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WSU president Elson Floyd says that education, family
and faith create leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr.

To develop more leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., Elson S. Floyd, president of Washington State University, said education is key, along with strengthening families and faith.
He believes society is ready to reverse inequities that remain.

Elson Floyd
Elson S. Floyd at MLK Day, Spokane

Speaking on the theme, “It Started with a Dream:  Many Views, One Vision,” at the annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Day Commemorative Celebration at First Presbyterian Church in Spokane, he told of his African Methodist Episcopal roots and the influence of his working-class parents in Henderson, N.C.  They instilled in him “the value of education as the path to dream and to rise.”
He was the first in his family to go to college, earning a bachelor’s degree in political science and speech in 1978, a master’s in education in 1982 and a doctoral degree in higher and adult education in 1984 from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

After serving as vice president for student services and administration at Eastern Washington University in Cheney and as then as executive director of the Washington State Higher Education Coordinating Board 1990 to 1995, he worked in administration at the University of North Carolina from 1995 to 1998.

He previously participated in Spokane’s Martin Luther King, Jr., Day March in 1994, when went from the Spokane County Jail to the Federal Courthouse.

Floyd sees Spokane as a community “focused on the issues of today and tomorrow.” 
“It’s time to reflect, renew and rededicate ourselves,” he said.  “We need to think beyond our limits and hope we can make a dent in society.  We need to sustain ourselves so we will have a powerful impact on society.

“America’s strength is in our diversity. Education opens doors to prosperity and success for people,” said Floyd, who taught education and counseling, and was also president of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo and of the University of Missouri in Columbia before coming to WSU in May 2007. 

Education gives us hope and ambition,” he asserted.

“Society is moving fast.  We must be able to compete in the global marketplace,” he said, referring to the browning and graying of America as “part of the tapestry of America.”

Because of these changes, it is important to recognize the importance of each vote, he said, pointing out that “political and economic influence is not just about fairness and justice.  It’s also about diversity.” 

A few years ago, one-fourth of the state’s people were racial minorities, he reported.  In a few years, one-third will be racial minorities.

Floyd believes that everyone must share in the successes of the state. That’s harder as responsibility to pay for higher education shifts from the state to the individual, he said.  In 2009, students paid half the tuition costs, up from previously paying one-third of costs.

“We need to renew our commitment to young people by controlling and containing education costs, welcoming them into institutions without students being hindered by cost,” he said.  “It’s about fairness and justice, and a vision as a society of doing things in a fundamentally different way.

“As a society, we should not waste human potential.  How can we put a value on research not done or teachers who are kept out of teaching for lack of education?” he challenged.

Floyd pointed out that Dr. King was about “education, hope and opportunity.”  He understood that education is the key to opportunities.

We need to talk with our sons and daughters so they aspire to better opportunities than we as parents have had.  That’s what Dr. King’s dream today is about,” he said.  “Education is the best investment.  It creates farsighted citizens.  To support education is to support Dr. King’s legacy.”

Floyd said that in 1963 when Dr. King came to Washington, D.C., he came to “cash the check” of the promises made in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that all men and women, black and white, are equal and have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
While there have been gains in equality, Floyd is concerned about statistics on societal trends that influence education:  In 1966, half of children lived in two-parent households, but in 2006 only 30 percent did.  Other trends are the high rate of school drop-outs and imprisonment of black men.

“We must reclaim families.  Our future depends on it,” Elson said.

“We are in an information revolution.  The agricultural revolution made it possible to feed the population using less than two percent of the work force.  The industrial revolution made the nation wealthy, but brought problems, like the Depression, that had to be addressed.

“Now business, labor and educational institutions have enabled disadvantaged citizens to move into the mainstream and made it possible to feed the entire world if we choose to,” he said. 
“While the income for blacks is the highest ever, unemployment for black men is higher—double—than unemployment of white men, just as the average life span for black men and women is less than for white men and women,” Floyd continued.

To reverse those “daunting trends,” he said schools, churches and businesses need to recognize the value of cultural and racial diversity and the role of education in success.
“The information age transmits volumes of information faster than ever,” he said.  “The pace of change continues in everything.”

Floyd measures the long-term success of education in long-term employment and in instilling a life-long desire to learn.

“Thousands of young people are unprepared for the rigor of today,” he said, concerned that decisions are made early that categorize students so fewer take college-preparation classes.
“High-school graduation and college-entry requirements should be the same,” he said.
To do that, he calls for more support to sustain teachers.

Floyd is concerned that the role of teaching is seen as a low priority and that parents use schools as babysitters.

“Teachers have become consummate social workers.  We need to stop that nonsense and reclaim the schools,” he said. 

Rather than pointing blame, he calls for awareness that quality education begins at home, that the scales of justice need to be applied fairly, and that more African-American men need to be directed to classrooms rather than prison cells.

Floyd also promotes development of programs that help young people become involved in their communities.

“Our sense of community and our value of family have eroded,” he said, recalling how his hometown community kept him accountable in his growing years.

Dr. King articulated our hopes and dreams.  A dream is hope for a better life where people are judged by the content of their character,” he said.  “People are people.  We need to respect everyone.”

“Dr. King was a leader.  We can be leaders as he was,” he said, noting that for that to be possible, “we need to produce, develop and teach future leaders.  Leaders are responsible, treat neighbors as themselves, do not lie or steal, are faithful to their families and nurture spiritual life,” he said.
Floyd reminded that because a chain is “no stronger than its weakest link,” it is essential to educate and nurture all members of the community and nation.

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