questioned, “How can any reasonable, sentient human being support this policy?” Ah… And with the current Texas legislature all this is paramount over the more substantial public education, highway/transportation and in a state with a great thirst – water issues.  Go figure     

Aye,

Ned Buxton

Saturday, May 4, 2013

WHAT TO DO WITH THE SMU SIG EPS?

I’m a proud lifetime member of Sigma Phi Epsilon and one who has benefitted greatly from my fraternity association.  The Sig Eps provided mentorship, brotherhood and a goal- oriented, leadership building path for me to follow - all thanks to Big Brother Bud Moore. All but one of my Buxton Brothers were Greek including one who is a fellow Sig Ep. My Dad was a Phi Delta Theta as were three generations of Buxtons before him.  Dad was wearing his Phi Delt ring when he passed to his great reward. Grandfather Littlefield was a DTD at Dartmouth.  No, we don’t think the Greek system broken as some – mostly from outside the system – might suggest.  It does take a far more mature approach and commitment to honestly benefit and forward the very positive agenda of the Greek Fraternity and Sorority system. Having said that, not all initiates ultimately prove their worthiness. It is a lifelong quest
 
Fraternities by their very nature are highly selective and discriminate in order to attract and retain those with the highest character and personality that will not only benefit from but also contribute to the goals and mission of their organizations.  They mostly get it right but occasionally poor decisions are made though some hope that their positive influence will allow for ultimate success.  The Sig Ep Balanced Man Program follows that path.  The news is full of those who pervert or skew what fraternity is all about though the greater majority of the time those organizations bring honor and glory to their name.  The goals of developing character, leadership skills, philanthropy and camaraderie based on “the love of God and the principle of peace through Brotherhood” are impressive and achievable.  What happened at SMU recently demonstrates that we have some work to do though we caution that despite some already drawn conclusions, all is not necessarily what it appears to be.

From what we have been able to determine, it is alleged that several members of Lambda Chi Alpha (LXA) were caught engaging what they call – pranking – in this case, the ritual spray painting of the now iconic red front door of the Sig Ep House.  One of the LXA members ended up in the Sig Ep house and whether voluntarily or forced (that is yet to be determined), claims that he was beaten and held against his will. This alleged response, if proved, however perceived as well deserved, was as bad as or worse than the prank.   Our Red Door – long a symbol of welcome - has been the target of vandals and misguided pranksters - many times alcohol motivated - who think it funny to desecrate one of the more sacred symbols of our organization.   

Indeed, mischievous members of other fraternities or pretenders haven’t just singled out the Sig Eps historically.  In that same spirit other immature ne’er-do-wells have painted, tarred and feathered and even urinated on the SAE lions - even removed Greek letters from fraternity houses. We could go on and on with examples of immature behavior from so-called future leaders (no boys will be boys here…).

SMU and their University Police have come to the conclusion that four Sig Eps were, “guilty of violations of the SMU Student Code of Conduct and University policies, as well as the standards and values of the fraternity itself."  We note that they are also facing criminal charges “stemming from the attack.” SMU then suspended Sigma Phi Epsilon for two years though it now appears they could be back on campus as early as the fall of 2014.

While we abhor and do not condone the alleged immature, over-the-top response by some SMU Sig Eps, we think this looks an awful lot like “who threw the first punch?”  We ask, What about Lambda Chi whose members were surely complicit in the “prank” against the Sig Eps that prompted the response?  The defense mounted by the Sig Eps legal counsel seems plausible coupled with an attempt by the Lambda Chis to deflect from their participation in this whole affair.  The Sig Eps didn’t “prank” anybody as reported in the media… They probably just threw that second punch…

Notice to those that engaged the vandalism against the Sig Eps and think it funny.  This was a violation of the SMU Code of Student Conduct and probably about a dozen laws of University Park, Texas.  If I were a member of the Texas Upsilon Chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon and the identities of the perpetrators were ultimately determined, I would have recommended filing formal charges against all of them.  It was funny, you say…  See how funny it potentially is from the inside of a jail cell. It’s time to grow up.  

We certainly understand why some members of Sigma Phi Epsilon may have responded violently to the vandalism though there was no excuse for those behaviors.  If true, this was a grievous lapse in the basic philosophy of Sigma Phi Epsilon and our Balanced Man Program. These Brothers and probably some other members of that now suspended chapter now have to defend themselves and their reputation.  All need to heed the message that however justified they feel, taking the law into your own hands is unwise, illegal and not an option. We have been charged as Sig Eps to be different - to be above the Madding Crowd.  

We can’t allow violence to begat a violent response - a strategy that would most certainly be denounced by our Founders.  Surely the more mature and certainly the most responsible way to respond to this situation is not to, turn the other cheek,” rather call law enforcement and let them pursue the matter along with the University and the IFC. And how about an immediate ban on any tweets or other social media comments about the incident?   

So what of the role of Lambda Chi Alpha in this whole mess? It certainly appears that some of their members were responsible for the act that precipitated whatever the Sig Ep response was.  We wonder after having vandalized the Sig Ep house and losing one of their members, no attempt was made to retrieve him.  How about a knock on the door, an apology and offer to repair the damage? It will be interesting how the lawyers spin this one…

If it is legally determined that the Lambda Chi’s were complicit in the vandalism against the Sig Ep house (if it goes that far) then they should be as severely sanctioned as the Sig Eps and all other organizations who should be held responsible for violations of the law and the Code of Student Conduct by their members.  They need be held accountable to the university, their national organizations, law enforcement and ultimately their own conscience.

We noted that the SMU Lambda Chi’s had previously come under the scrutiny of their national headquarters for so called “risk management violations” in 2009 which resulted in the expulsion of 35 members of LXA in 2010.

Membership in a Greek Fraternity/Sorority is a privilege and a life-long commitment.  Like any organization, there are obligations which accompany membership - to abide by the principles of their Fraternity and charter.  They are only as good as their last at bat – in this case their last interaction with anybody whether it be Brother, Pledge, the University, fellow student or anybody else on or off the street.  If you can’t embrace and abide by the rules, regulations and by-laws of your sponsoring organization, University and local and national laws, then you don’t deserve to be a part of that group.  You have to continually prove that you deserve the honor and privilege of being embraced as a part of that group.  It’s an earned benefit not a right or entitlement – you earn those Sanguine et Purpure colors every day of the year for the rest of your life.

If you are looking for a good party or just another chance to push the boundaries of acceptable behaviors in an illegal cartel disguised as a fraternity, please don’t even approach the Sig Eps.  They’re working to get it right.  A little weed and feed across the board apparently wouldn’t hurt…

So, continue to counsel and remind Sig Eps and the members of all Greek Fraternities and Sororities of their pledge to embrace and live by their organization’s core values and continue to responsibly prepare themselves to be good citizens and stewards of our planet. They could be the last bastion and defenders of our way of life…
 
Aye,

Ned Buxton