Military leaders can transform education

“They are good at sizing up situations, take calculated risks and work to find plausible solutions.”

Do good military commanders make good education leaders?

That is a question which Montana’s Higher Education Commission will answer in the coming years. However, if the new University of Montana president follows the pattern set by former Seattle Public School Superintendent John Stanford and Clark College President Bob Knight, the answer will be a resounding yes.

Seth Bodnar, 38, is the youngest UM president since World War II. He started in January. He doesn’t have the coveted title “Ph.D.” His key academic credentials include Rhodes and Truman scholar and his practical experience comes from his distinguished service in the U.S. Army and at General Electric.

Bodnar led platoons in Iraq when General David Patraeus commanded the 101st Airborne Division, qualified for the elite Special Forces (Green Beret), learned Mandarin Chinese and trained Philippine troops to fight insurgents.

He left the military, joined GE’s slumping locomotive manufacturing division, and led the transformation to install on-board sophisticated computer systems which collectively saved 900,000 gallons of diesel per week. Sales ticked up.

At Montana, Bodnar deals with a 25 percent enrollment decline since 2010. The university is still healing from a rash of sexual assault allegations which were detailed in Jon Krakauer’s 2015 book “Missoula.”

So why would a 20-member faculty committee search for nine months and brake tradition settling on an outsider?

The same question was asked of the Seattle Public School board members when they recruited John Sanford, a retired army major general, in 1995; and when Clark College trustees hired Bob Knight, a retired army officer and West Point grad, as president in 2007.

They were looking for transformative leaders who have a record of bringing people to together to resolve complex and thorny problems. The trio are goal-oriented, tireless workers and inspirational. They project warmth, nimbleness and humility.

Stanford engaged students, teachers and the community to deal with Seattle’s high dropout rate and declining SAT test scores. He raised $2 million in private donations to support the 10 initiatives that he and the board adopted. Stanford successfully engaged disgruntled educators and parents. Unfortunately, Stanford died of leukemia in 1998.

Over the last decade, Knight reinvigorated Clark College, renewed partnerships with major four-year universities and partnered with employers to train students for future jobs. He re-engaged the community and built support among students, faculty and staff. His vision for the college is solid and progressing well. In 2016, Knight was awarded Vancouver’s coveted “First Citizen Award.”

Bodnar has many of Stanford and Knight’s attributes. They are engrained in military leaders and hardened through their training and experience. America’s armed forces, like our public schools, have people from all walks of life—-income levels and political, ethnic and spiritual backgrounds. Leaders must mold individuals into cohesive units where each member depends on the other.

Effective leaders must clearly communicate face-to-face with people and groups. They must cautiously text and tweet to avoid misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

Bodnar, Stanford and Knight are visionaries who engage people. They don’t wait for people to come to them. They go out and tackle difficult problems by listening especially to those with differing opinions. They are good at sizing up situations, take calculated risks and work to find plausible solutions.

All three are charismatic and make people feel part of a solution. They are positive and effectively handle criticism and have the ability to put themselves in other people’s shoes. Through it all, they carefully measure what they say, check their pride, and build bridges rather than blowing them up.

Hopefully, Bodnar will succeed, Knight will continue on course and Stanford’s legacy will live on.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@rentonreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.rentonreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in Business

Photo courtesy of Gyros House Mediterranean Grill.
Gyros House Mediterranean Grill closes Friday

The restaurant, which like many has been hit hard by the impacts of the closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, is now moving to catering-only after 26 years.

Like similar businesses across King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, Bothell restaurant Hana Sushi closed due to public-health concerns. Sound Publishing file photo
Inslee changes course, says diners won’t have to sign in

Restaurants may still ask customers for information that contact tracers could use to stop an outbreak.

Businesses, nonprofits asked to participate in COVID-19 impact survey

Regional effort in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties

NASA selects Kent-based Blue Origin to help return humans to the Moon

Goal to land the first woman and next man on the surface by 2024

Construction worker installs siding to a building in Snoqualmie. File photo
Inslee gives construction a green light

It was unclear when sites would re-open, but employees will have to have PPE and stay six feet apart.

Report shows severity of COVID-19 impacts on hotels nationwide

70% of employees laid off or furloughed, eight in 10 hotel rooms empty

State processes record number of applications for unemployment benefits

Employment Security Department had challenges with the volume

Cantwell calls for nationwide support for local media hurt by COVID-19 pandemic

Remarks come on Senate floor: ‘We need the media. …and need to help them’

Gyms, fitness centers must allow members to cancel memberships or face legal consequences

State attorney general responds to consumer complaints during COVID-19 outbreak