During the early twentieth century, the largest ships at the time were ferries. Ferries were used mainly to transport people and cargo. They generally stayed close to the shoreline and made short trips. The R.M.S. Titanic represented the future of luxury travel. It was a testament to human ingenuity and innovation.
Regulations required ships to carry sixteen lifeboats. This number was based on the types of ships and their use at the time. While the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company knew that the laws would inevitably change, they were not updated by the time the R.M.S. Titanic set sail in 1912. We know that the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company anticipated a possible regulation change because they added space aboard the deck in case “lifeboats for all” were required.
When the R.M.S. Titanic set sail, it carried sixteen lifeboats, the minimum, and for good measure, added four inflatable rafts. The Oceanic Steam Navigation Company wanted to minimize passenger perception that the ship was unsafe and decided not to add anymore lifeboats until it was required by law.
This is a historic tale of dreams, egos, opportunities, and money, but mostly it’s a story about choices. The choices of a few that affected the lives of many. On April 15, 1912, the “unsinkable” R.M.S. Titanic sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean taking with it the hopes and dreams of 1,503 people.
We read this story and gasp with wonder at how the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company could place such little value on the lives of its passengers. We wonder how an organization could anticipate new regulations brought about by innovation and not take the initiative to protect its consumers. We wonder why the organization did not try to inform its consumers of the realities and risks of the voyage. We wonder about the valuable lessons that could be learned from this tragedy. Mostly, we wonder if we’ve really learned any lessons at all.
Higher education is under intense scrutiny. We hear and read about the issues, such as academic freedom, racial inequality, tenure, debt, and misleading advertising, to name a few. All of these are symptoms of something larger, a lack of humanity. Somewhere along the way, we stopped putting people first. “Do the right thing” has become a cliché instead of a business model.
So here’s the challenge, let’s do the right thing and not wait for regulation changes to make that choice for us.
The Higher Education Creed
- Higher education institutions are safe places to express ideas, accept differences, embrace diversity, peacefully disagree, and above all be respected.
- Higher education institutions are focused on students’ needs and offer options based on students’ best interests.
- Higher education institutions put people first.
History doesn’t have to repeat itself. We can still turn this ship around before it hits an iceberg. We just need to put people first.
“Leadership is about taking responsibility for lives and not numbers.” ~ Simon Sinek
How does your institution put students first?