Five hundred thirty-two dollars per character, or about 3,700 bucks a word. That’s what a new MBA candidate at the University of Iowa received in scholarship money last month for his Twitter-length answer to why he’d be a good graduate student and eventual employee.
Iowa’s Tippie School of Management offered a $37,240 tuition scholarship for the best, ahem, essay using no more than 140 characters — the standard on the popular social networking site. The winner was selected, the school said, for combining the Twitter format with that of a haiku in only 70 characters.
And you never know when that skill will come in handy.
Tippie isn’t the only school experimenting with byte-based brevity to help it distinguish between applicants. Columbia University, the Wall Street Journal reported in a story this past week about evolving college admissions processes, asked prospective students to explain their “post-MBA professional goal” in no more than 200 characters. Which is downright verbose by comparison.
I have nothing against Twitter; my AJC colleagues and I use it regularly to connect with readers and share our articles and columns with the world. It can be a very effective tool.
But the Iowa and Columbia examples got me thinking about the merits of selecting the future captains of American industry a couple of dozen words at a time — and how else we might be erring in the way we choose our leaders from business to politics.
During the past several years, quality leadership has been lacking in too many aspects of American life. The people at the top have let us down. Rather than asking too much of them, I wonder if the problem is that we ask too little as we select them.
On Wednesday night, several Republican candidates will debate one another in California. The next night, President Obama will unveil his plan to boost jobs and the economy. How many people will remember more than a few sound bytes?
Putting style or form above substance is rampant in our slogan-obsessed politics. Complain all you want about the vagueness and vacuity of “hope and change,” but Obama didn’t invent the bumper sticker.
Staying with politics, the problem may be not only how we select our leaders but how narrowly we cast the field.
In an op-ed last week, also in the WSJ, the British historian Andrew Roberts took Americans to task for our insistence that potential White House occupants “look presidential.”
Gravitas is one thing, but Roberts argues mere appearance plays too large a role.
Lincoln, both Roosevelts, Taft, U.S. Grant, even Jefferson, Jackson and Washington — all would have trouble passing visual muster in today’s America, Roberts suggests. (Although he concedes the wheelchair-bound FDR might get a pass thanks to political correctness.) Bald men like Eisenhower and, on Roberts’ side of the pond, Churchill, two giants of the 20th century, needn’t apply.
Have you ever asked why there isn’t anyone better running for any given executive office in any given year? Could it be that the best people don’t run because they’re fat, short, ugly or bald? (I omit legislators here, since statehouses and Congress are both full of folks who don’t exactly look like Harrison Ford or Martin Sheen.)
I’d like to think we’re above all that. But if not, then as Roberts wrote, we deserve everything we get.
– By Kyle Wingfield