Simmons University President: Higher Education in 2022

As college becomes ever more expensive, the traditional business model of higher education is under threat The president of Simmons University shares her views on the state of higher ed in 2022.


May 06, 2022

The future of higher education is changing. Millions of students now have access to online courses from the world's top universities. As college becomes ever more expensive, the traditional business model of higher education is under threat

How can Simmons University and other institutions remain relevant in this rapidly shifting environment?  We talk with Lynn Perry Wooten, the president of Simmons University, to explore what's happening in higher education today.

The conversation includes these topics:

Lynn Perry Wooten, a seasoned academic and an expert on organizational development and transformation, became the ninth president of Simmons University on July 1, 2020. She is the first African American to lead the university.

Specializing in crisis leadership, diversity and inclusion, and positive leadership—organizational behavior that reveals and nurtures the highest level of human potential—Dr. Wooten is an innovative leader and prolific author and presenter whose research has informed her work in the classroom and as an administrator.

Dr. Wooten’s research has ranged from an NIH-funded investigation of how leadership can positively alleviate health disparities to leading in a crisis and managing workforce diversity. She is the author of two books, Positive Organizing in a Global Society: Understanding and Engaging Differences for Capacity Building and Inclusion (2016) and Leading Under Pressure: From Surviving to Thriving Before, During, and After a Crisis (2010). Sharing her work at nearly 60 symposia and conferences, she also is the author of nearly 30 journal articles and more than 15 book chapters, as well as managerial monographs and numerous teaching cases.

She currently serves on the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, the Association for Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts (AICUM) Board of Directors, the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Trustee Advisory Board, the JFK Library Foundation Board of Advisors, the Fenway Alliance Board of Directors, The George School Board of Trustees, the MASCO Board of Directors, and the WBGH Board of Trustees. In addition, Dr. Wooten serves on the Alumni Association of the University of Michigan Board of Directors and the North Carolina A&T University Board of Trustees.

She is the co-author of WSJ Bestseller, Arrive & Thrive: 7 Impactful Practices for Women Navigating Leadership.


Lynn Perry Wooten: It is this notion of transformational learning experience. When you come to college, you come as one person (and it could be undergrad or grad) and you should leave someone fundamentally different because of the knowledge you acquire, the people you met, and the experiences that you had.

About Simmons University

Michael Krigsman: Today, we're talking about the future of higher education. That's Lynn Perry Wooten, President of Simmons University in Boston.

Lynn Perry Wooten: For the last almost 125 years at Simmons, we've been bridging liberal arts and professional education for undergrads and grads (online and on the ground) in fields such as education, business, library science, nursing, physical therapy, computer science. We are an undergrad women's college but coed for our graduate programs such as Doctor in Physical Therapy and Social Work.

Now, you also asked; tell me about me. I am a lifelong learner. Michael, I love college. I came here to college in 1984. I have worked at a lot of colleges. I have gone to a lot of colleges, and I never left. I'm an academic by training with a Ph.D. in Corporate Strategy.

The state of higher education in 2022

Michael Krigsman: You have a very broad background, so let's dive into higher ed. Higher ed is under a great deal of pressure these days, economic pressure. We hear about debates on student loans. What's going on with higher ed right now?

Lynn Perry Wooten: I have spent the last 35 years in higher education, 35+ years, and the model has changed. When I came to college in 1984, my parents thought it was a lot to pay $6,000 for college tuition, and that was fully loaded. The average tuition now is probably somewhere $50,000 to $60,000.

If we think about the industry and where has the model changed, one is that higher education, so the demand is high. People realized that education is a pathway to lifelong success.

Expenses have gone up at universities. The amount of money you have to pay faculty and staff, the money that we put in for facilities.

When I went to college, cafeterias were pretty basic. I don't know about you, but now we have sushi, and we have gluten-free, and we have gourmet bars and stir-fry and those type of things. We have gyms on college campuses. The other things we have, we're investing a lot in mental health, lots of student programming.

The model has gone up, the expenses have gone up, and people are spending a lot on college education because it's valued. We're always thinking – university presidents such as myself – how do we make it affordable; how do we make it accessible, and still provide those transformational experiences for our students?

The business model of higher ed

Michael Krigsman: The business model of higher ed is really shifting from the standpoint, it sounds like, of the expectations that students have; as you said, sushi in the cafeteria. Definitely, when I went to college, that was not happening.

But at the same time, you have companies, private companies, that are doing online education at very little cost. It seems like the whole field is kind of a difficult minefield at the moment.

Lynn Perry Wooten: It's definitely a difficult minefield. The corporate strategist in me says there are lots of different strategic groups. There are for-profit colleges. We have nonprofit colleges.

There is this public system. There are the private systems. There are undergrad colleges. There are ones that are research-intensive.

The big one is that colleges have to know – presidents such as me – what's your business model, what's your point of differentiation, and then what's your value proposition for students and their families?

I'll just use Simmons as a case example. We're considered a small university. We have this 2x2 where, on the ground, our distinction for undergrads is really this unique, liberal arts intensive, professional education program.

Many of our graduate programs, though, for example, are online. For example, we have a robust graduate program online in nursing and social work, and we've been able to spread our educational products across the country for these deserts where they need nurses and social work. The business model has definitely changed.

We talked about technology. Now technology is just a level playing field, and that's part of what we pay for.

Students expect that their textbooks will be online. They expect that some classrooms will be online. The dorms have to have all wi-fi connections. Everyone has a laptop and an iPad.

This model and this distinction of higher education has really changed over the years. Then you throw in the pandemic and even how we used technology in the pandemic beyond the classroom, being able to track students. I was just in a meeting where we were talking about testing students. All of these disruptions that you're seeing now.

How to develop an economically viable business model for colleges and universities

Michael Krigsman: What does that imply for you as the president of the university, as you're seeing to construct a viable business that can function economically and, at the same time, provide the educational objectives and do it in a way that is compelling, affordable, and competitive?

Lynn Perry Wooten: Someone says one of the hardest CEO jobs in America is being a university president. When I think about the business model of small universities such as Simmons, which are tuition-dependent, the first thing we have to do is to know our student body and make sure that we meet our enrollment goals.

Beyond that, advancement is very big, so the fundraising, philanthropy is a big part of what we do and how we manage fundraising and get people to give to us because we are a nonprofit organization.

The third bucket is really many universities are thinking about alternative sources of revenue. You're starting to see more summer programming for high schoolers. You're starting to see more exec ed.

I'll give you the example at Simmons, and it relates to our new book. Simmons has had, for years, a world-renowned institute that looks at inclusive leadership and looks at women's leadership. That is what we call our fifth business line of income where we bring in women from all over the world for executive education, a women's program, our conference where we just had Amanda Gorman, Simone Biles, and Brené Brown.

Most universities have these multiple streams of revenue so that they can really achieve their mission of educating the world.

Technology is an enabler of higher education

Michael Krigsman: You mentioned technology. That seems like it's one of the primary areas that is driving this. As a forcing function, driving the change in education right now.

Lynn Perry Wooten: Technology, I would like to say, is the resource. It's the skillset behind it. But I am now educating a generation of digital native. And so, when they come into the classroom and they come into campus, they expect me to be able to use technology and deliver education and the student experience in multiple modes.

What does that look like? That looks like some content is online. Some of it is asynchronous, and so I offer it at different times. Some of it is synchronous where everybody comes together at different times.

I wouldn't say technology is a differentiator. It's an enabler.

Going back to the Simmons experience, I'll give an example there. We talk about our tagline being "When Simmons leads, the world works better." We educate students to be what I call everyday leaders and to go into professions that improve human condition.

And so, we use technology as a transformative force. We have students who are completing their degree in our complete degree program who can't ever make it physically to Simmons' campus. But technology enables them to sit in the classroom (just like you and I are doing an interview) and have that Simmons experience.

Likewise, we know that online content now can be more cost-efficient, and so we can have classes where all the textbooks and the class resources are online. When I was in grad school, I spent thousands of dollars in textbooks.

Technology allows me also that I can bring in a CEO from anywhere, or a healthcare leader, and Zoom them right into the classroom – someone from Africa or Asia. I couldn't do that before. So, I see technology as an enhance to their experience.

I do a lot of coaching for people who are looking for colleges, grad and undergrad. One of the things I always say is, "What does your child or what does the student want to experience?" Then when you think about the experience, how is the university going to deliver on that? Part of the delivery is the use of technology.

Supporting a diverse student body

Michael Krigsman: It seems like an important part of what you're trying to do is to create a diverse learning environment from the point of view of being able to bring in multiple voices.

Lynn Perry Wooten: Yes. That is something that we definitely do. It's part of my calling, who I am as an African-American woman, but it also starts with the founding of Simmons and really this economic empowerment.

You go to the pandemic era now, and you look at a place like Simmons. It's very diverse and technology and other programs let us do this.

How do we bring first-gen college students so they can thrive, students from under-resourced and underrepresented backgrounds? How do we level the playing field for them? At Simmons, we do that in a lot of ways.

This is another reason why I think college expenses have gone up so much is because we're so intentional about the academic advisors that help guide students from underrepresented, under-resourced backgrounds or students who just need it. Career coaches – that help if they say, "How do I use my liberal arts degree?" or my nursing degree, or my computer science degree – are so important.

The support of what students need outside the classroom. I don't know about you, Michael, but most of my learning at college happened outside the classroom. It was the clubs. It was the dorm. It was the people that I met from different backgrounds.

Creating all of those experiences now really do run up some of the tax. We have a whole big student life division where that's their charge to make the transformational experience outside the classroom. I'm paying my faculty and the supporting staff for the transformation inside the classroom. Then we have to have great buildings.

Michael Krigsman: Is a big part of your, can we say, competitive differentiation – relative to companies like Coursera, for example – the nature of the in-person or the richness of the experience that you're trying to create, the environment?

Lynn Perry Wooten: It's the richness of the experience. We do learning in-person and online. Our portfolio, interestingly, is pretty balanced, especially our graduate portfolio. It's about half online and half on the ground.

But you know when you go to Starbucks, the differentiation is all the forms of coffee you can have and the customer service. Whenever you're looking at the university and, like I say, I coach a lot of parents and families, you should say what is the student experience, the transformational process.

At Simmons, we have a great faculty, whether it be online or in the classroom. Lots of small classrooms who have an intense way.

We have the Simmons way of doing curriculum really with critical thinking, bringing the liberal arts into everything, having students make sense of their role and how they want to lead in their profession in that particular domain, challenging the status quo. Simmons is also known for social justice.

The transformation really does come, and the community that you have inside and outside the classroom. Each university or college has a different way of doing it. Simmons has that distinction.

Michael Krigsman: Please take a moment to subscribe to our newsletter. Hit the subscribe button at the top of our website so we can send you notifications of upcoming shows. There's always a live tweet chat taking place, and you can ask questions very directly of the guests. You can ask whatever you want. Also, be sure to subscribe on YouTube.

The community aspect then is another very important piece for you.

Lynn Perry Wooten: Definitely so, and we just started a complete degree program online for women who have been out of college for a while and want to finish their degree. One of the women in that program did a video about the online community. They were all over the United States and talked about how they came together once a week, and what they learned from each other just being in the community.

When you think about the college experience, you want a college where the individual can thrive. But you also want to look at the community and, collectively, how that community learning happens.

On the book Arrive and Thrive

Michael Krigsman: Lynn, let's talk about your book.

Lynn Perry Wooten: Yes, Arrive and Thrive. So, Arrive and Thrive was written with my co-authors Susan Brady and Janet Foutty. I know Janet has been on your show.

It's a really unusual unarranged co-authorship. I was joining Simmons, and I came with decades of doing leadership work. Susan has been a consultant and done leadership work in women. And, as you know, Janet is leading Deloitte.

We came together and said, throughout our lives, we've gone through cycles of arriving and thriving. It's just not towards the end of your career. You're constantly on this journey of arriving and thriving.

Based upon research and interviews, we said, "What would be seven practices that we wanted any woman to know if they're going to arrive and thrive in the workplace?" Not only the workplace, but their personal life, their professional life, and their civic life.

These seven practices are based on interviews. They're based on data that we collected. They're grounded in theory, and each of the practices has a tool so that women can think about how they can arrive and thrive.

We felt this topic was especially relevant as we looked at the "she-cession" during the pandemic and, hopefully, that the book is a gift to contribute to what I call the "she-recovery."

Advice for college students making the transition to graduate school

Michael Krigsman: We have some questions from Twitter. Why don't we jump into those? As always, the questions are great.

The first one is from Andrew Morawski. He is an executive at Oracle. He says the following: "Great discussion on the richness of experience. Do you have advice for undergrads and/or parents as they make the transition from undergrad to graduate programs, especially during the pandemic?" I should mention that Andrew has been a guest on CXOTalk in the past as well.

Lynn Perry Wooten: Michael, I have two kids. I have a 20-year-old at Brown, and I have a 27-year-old who is an attorney. In addition to spending the majority of my life in college, I've been where that guest has about how do you help someone make that transition.

I was telling you that we're parents much longer than our parents were. Part of the new parenting role is, okay, we have to get a student from high school to college and then from undergrad to grad – especially during the pandemic.

The one thing you want to do, first of all – and, hopefully, your child has selected the right grad school – you want to ask what do you want out of your graduate experience. At the end of the experience, what do you want? What type of career do you expect to have? Where do you want to live? Is that particular school producing the graduates who you want to be like?

As a parent, also similar to undergrad, you want to make sure that your student is getting the most out of their graduate experience. The graduate experience, I think there are several buckets.

Get to know your professors and your faculty. That's so important. Engage with them.

Develop a community and network of people. One of my co-authors that I've written with for 30 years, we became best friends in grad school. Grad school are a lot of those foundations, and so you want to make sure you're using your peers and your classrooms and your networks.

Then you want to be intentional about designing your life while you're in graduate school. Think about this is the start part, and this is what I want to look like at the end, this is where I want to live, this is where I want to work, and this is how I'm going to commit to my profession and lifelong learning.

Parents, just because your child is in graduate school, it doesn't stop. Still do that parenting behind the scenes acting as a coach, guiding them to make sure they have that transformational experience.

Michael Krigsman: What advice do you have for graduate students? What's the best way for them to take control of that experience and not just shuffle through based on the program that exists that's been outlined for them?

Lynn Perry Wooten: Don't shuffle through. Get to know the people in the community.

My MBA is from Duke, and my Ph.D. is from Michigan.

Graduate school is more than just studying. Faculty love to be engaged with their graduate students. The first thing, get to know two or three professors in-depth, especially those who are aligned with your career interests.

Pick clubs, communities, and professional associations. If you're going to be a nurse or in business school, pick those clubs.

Reach out to alum in your graduate program. Ping them on LinkedIn. Start to build that network.

Then also think about how you can give back. When you graduate from graduate school, what do you want your legacy to be, and how are you going to give back to the next generation of graduate students?

Creating a transformational university experience for students

Michael Krigsman: We have another question from Twitter. This is from Arsalan Khan, who is a regular listener. He always asks great questions. Going back to what we were discussing earlier, Arsalan says, "It seems like students are your customers. Hence the focus on customer experience." How do you think about that; your students are your customers?

Lynn Perry Wooten: Everyone who touches Simmons or any university that I've been affiliated with, my goal is for them to have a transformational experience. What does this university do well? We help transformational experiences through various forms of learning.

That is what I do every day. That's why I think I have one of the best jobs in the world. I get to work with young adults who are making sense of their world – and as he called them, the customer – help them see what kind of experience they're going to have, and then launch them into society to improve the world. What better job is that?

Michael Krigsman: This notion of transformational experience really is the undercurrent or the foundation from which your strategy, your business plans, and so forth arise. I should ask that as a question. I did not mean to put words in your mouth.

Lynn Perry Wooten: That is really true. It is this notion of this transformational learning experience.

When you come to college, you come as one person (it could be undergrad or grad) and you should leave someone fundamentally different because of the knowledge you acquired, the people you met, and the experiences that you had.

Going back to your first question, I always encourage people to think about the blueprint of the experiences they want to have in college. Do you want to study abroad? Who are the people you want to meet? What courses do you want to take? What clubs do you want to join? What do you say you want to learn? And beyond your major, learn something different.

My youngest's major is dance and educational studies, but she's taking French because she wants to fine-tune her French. She's also majoring in protesting. She's at Brown, so maybe that's what they do there, but do something else, too, different that you wouldn't have a chance to do.

Michael Krigsman: Again, the theme of creating a rich experience.

Lynn Perry Wooten: The theme of creating a rich experience, and it's being in the moment but also being futuristic. What do you want to look back on, and what do you want to accomplish so that this experience is a launching pad for the next cycle of arriving and thriving?

Michael Krigsman: Andrew Morawski comes back. He says, "Thank you," and he wants you to know that his daughter is about to start a dual masters for library sciences and history at Simmons in the fall.

Lynn Perry Wooten: That is one of our renowned programs. Tell the daughter to come meet me. I was just talking to a student in that program yesterday who is graduating and was working on their history project, her thesis. If she wants to work in the president's office, I have plenty of research for her.

Michael Krigsman: Arsalan Khan comes back. You can see, I love taking the questions from social media. We get such great questions. He comes back, and he says, "In the future, we can't just be focused on one industry or discipline. We have to become multidisciplinary, combining, for example, IT and empathy training."

Now, for those of us who are technologists, the idea of combining IT and empathy training is a great idea. It's good in theory. We'll see how well it works. It's a great thing to do.

He's saying, "How do we encourage students to do that?"

Lynn Perry Wooten: I went to undergrad, and I was an accounting major. I'm a CPA by training. I was very focused on passing the CPA exam, and I had to take all those classes required for accounting.

Now, I really encourage students, especially undergrads, to have this explore orientation, encouraging them to make their college curriculum engage both sides of the brain, so the creative side and the technology, the scientific, the math side. But also, developing those skills that your guest is asking (empathy, emotional intelligence). Some of that happens by the experience.

Where did I learn emotional intelligence? Living in the dorm. If you can't learn it there, that's the best place, and so having a bucket of experiences.

What you want your colleges to do is, one, education is the foundational pyramid, when we think about this model, and then the experiences that you have. The next bucket I say is everybody should develop an expertise in some area. But like your guest said, that expertise has to change over time.

I went from an accounting major to information systems to corporate strategy. I changed, so being a lifelong learner.

The other thing that colleges is good about, we teach emotional intelligence and we help people develop their execution capability – getting things done.

Michael Krigsman: As I have interviewed so many business leaders, this idea of empathy – developing empathy for your customers, developing empathy for your coworkers, for other stakeholders, as you were describing earlier – has really come up as such an important theme. It makes sense because, at the end of the day, the world moves forward not because of technology but because of the people.

Lynn Perry Wooten: Right. It's the people. Part of that is learning from people from different backgrounds, developing high-quality connections with people, and understanding that no one is a single story. That's what you get to do a deep dive of in college.

I think about, even in a Ph.D. program, I had the opportunity to teach a student who had just come back from the pilgrimage of Mecca and got to learn all about what making that pilgrimage is and what it means to be a student of Muslim faith and that journey. Those rich stories teach you empathy.

Michael Krigsman: Right now, there's a tweet chat taking place. If you're listening, you should ask questions. When else will you have the chance to ask the president of a university pretty much whatever you want? Now is the time. If you're watching on LinkedIn, then just insert your questions into the chat, and on Twitter, #CXOTalk.

Advice to women on gender equality in the workplace

Lynn, your book is called Arrive & Thrive. What advice do you have for folks in business about arriving and thriving, and especially to women?

Lynn Perry Wooten: The book has seven practices. I'm not going to go through all seven, but I will highlight a couple. The first is women have to identify what is their best self and how they bring their best self to any practice and organizational life.

Part of knowing your best self is knowing your strengths. What are your superpowers? What are your strengths? Understanding how your identity plays a role.

You were just talking about empathy. I learn a lot of empathy from being a parent, and part of my identity is being a parent.

Understanding your origin story and using that as something to empower you. Then knowing your values. Start with your best self. This is why college, this undergrad and discovery phase, is so much because it helps people really identify what their best self is.

Then we tell women, you want to pick workplaces where you can be authentic. In the research area where I stay, we almost call it "person-job fit," so those workplaces where you can be authentic.

Then we go into the book and talk about the importance of courage and vision. Often, women are not seen as visionary leaders (the research shows), and so we really provide some tools, resources, and a framework that women can show up and ensure that they're seen as visionary leaders, that they're expressing a vision, and that they're thinking strategically.

The first part of our conversation, we were doing a lot of strategic talk and getting women to think strategically. How do I do that analysis, understanding the customer, differentiation, the finances, the marketing, and the road share?

The other big one that we could not have a book for women – especially in what I call this pandemic era – and not talk about resiliency, how you bounce back from tough times, and the importance of resiliency.

As I said, the book really is a gift for women to say, "I'm going to constantly be arriving and thriving. I might be entering and exiting the workplace. I may be changing jobs. What are those practices I can use to be my best self?"

What is inclusive leadership?

Michael Krigsman: An important part of your has been inclusive leadership – that phrase. What does inclusive leadership mean?

Lynn Perry Wooten: When I first started in my field, diversity was the buzzword. I saw a quote that said, "Diversity is the fact but inclusion is the act."

We know that, in organizations, we have all types of differences. We have ability differences, racial differences, gender differences, and religious differences. That is the diversity when we look at the demographics of organizational life.

But inclusion is creating a culture where people feel like they belong. They're no longer a guest, but they're a member of the organization. Their voice is heard. They are valued.

How do we do that? It sounds easier than what it is, right?

I often start with the A, B, Cs of it. I say, first, you have to assess what are the demographics and the differences in your organization. Given those demographics and differences, what are some of those biases that we might have where the system is not working well? That's the A part.

The B is, okay, we have this diverse organization. How do we build bridges so that everyone can be their best self?

At Simmons, we're talking about diversity on multiple dimensions. First generations, students from rural areas, students from urban areas, our online students, our students who are vets. We're trying to build all of those bridges so that people can show up and be their best selves.

But diversity and inclusion is not only about culture change. It's also about having the organization be a high performer. The C is about cultivating capabilities around diversity and inclusion and thinking about it that way.

Michael Krigsman: I guess, as you said, it's easier said than done, especially when we have such a very highly polarized society.

Lynn Perry Wooten: We do.

Michael Krigsman: When you think about Simmons, how do you try to ensure that you have (at the same time) sufficient diversity and yet not so much diversity that it becomes antagonistic and tears the fabric of the society inside the university apart?

Lynn Perry Wooten: It is, and at the peak of it, what I'm always emphasizing is Team Simmons, One Simmons. Especially the generation that I deal with, when you're dealing with young adults and emerging adults, you're going to have some polarization because that's part of their identity journey.

We have to come together. We have to have those crucial conversations, the inner-group dialog, and then I'm always having to make the decision about, okay, what is in the best interest of Simmons.

But part of it is a culture where people are seen, heard, and respected. We welcome diverse views. We welcome debates. And we don't want to be polarized. We want all the voices to be heard. Then we want to live in a way that's consistent with our values and our values around equity, social justice, learning, and everyday leadership.

Michael Krigsman: You have said that being an African-American woman is among the various forces that shaped you. That had the profoundest impact. Can you tell us about that?

Lynn Perry Wooten: I grew up in Philadelphia. I grew up in the late '60s, the '70s, and the '80s, and was born at pretty much the height of the Civil Rights movement. In fact, my father often called me Lynn X because it was a nickname after Malcolm X.

Really talking to me about my history, the ancestors, and the people who came before me such as Dr. King, Malcolm X, Coretta Scott King, Harriet Tubman, all of those people inspired me as a child. I went to an African-American private school, and so we would always talk about Black History, and that would inspire me. Part of me, when I think about my strength, when I think about my resiliency and the people who came before me, it shaped who I am as a leader.

Another value that I learned growing up as African-American is this notion of community. Really, if you want to go fast, you can go alone. This is an African proverb. If you want to go far, you go with other people. You need the village.

A big part of my leadership value is that leadership is a communal journey. It's not a solo type of thing. That's another thing that I learned.

The other thing I learned is the respect for people from marginalized populations. Being a woman in an underrepresented minority, I'm always lifting as I climb. I want to elevate everyone, and I want to make sure those people who come from marginalized populations are a part of my lifting as I'm climbing.

I'm always looking across the room to say, "Who can I serve as a leader? How do I serve them better, or how do I serve that person who is struggling with mental illness?" Those are some of the values that being black in America has taught me.

How to balance economic efficiency against educational quality

Michael Krigsman: When you are making decisions inside Simmons around strategies, priorities, investment decisions, how do you balance efficiency in terms of economic efficiency against the fact that lifting up other people may be expensive?

Lynn Perry Wooten: It's definitely a balanced act, and we're constantly thinking about this. The way that we do it a lot is we do have to have a portfolio of faculty, staff, and students from different backgrounds.

We do a lot of fundraising. We apply for grants. We try to be inclusive as possible. But we're always constantly balancing that. This is why we spend tons of money on financial aid because equity and access is important.

When my family says, "What are you doing?" I say, "I'm out on the road raising money so that I can have equity and access to have scholarships for students who can't afford a Simmons experience."

You look at the world, and I'm so grateful for philanthropists such as MacKenzie Scott and Melinda Gates for giving money to colleges because they understand access is important.

Michael Krigsman: It's a constant balance, essentially.

Lynn Perry Wooten: It's a constant balance of raising money, thinking about the tuition coming in, and how we can stretch our money and fundraise money to provide access and equity for people who can't afford it, especially a small school like Simmons who is tuition-dependent and with a smaller endowment.

Michael Krigsman: We have another question again from Arsalan. Arsalan is amazing.

Lynn Perry Wooten: I love Arsalan's questions.

Michael Krigsman: He asks the greatest questions. He says, "In the corporate world, sometimes politics takes over meritocracy. How do you teach students to understand and manage politics?" It's such a great question. I'm thinking I'm still trying to figure that one out myself.

Lynn Perry Wooten: There are multiple ways we do this. This is why the liberal arts become so important and the professional education.

We do it through case studies to teach politics. We do it through novels and films and the humanities. But we also want our students to be engaged as political citizens of the world to understand how they can be empowered to be everyday leaders for systems change.

How do you manage and navigate politics? There are a lot of things we do at universities. We teach conflict management. We teach dialog, emotional intelligence (as you said, Michael), and how to read the room.

When I used to teach the organizational behavior class, and you may have seen this, I would use the movie 12 Angry Men. Have you seen that movie, Michael?

Michael Krigsman: Yes, it's a great movie.

Lynn Perry Wooten: I would teach that to my students to understand the political dynamics in this juror room and how the main character was able to issue sell. He was able to work the room. He was able to use the data to manage the politics to make sure that social justice and equity prevailed.

Michael Krigsman: We have another question, and this time it's from Lisbeth Shaw who says, "How do the principles that you describe in your book Arrive and Thrive apply to faculty and administrators in achieving the goals of the university?"

Lynn Perry Wooten: The principles that we have really apply to any industry and any person, even though I know it's targeted for women. But on the university side especially, I can speak about faculty since that's what I've been the majority of my life and I work a lot with assistant and associate professors. We talk about how you bring your best self to work.

I was just on a panel yesterday. We said you have to work at a university that fits with who you are and what you want to accomplish. There are teaching universities and research universities. The university, on the administrative side. It's very important that I create a space that people feel inclusive and that they can be authentic.

Let's go to resiliency. I've been saying that the three Hs had to reinvent themselves because of the pandemic: healthcare, hospitality, and higher education. Part of it is faculty and staff at universities, before the pandemic, we took our time with organizational change. Then all of a sudden, we had to shut down our universities and go online.

Part of what I do as a university leader is working with my faculty and staff to be resilient. The world is constantly changing now, and so how can we provide educational experiences, research, and services that the world values? That's resiliency. The principles definitely apply to higher ed, too, and having a vision.

Michael Krigsman: Lynn, as we finish up, do you have any final thoughts on education and final thoughts on how you lead Simmons?

Lynn Perry Wooten: I want all of you to think about the role that higher education has in your life and, hopefully, how you continue to contribute.

How does that happen? One, be committed to being a lifelong learner. Go back to your alma mater. Be a philanthropist to your alma mater or university to do to that.

Think about it. America is known for higher education. Other than the military, there really aren't a lot of institutions who help people transcend from adolescence to adulthood.

When you think about higher education and the experience, think about that's our unique place in society. That's what the institutions of higher ed do, and that's why I have such a great job.

Valuing the role of higher education in society, and I want all your viewers to be lifelong learners and life-wide learnings. Go back to college and take a class or do exec ed or something.

With regard to leading a university and arriving and thriving, I think my thing is I'm really committed to everyday leaders. The way I lead Simmons is I try to show up and be my best self and empower others to be their best selves so we can advance the mission of higher education.

I've been talking a lot about Boston, and I know you live in the Boston area also. This notion of when you look at inequities such as the wealth gap and health disparities and education, higher education can play such a role there and closing those gaps. That's one of the things I also want to do, closing those gaps so that we have a more just society.

Michael Krigsman: Finally, any closing thoughts on inclusive leadership, diversity, inclusion  – those topics?

Lynn Perry Wooten: Each of us, every day, have to do that inner work to ask how we can be inclusive leaders. Therefore, when we're doing the inner work, we're empowered to be our best selves. Then we can also lift and climb and be an ally or a sponsor for someone.

Michael Krigsman: With that, I want to say thank you to Lynn Perry Wooten. She is the president of Simmons University.

Lynn Perry Wooten: Thank you for having me. It was an honor to be with you and your audience.

Michael Krigsman: Everybody, thank you for watching, especially those folks who, as always, ask such great questions. Now, before you go, please subscribe to our YouTube channel. Hit the subscribe button at the top of our website so we can send you our newsletter and you'll be notified about shows. Check out, tell your friends, and we'll see you again next time. Thanks so much, everybody, and I hope you have a great day.

Published Date: May 06, 2022

Author: Michael Krigsman

Episode ID: 751