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A Festival of Leaders

TC alumni, faculty, students, staff and many friends converge for a day focused on defining the next decade.
“This is going to be an absolutely fabulous day that showcases everything that is most wonderful about TC. I always talk about our incredible breadth of ideas and disciplines, but that’s only a starting point. The careers our graduates pursue, the research they conduct, the worlds they inhabit and shape, are amazingly diverse–and they bring all of that back to Teachers College to inform and broaden our work in a continuous feedback loop that makes us bigger and better every year.”
With that greeting, President Susan Fuhrman, speaking in TC’s Cowin Conference Center, opened the College’s second annual Academic Festival, held this year on Saturday, April 24th and themed “Leadership: Defining the Next Decade.”
The event, which drew some 500 attendees, was highlighted by the first-ever presentation of the TC President’s Medal of Excellence to two alumni: His Excellency Nahas Angula, the Prime Minister of Namibia and the architect of that nation’s education system following its independence from colonial rule, who delivered the day’s keynote address; and Ulysses Byas, a former principal and superintendent who led the fight for better resources for black schools in the American South during the segregation era.
Perhaps the most moving moment at Academic Festival came when Angula, who left TC in 1979 midway through a doctoral degree to participate directly in the fight for independence at home, took the Cowin Center stage and sang along with the Namibian national anthem. Watching him from the audience were Kaire Mbuende, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Namibia to the United Nations, and Patrick Nandago, Ambassador of Namibia to the United States, as well as Ambassadors and Permanent Representatives from the 12 other Member States of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
“Nahas Angula, thanks to your efforts, Namibia has educated a generation of your countrymen and women and emerged as one of Africa’s most stable and democratically-oriented nations,” TC Provost Tom James intoned, reading from the citation prepared in the Prime Minister’s honor. “At Teachers College we pride ourselves on producing graduates who carry forth our values; who exponentially increase our positive impact; and who, in turn, educate us through their own experiences and enhanced perspectives. You have done all of these things on a scale few can match.”
Angula then described his own years in exile, first in Zambia and then New York City, and his subsequent triumphant quest, as Namibia’s first Minister of Education, to build a modern, racially integrated education system across a nation equal in size to Texas and California combined, serving a populace that speaks Bantu, Ovambu, German, Portuguese, Dutch, French and Chinese.
“Today is a celebration of the victory of the Namibian people over apartheid and colonialization,” Angula told his listeners in Cowin Center. “When three friends and I went into exile in 1968, I never suspected that one day I shall make a difference in the lives of others through education. Mine was a life journey full of trials and tribulations, tragedies and misfortunes, adventures and misadventures, and I’m grateful that it has been a worthwhile journey.” (To read more on Angula’s story, visit www.tc.edu/news/7454.)
Byas, now in his 80s and living in Georgia, was unable to attend because of poor health, but he was represented by his son, Eric, and by Vanessa Siddle Walker, an Emory University professor who has written a book about him called Hello, Professor: A Black Principal and Professional Leadership in the Segregated South (University of North Carolina Press, 2009).
According to Edmund Gordon, TC’s Richard March Hoe Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Education, Byas, a TC grad who, as principal of an all-black school in George in the early 1950s fought for better resources for his students, was a man as “concerned with the cultivation of education as a means of increasing capacity for to think” as he was with simply bettering the access of black children to school—and thus served as a champion of the agency of blacks living under the most adverse conditions.
At a special panel devoted to Byas’ life and work, Walker introduced a pretaped interview with Byas in which he talks about “moving fences” for children unfairly blamed for the disadvantages society has imposed on them. To view the video, visit: www.tc.columbia.edu/centers/academicfest2010/.
In addition, there were also stimulating panels, presentations and performances by TC faculty, alumni, staff and students throughout the day, on topics that included what it takes to found or lead an innovative school in New York City; advances in technology to support teaching and learning; executive coaching for leadership effectiveness; helping adults learn and grow; nutrition and fitness in schools; and—for parents—how to get kids into college. Six of the 13 presentations were videotaped and can be viewed at www.tc.edu/news/7463.
Attendees were also treated to a preview of a forthcoming videotaped oral history of Teachers College’s past 75 years, which is being prepared for the College’s 125th anniversary in 2012. A brief segment dealing with the College’s future, shown during the Cowin Center ceremonies, included excerpts from interviews with emeritus professors Leonard Blackman, Morton Deutsch, Edmund Gordon and Maxine Greene, as well as TC Board Co-Chair William Rueckert. Additional segments, in which the four faculty members summarized some of their own most enduring and provocative ideas, aired throughout the day in Everett Lounge.
The College also bestowed its annual Distinguished Alumni Award on a group of particularly diverse and accomplished recipients. Honored during lunchtime ceremonies in the TC dining hall (emceed by Robert Weintraub, President of TC’s Alumni Council) were Raphael Montanez Ortiz, the noted sculptor and founder of Harlem’s Museo Del Barrio; Vivian Ota Wang, Program Director of the National Human Genome Research Institute; Viola Vaughn, founder of 10,000 Girls, which provides education and business training to girls throughout Africa; and the Reverend Lesley George Anderson, President of the United Theological College of the West Indies. Another alumnus, Luis Rios, Education Consultant at the California Department of Education, who provides assistance to family literacy programs, received TC’s Early Career Award.
“We chose, as our theme for this year’s festival, ‘Leadership: Defining the Next Decade’ noted Fuhrman, in introducing the awardees. “And that is exactly what our graduates are doing.”

Published Thursday, Jun. 24, 2010