President Edward Burger

Higher Ed Episodes

President Edward Burger and Jennifer Stayton of Austin National Public Radio affiliate KUT explore topics of higher education, lifelong learning, and exercising the brain in this lively and entertaining weekly podcast.

President Edward Burger and KUT's Jennifer Stayton


Posted: April 14, 2019 at 6:00am

A “Higher Ed ” podcast listener recently wrote in with an intriguing question for Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger : as a university president, does Ed “see himself as more of a leader or manager? How does he differentiate the two concepts and does he place more emphasis on one area or another?” In this episode, KUT’s Jennifer Stayton talks with Ed about what it means to lead and manage on and off campus.

Ed has clear points of differentiation between how he sees the duties of a leader and those of a manager.

A leader: “It’s about thinking about the mission, thinking about what the direction of the instution or the project – whatever it is – is, and making sure that within a univese of distraction that we do our best not to be distracted by the noise and the bells and the ringing and the lights trying to take away that which we’re supposed to be doing. In this proposition [education], it’s about changing people’s lives and making them better versions of themselves.”

A manager: “Being a manager is the art … of making sure an organization is running smoothly, fairly, safely, efficiently and within all the budgetary constraints that come along with any organization.”

Given those definitions, Ed believes the role of a university president encompasses both leader and manager.

As per the listener’s question, which one does Ed tend toward?

Ed says he does the work he does “for the innovation and education that we can accomplish.”

So, more on the “leader” side, for sure, though Ed does concede a lot of “imagination and idea energy” is required to manage successfully.

Ed says he often turned to the late political scientist and leadership studies innovator James MacGregor Burns for insight about leading successfully. Burns’ primary pieces of advice:

1). Focus on mission and goals

2). Choose good colleagues and associates

3). Expect, enjoy and embrace conflict

Ed says he understands the first two but still struggles with confronting confict rather than avoiding it. Listen to the full episode for more on leading and managing in and out of the classroom. The solution to last week’s “guest puzzler” submission about digits will also be revealed.

This episode was recorded on April 2, 2019.


Posted: April 7, 2019 at 6:00am

Allegations of cheating and bribery in connection with college admissions have brought renewed scrutiny to just how that process works. In this episode of the KUT podcast “Higher Ed ,” KUT’s Jennifer Stayton talks with Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger to get his response to the story and his take on maintaining integrity in the process.

Ed says the accusations made in connection with alleged cheating at some universities in the United States raise several concerns for him.

“First, there’s just an ethical question,” says Ed, “about boy, what are we teaching young people today about doing the right thing and living good lives?”

Ed says secondly, the situation sends a disturbing message about using shortcuts to get ahead.

“There’s an issue about the value of hard work,” Ed adds, “and setting goals and realizing those goals when that’s possible. And when it’s not possible, to learn from that and realize other goals.”

Ed also has a very visceral response to the allegations from the point of view of an educator.

“My emotional reaction is one of offense,” says Ed. “It’s because, how do these families who are accused of these things, of this behavior – how do they define what formal education means? By their alleged actions, they’re defining formal education as a piece of paper.”

Ed strongly believes what formal education delivers to students does not depend on the “name” of the school.

“Education should be an individualized experience,” Ed says. “Even when you look at some of these generic rankings, they have certain metrics but they’re not measuring for an individual human being. And that’s why there are so many schools out there and that’s why there are so many people at those variety of schools. It’s important to pick the best fit.”

Listen to the full episode for more on how students can discern that best fit. Also, the puzzler is back after an extended Spring Break. Who is our guest puzzle provider for the next few episodes? Listen on to find out!

This episode was recorded on April 2, 2019.


Posted: March 31, 2019 at 6:00am

Many people may regard “vocation” as a job, employment, or occupation. But the word’s Latin root (vocare meaning “to call”) speaks to a deeper definition related to a passion or true calling. In this episode of the KUT podcast “Higher Ed ,” Southwestern University President Dr. Ed Burger and KUT’s Jennifer Stayton explore the concept of a “calling” in life, and how we can learn to be attuned to that message within us.

When Jennifer was an undergraduate student in college, she was certain she was going to become a psychologist. When Ed was an undergraduate student, he was certain he was going to become a lawyer.

Well, neither one of them followed the path they thought they were going to pursue. What happened along the way? Did something go wrong for both of them?

Quite the contrary, Ed would argue. He says one of the ways to discern a true “calling” in life is to remain open to opportunities when they present themselves.

“We can’t be so intellectually stubborn as to think that the thought we had when we were eight years old is also going to be the exact same thought we’re going to have when we’re forty-five. That’s just not right,” says Ed. “The point of a high-impact educational experience that’s all about intellectual and personal growth is about challenging those basic assumptions.”

If this exercise of discernment feels like a struggle, Ed is quick to point out there is not necessarily only one path for each of us waiting to be discovered.

“You might pick the right one that generates enormous happiness. You might pick another one that generates a lot of happiness, and maybe there’s another thing you could have done that would have made you more happy or more satisfied,” Ed says. “You have to come to peace with all of that and realize there are there multiple pathways.”

At the heart of determining one’s true calling?

“Optimize your own personal satisfaction,” Ed believes.

That may sounds good in theory, but what about the reality of earning a living and paying bills? Listen to the full episode for further discussion on the tension between pursuing a passion and the realities of life.

No puzzler this week! It is still on an extended Spring Break but will return next week.

This episode was recorded on Feb. 23, 2019.