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Cross-Boundary Leader: Dr. Anthony Carnevale (DC EPFP 72-73)

Posted By Shaina Cook, Monday, June 29, 2015


Cross-Boundary Leader: Dr. Anthony Carnevale
(DC EPFP 72-73)

Dr. Anthony Carnevale is the founder and director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Prior to this role, he was Vice President for Public Leadership at the Educational Testing Service, Director of Human Resource and Employment Studies at the Center for Economic Development, founder and president of the Institute for Workplace Learning, and Director of Political and Government Affairs for the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. Dr. Carnevale was appointed by Presidents Reagan, Clinton, and Bush to serve on national and White House commissions, and was also a senior staff member in both houses of Congress. In 2013, he received the Harry Truman Award from the American Association of Community Colleges and the Morris T. Keeton Adult and Experiential Learning Award by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning. Dr. Carnevale co-authored the principal affidavit in Rodriguez v. San Antonio, a U.S. Supreme Court action to remedy unequal tax burdens and education benefits. This landmark case resulted in significant fiscal reforms in education funding in a wide variety of states.     

EPFP Experience

I was a tax economist that fell into EPFP and an education-related career accidentally. At the time, in the early seventies, I was finishing my PhD in public finance economics in New York. Data developed by myself and colleagues was being used as part of a heated policy debate in Texas on education funding. Lawyers were taking the state of Texas to court using our data to show that the Texas school financing system was unfair to low-income and Latino students. We won our case before the Texas court overturning the state taxing system. The state of Texas appealed the decision and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. When the Supreme Court decided to hear our case, the Ford Foundation quickly scooped me and bunch of my colleagues up, whisked us off to Washington, and funded us to sue other states on the principle that a child’s education funding ought not to be determined by the wealth of their parents or the wealth of the jurisdiction in which they live.

In those days there was a close connection between the Ford Foundation and IEL, which was how I became an EPFP Fellow. Participating in the program opened my eyes to how the education world worked and the many great opportunities within it to leverage my own youthful commitment to economic and racial justice. I learned a lot from the leaders of the program; Sam Halperin, who was president of IEL at the time, was a very good mentor. I particularly enjoyed interacting with the other Fellows in my cohort. Everyone had diverse backgrounds but we had the shared EPFP experience and similar values and interests.

One way that EPFP informed my career trajectory was that it helped me discover that there was a lot of meaningful work to be had in the education sector. I was considering a job as a professor at the time, but because of EPFP, I decided to go a different route. EPFP gave me a sense of the lay of the land and reaffirmed my work values and what I wanted to get from my career.

Cross-Boundary Leadership

A big part of leading across boundaries is listening to different points of view. For any given issue there are many right answers. In the end, the first leadership test is the ability to live with that ambiguity and act anyway. To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, leadership across boundaries is the ability to hold many equally valid but opposing ideas in your mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function and make difficult choices among equally valid alternatives. Everyone in an argument tends to have a point of view and a valid point to make. A leader understands that and learns how to negotiate and find common ground among the valid perspectives and competing principles involved

Career Challenges

I have experienced different perspectives and learned the ability to find common ground by working in many different types of jobs—private sector, public sector, nonprofits, government, and academia—and through those diverse experiences I’ve learned that there is an enormous value in finding agreement by empathizing with differences in points of view and managing relationships, although it can be difficult to do. The best way to learn cross-boundary leadership is to cross those boundaries yourself in your career, and the best way to learn the diverse perspectives at the public bargaining table is to sit in as many of the different chairs at the public bargaining table as you can. This requires a career where you never settle in and are always ready to leave a comfortable career seat when it gets too tight for comfort.     

Aligning Education with Workforce and Labor Demands

The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, which I founded and lead, subscribes to the view that the enduring mission of educational institutions is to allow people to live fully in their time. At the same time, we believe that you can’t live fully if you’re living under a bridge; that is, education and institutions need to pay attention to what people need to get jobs. If you’re unable to get a job, the institution you attended can’t live up to its broader role in preparing you for life as a productive person and a citizen. Ours is a society based on work. Those Americans without the proper education to get and keep jobs rarely live fully in their time. Getting a job is a major way that people are connected to society; if you can’t get a job, you likely won’t be a lifelong learner, won’t be a productive citizen, and won’t form a successful family.

The Center works to help balance the economic reality and the broader education agenda. At the moment, that balancing act is under a lot of stress. For many educators, their core mission is to educate people to live fully and be empowered citizens free of public dependency or debilitating poverty. But the increasing demand that education leads directly to a job creates a lot of tension between education’s traditional cultural and civic mission and its newer economic mission. The world has changed a lot over the last few decades; no longer can you have just a high school degree and still be middle class.

Leadership Lessons Learned

One big leadership lesson I’ve learned is how difficult it is to know when to stick with a position or compromise. There are rare moments when you feel strongly enough about an issue to part company with your institution or community. It may not always be the winning role or be the most popular idea or the best pathway to promotion or employment security but occasionally it is the only way to go. Recognizing and acting on those moments with grace is difficult and costly and it the ultimate test of a person’s ability to negotiate boundaries between realism and idealism. Building networks across institutional boundaries is one way to escape a place you know when it’s time to go.

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