Tag Archives: Jane Fernandes

Guilford College facing acutest issues of social change in forthright, creative ways

Interesting to see how Guilford College President Jane Fernandes’ most recent post at her blog, Jane’s Friendly View, “What #metoo Compels Us to Do” parallels the core theme of Guilford creative writing professor Mylène Dressler’s new novel, The Last to See Me.

To victims of sexual assault and harassment, Jane says “We see you. We understand you. You are real.” Professor Dressler comes at the same thing in a ghost story.

I’m pretty sure the two did not coordinate what they have done. (That would be a conspiracy, wouldn’t it?)

Since 1837, the Guilford College community is always wrestling with the acutest social issues of the times. Always learning. Always creative. Always facing forward.

Guilford College President uniquely prepared to prepare students uniquely — intelligence that is not artificial

Jane Fernandes’ Blog

Gradually, articles written about her, her own writing, and her speeches and oral presentations are showing us more of Jane Fernandes’ personal story.

The President of Guilford College has been deaf from birth. So was her mother. Over time, we have learned that

  • When Jane was a small child, her mother would give her a few coins or a small bill and send her to the store, charging her to buy some item, pay for it, and return with the correct change — without the store keeper realizing that Jane could not hear.
  • Jane attended public schools and after school, her mother would ask “What questions did you ask at school today?” (“My mother knew that if I asked my own questions and found the answers to them, I would have powerful preparation for life.”)
  • Throughout her school days, Jane’s mother caused her to take piano lessons. When Jane complained, her mother sent her to a concert. (“I sat very close to the stage and watched Van Cliburn. As he played, I saw his soul. I saw what chords meant.”)
  • In college, Jane majored in French and spent a year in France.
  • At Guilford College, Jane celebrates the Eastern Music Festival, which is held on Guilford’s campus.

There’s more to tell, but you tell me:

  • Is that a practical liberal arts education or what?
  • Can you imagine a better preparation for a 21st Century educator?
  • Can you imagine a better orientation for a leader in a learning community at this moment?
  • What core capabilities do you want today’s emerging adults to have for what’s coming?

And how about that mother?

Guilford College president makes brave decision, teams undefeated after

guilford_college_fernandes_college_boardGuilford College President Jane Fernandes recently posted on her blog a dynamite note titled “Moving from Safe to Brave.” It mirrored her remarks as a featured speaker at the 2017 Higher Ed Colloquium in Florida, a national program of the College Board.

That post puts me in mind of an earlier Guilford leader who chose “brave” over “safe.”

In the period immediately after Lincoln called for troops, “trouble and perplexity were in the air” at Guilford College and in North Carolina. War was coming. Many Quakers and others who opposed secession were leaving. At that point, New Garden Boarding School (later Guilford College) was full. Nereus Mendenhall was its Superintendant and the principal teacher. But Mendenhall owned property in Minneapolis and his brother-in-law urged going there. For Mendenhall, this promised “worldly advancement and the accumulation of wealth.” And, as a pacifist and abolitionist, he had concerns about raising his family in slave territory.

So, he and his wife, Orianna, packed their bags for Minnesota.

On the day before they were to depart, they went over to the school to close up. But when it came to closing the school and leaving the students, Nereus could not do it. Their daughter Mary later recalled both her parents standing at the library, weeping. Nereus said, “Orianna, if I feel that the Lord requires me to stay, is thee willing to give up going and stay here?” Orianna said, “Certainly, if that is thy feeling, I am satisfied to stay.”

So Nereus and Orianna made the brave choice, certainly not the safe one. They stayed.

Opposed to secession, opposed to slavery, and opposed to war, Mendenhall kept New Garden/Guilford open throughout the war. During that time, people associated with the College often gave food and shelter (refuge) to deserters, bushwhackers and escaped slaves.

Guilford was “the only school in the South that was not closed during the war or during reconstruction.”

From this evidence, it may be deduced that Guilford’s athletic teams must have gone undefeated during that period.

Brave. Undefeated.

The Mendenhall home, The Oaks, is for sale now by Preservation North Carolina and likely to be demolished.

Mid size law firms doomed to planning, diligence

due-diligenceGuilford College president Jane Fernandes once counseled the College’s board of trustees that there is a difference between “planning” and “hoping.” (She communicated this very diplomatically, a measure of her fitness for her job.)

In a word (well, two words) the difference is “due diligence.”

British law firm consultants Edward Drummond & Co recently advised “mid-tier” firms in England that the largest London firms are shouldering mid-tier firms out of high-margin work. Mid-tier firms, Drummond says, are in danger of losing their ability to attract new business.

But, there is hope. Drummond, itself a planning consultant, says there is

scope for mid-tier firms to improve their margins by placing greater focus on ‘rigorous strategic planning’. For their new ventures to be effective, the consultancy said, it was imperative that mid-tier firms dramatically ramp up in-depth market research and competitor analysis while also ensuring a thorough understanding of the potential opportunities and risks of the work.

Firms were warned that without carrying out detailed due diligence, they could risk seeing seemingly profitable new business ventures suffer or even fail.

Before firms commit to “new lines of business” though, a Drummond partner counseled

  • analysis of competitors,
  • identifying gaps in the market, and
  • targeting potential clients

Failure to commit to rigorous due diligence is more strategic hope than strategic planning. It risks doom.

What all this means in the context of mid-size American law firms is a horse of a somewhat different color than what British mid-tier firms face, but still a horse.



The discipline of listening

Three baby scops owls

“To see the way forward you have to listen deeply. You have to listen to people you don’t want to hear from, and you have to hear what you don’t want to know.”

Jane Fernandes, President of Guilford College.

“The discipline of listening deeply — which is central to the disciplines of self-awareness, reflection, trustworthiness, expanded consciousness, fearless engagement and leadership — is so crucial to transformation.”

Charlotte Roberts & Martha Summerville, Guilford College trustees and authors of the recent article at strategy + business, “The Mindful Board” as well as a forthcoming book of the same name.

The people who know how to listen are the ones most worth listening to.

What the horse-and-mule business shows to lawyers, robots and others preparing for an uncertain future


Last week, John Markoff at the New York Times published a note calling attention to recent studies which conclude that technology will not replace lawyers so much as create new kinds of the work for them to do. “The End of Lawyers? Not So Fast” He points to a paper written by UNC Law professor Dana Remus and Frank Levy at MIT, “Can Robots Be Lawyers?“.

Well, let me tell you: my great-grandfather, my grandfather and my father were in the horse-and-mule business from the 19th Century forward. It was a good business and they did well. Then tractors came.

By the Mid-Twentieth Century, the horse-and-mule business was done. My family has been on the run from technology ever since. So my crowd knows a thing or two about competing with machines.

Now, here I am in the 21st Century weighing the possibility that robots may take most of the jobs that were left after the tractors came. I am being told not to worry. And, I have an attitude about that.

A rush of recent books and article has proclaimed a coming era of technology-provided abundance. Maybe, nobody will need to work. But that initial rush quickly subsided into a flow of worry — about whether there will be jobs for people to do. This will be with us, we are told – in twenty years’ time or less, they say.

Things are in flux. In the future, either the work we do will be gone, or it will will be changed. Either way, it will be different. How do we prepare for that?

Here is what the horse-and-mule bid’ness showed me.

First, the less work there is for people to do in an abundant future, the more need there will be for real educations. It will take a real education to know how to thrive in a time when jobs are not needed any more. That will require: “men and women with well-trained minds and good hearts; people who can think for themselves and not be blown about by every wind of doctrine.”

And, second, the same also looks true if jobs are still around, but the work is different from what it is now. We must be able to cope with that change. And the best way (maybe the only way) to prepare for change , is to have a real education.

A “real education” is what Jane Fernandes at Guilford College calls a “practical liberal arts” education.


Sir Thomas More and the mid size law firm

HThomas-Moree was the great lawyer of the English common law. He stood at the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of what came next. A lawyer who was canonized.

Thomas More’s 1998 biographer, Peter Ackroyd, says that

For most of his life, More was a lawyer and a public administrator; he was not a visionary or a scholarly humanist. … [H]e believed that experience in the practical business of the world led to prudent deliberation and good judgement [sic].

“Experience in the practical business of the world leads to prudent deliberation and good judgment.”

Experience, deliberation, judgment. That is the core franchise of the mid size law firm. It is the promise that mid size firms make to beginning lawyers; and the product they deliver to clients.

The same thing is at the core of “the practical liberal arts,” which President Jane Fernandes is defining at Guilford College. Practical experience married with structured study of tradition and learning.

Best education for what is coming – “practical liberal arts”

experiential learningPoliticians are recasting education and putting their chips on preparing students for jobs.

This has prompted lots of commentary by thinkers and writers who disagree. They say:

  • If students study what they have a passion for, they will be better prepared for both work and life than if they merely seek to create credentials for specific jobs.
  • Over the next twenty years machines will take away most of the compensated work people are doing now. Jobs in the future will be different from most of the jobs now.
  • In the future, if not now, the most compelling need will be to know how to manage change, to learn new jobs, and to reinvent yourself, over and over. The greatest need: know how to learn.
  • Compensated work in the future will focus on what machines can’t do. That means kinds of work that are not routine or repeating. For most, it probably means that our work will require understanding and interacting with people. This will include:
    • How to interact & work with others
    • How to compromise
    • How to deal with rejection, failure, change
    • How to know what you don’t know and where and how to find new knowledge and skills
    • Understanding how people & societies work
  • Self-aware people with enthusiasm for learning will be more valuable in the kinds of work that’s coming than the ones who were trained for specific functions in the current workplace.

The best way to get what’s needed looks to me like immersion in a residential learning community. The Internet seems a good way to acquire knowledge and some skills, but guided participation in a community of learners is the best way to awaken and practice a passion for learning and an understanding of people.

The president of Guilford College calls this “the practical liberal arts.” Her vision aligns with Nereus Mendenhall, Guilford’s legendary Civil War president’s vision: “To produce men and women with well-trained minds and good hearts; people who can think for themselves and not be blown about by every wind of doctrine.”

You can’t legislate that. But you can bet on it.

Jane Fernandes, her French major & the job it prepared her for

Jane_FernandesIn the most recent post here, the point is made that studying what you love has greater practical value than studying what you think has the greatest practical value.

Just after that note was posted, MidLaw became aware of this article in Our State magazine about Dr. Jane Fernandes, Guilford College‘s ninth president. Jane is deaf. She was a French major. She majored in French despite her parents’ worries.

Jane dove in anyway. “I loved every minute of it,” she says. “It was more about being in charge of what I could and couldn’t do.” She read books. She went to Paris. She got the degree.

Our State, North Carolina, September 2015.

It worked out fine. She got an advanced degree. Now she’s the president of a world class liberal arts college. She is very good at what she does, which is not teaching French.

FOOTNOTE: Your humble servant is also a French major. With that preparation, he promptly became a soldier in an unsuccessful land war in Asia, then a business litigator and trial lawyer, a banking lawyer, and now the managing partner of an exceptional law firm with offices in three North Carolina cities.

MidLaw is studying the proposition that everyone should major in French . . ..

Vive La France!

I’m on fire but don’t put me out, just let me burn

FireI saw something last week that almost literally and certainly figuratively set me on fire. It was Guilford College’s Convocation.

The president, Jane Fernandes made a stirring address. It was high minded – about values. And it was well done. Fully the equivalent of what I heard when I started college in 1964. The Guilford College Choir led the singing of the alma mater.

What was new to me though was the rest. Students and faculty convened at a small college. The faculty and upperclasses inviting new students to research – to research and learn about what turns them on.

Professor Melanie Lee-Brown lit the fire. She was up there literally setting things on fire and flinging them into the air. (I am assured that what she was doing complied somehow with the fire code.) Real research is for everyone, students and faculty. Faculty will be there to help every student, one-on-one. Every one. Students are not required, but invited to do this.

Older students were showing what they did last year: Science (things were smoking), music (things were smokin’), history (Raphael and Pope Leo X). A really good jazz group, the Blue Roots Jazz Band, doing research and featuring a graduate of the famous Westtown School.

New students were invited by the community they were joining to follow their passions – and join everybody else who’s already doing that.

They were not told, “We will convey to you what you must know.” They were encouraged to go after it for themselves and assured that the faculty will help. It was personal.

Very cool. Sign me up. Let me burn.