Liberalism is the dogged pursuit of free expression in the service of processes that advance human dignity. When Fernando Jones summoned the spirit of Frederick Douglass into the Lenfest Theater at the Kaleidoscope Performing Arts Center last Thursday night, I was reminded about the power of art to stimulate excellence. Ursinus College is a center for intellectual achievement that transforms the lives of its students, professors, and staff every day. If you have not been to campus recently or missed any of the events that have started the Spring semester, make an effort to connect with us soon. For educators, this message is especially important because the free, online application provides an opportunity for the best and brightest high school students to join this unique and extraordinary community. We need more paragons of colleges that changes lives, places that extend higher education beyond the standards of the Ivy League.

The Time Value of Life

The Time Value of Life: Why Time is More Valuable than Money by Tisa L. Silver (iUniverse, 2009) 90pp. Paperback. $12.95 (ISBN: 978-1-440103480-7)
Recently, Professor Silver visited Ursinus College to discuss representations and realities of wealth in the African American community with two groups of students. In the conversations that followed, she and I agreed to an interview about the major themes of her book. The following transcript presents our exchange.
Dr. Walter Greason
Ursinus College

Walter Greason (WG): The subtitle of your book is ‘why time is more valuable than money.’ Who is the audience you most hope will read this book and learn this lesson? How did they come to believe that the opposite relationship was true?
Tisa Silver (TS): I wrote the book with all people in mind, because we all must face decisions regarding how to use our time and money. However, I hope teens will read this book and learn the lesson more so than any other group. They are at a critical point in their lives, where they have few obligations and a plethora of opportunities. What they choose to do with these years will have a huge impact on the rest of their lives. For instance, what will they do after high school? Will they finish high school? By addressing major decisions such as these with a clear vision of the future in mind, they can avoid playing the difficult game of catch-up later.
As for the misconception that money is more valuable than time, unfortunately, we live in an extremely money and celebrity oriented society. From videos, reality television, music, movies and real-life experiences, we learn early that money changes things. For example, have more money and you get more attention, have more money and you don’t have to wait in line, or pay more money and you can get a larger seat in the front of the plane. If you have money, you may be able to escape the legal consequences that the average person may face for committing the same crime. Designers and vendors pay celebrities to wear or endorse their products, but when you visit the store to buy the product, no one rolls out the red carpet for you
There are countless examples of how having money makes a difference, but where can we see or hear similar references made to the value of time? Nowhere.

WG: Could you discuss the fundamental connection you propose between Present Value and Future Value in the early chapters? Why is it difficult for people to apply the principle of that economic connection to their social and psychological lives?
TS: The present value is where you are and the future value is where you can be. The goal of The Time Value of Life model is to encourage forethought – making plans today with goals in mind for the future. Depending upon the inputs, the future value can hold a reward or consequence, but planning ahead can improve the chances of a better outcome. Good investments offer benefits which outweigh their initial costs, bad investments offer the opposite.
I think it is difficult for people to apply the principle because its application requires delayed gratification and sacrifice on the front end and accountability on the back end. Many people do not want to consider the variables and outcomes before they say something, do something or invest in something because when you know better, you are expected to do better.
On the back end, this principle may force people to admit, if only to themselves, how much they really knew before making an ultimately poor choice. After making a mistake, people often say, “I didn’t mean to” or “I didn’t think about that.” They may not have meant to cause an undesirable outcome, but they were probably aware that such an outcome could occur.
For instance, think about a man who drives to happy hour after work, has too much to drink and as a result, hits a pedestrian with his car on the way home.
Ordering each drink required a decision. Getting behind the wheel after drinking required another decision. He knew that too much alcohol could impair his ability to drive safely, but he chose to drink and drive anyway.
Perhaps he felt drinking less would lower his enjoyment, but knowing the outcome would have caused him to drink less or reconsider his actions.
The principle forces people to be accountable for their decisions and the consequences associated with those decisions. My editor, Crystal Simms, told me that the book will “convict you.” Some people just aren’t ready for that! Honestly, that wasn’t exactly what I was going for, but if it helps people to make better decisions, then I am all for it.

WG: You discuss a very painful loss as part of learning a lesson about the value of time. How important was it for you to tell that story as part of this book?
TS: The story of that loss is what made the book. I originally began writing the book in 2005, and my goal was to write a book for teenagers about money management. After suffering such a painful loss, I was reminded of what is most important: how we use our time. As I learned from my loss, we should not assume there will always be more time.
The financial education piece was still important, but I decided time management was equally as important. I thought of the many parallels between finance and life, and money and time. I was able to offer some lessons on two topics, time and money, which everyone must deal with and for which there are no standard training tools in our educational system.

WG: As an historian, I had serious questions about the title of Chapter 16 (“The Past Does Not Dictate the Future”). Could you talk more about how some visions of the past serve to limit a person’s sense of hope and possibility?
TS: I completely understand your questions regarding the title “The Past Does Not Dictate the Future.” There is no doubt that the past influences the future, but my point is that the past does not have to dictate the future. To fully answer your question, I went to the dictionary for definitions of hope and possibility.
Hope- to desire with expectation of obtainment
Visions of the past can hinder the “expectation” part of the definition of hope. For people who are in unfortunate, uncomfortable or undesirable circumstances, I believe, more often than not, the desire to obtain something better or different is definitely there.
However, visions of the past lead them to expect that the future will offer them more of the same. Their expectations will be proven correct if they continue to live as they always have. They want better, but they may not have learned how to obtain better, they may be in an environment which doesn’t support their desire to obtain better, or whatever the case may be. There are a variety of barriers that may stand in the way of great expectations for one’s future, but each person has the ability to set their own expectations.
I want people to get to know themselves, for themselves so they can set their own expectations of obtainment and then, seriously consider what it takes to turn the desire into a decision, and the decision into action.
Possibility – one’s utmost power, capability or ability
Visions of the past can also hinder individuals from being able to picture their utmost power, capability or ability. Looking to the future with hope can create a better picture. There are children who were born into poverty and have gone on to achieve wealth and financial freedom. There are children who grew up without a parent only to become fine parents and mentors. There are students who struggled in their youth and have gone on to be exceptional teachers. Something caused each of them to break the cycle. At some point, they decided they wanted more for themselves and then took action.
I want people to understand they have the power to change things with their own values in mind. I made it a point to avoid telling people exactly what to do, because I recognize everyone is different. What works for me may not work for them, so I presented a decision-making rule which can be manipulated to suit the goals and values of anyone who uses it.

WG: You represent a path towards executive excellence that many people can follow. What were some of the first steps you took on your journey, and how did you overcome the pitfalls and obstacles we all face as we pursue important goals?
TS: Thank you. The first step I took was to treat every job seriously. Many of my early job experiences were temporary office positions I accepted during breaks from college. Whether the job was filing papers, answering phones or stuffing envelopes, the job was mine so I tried hard to do it well and with a smile. I tried so hard because I believe my work is a representation of me, and good work speaks volumes.
Most of the pitfalls and obstacles I encountered were not problems with the task at hand; they were problems with people who were involved in the completion of the task. Treating others the way I would like to be treated, or better, helped alleviate many of those problems. If you can learn to work well with others, life and work can become much easier!
I encountered people who wouldn’t associate with workers in certain groups or frowned upon workers below a certain organizational level. I encountered people who treated me one way because they saw me at the receptionist desk, and then another way once they found out I was in college. People also treated me differently once they found out that I was the professor, not the teaching assistant. I vowed to never be that person, to stay true to myself, regardless of the audience.
I have learned at times you have to lead, and at other times you have to follow. I have also learned that being a good listener often takes you farther than being a good talker. I had to learn that it is okay to promote yourself without being a braggadocio. I also had to learn not to take things too personally. I had to learn how to deconstruct and defeat fear because it is counterproductive.
If I had to list any things that I fear, they would be getting too comfortable (as in being complacent), losing humility and going against my core beliefs. The best piece of advice I can offer is “to thine own self be true.” Find out what is important to you and live a life which represents those values to the best of your ability.

Tisa Silver is a former faculty member of the University of Delaware’s Alfred E. Lerner College of Business and Economics. Silver is also the founder of the non-profit Good Works Coalition. She lives in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Her website is

Celebrity and Its Cost

With the passing of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson, we have a moment to reflect on celebrity, its power, and its cost. Dave Chappelle related a story in explaining his sudden departure from the international media stage where he quoted his father regarding the process of celebrity. “Know your price, and when the cost gets too high, leave.” In McMahon, Fawcett, and Jackson’s respective cases, Chappelle’s wisdom holds true. McMahon and Fawcett shaped and re-shaped the entertainment landscape through the lenses of comedy and beauty. McMahon leveraged a late-night talk career into a life as one of the most influential brokers of talent, fame, and wealth over the last two decades of the twentieth century. His face became a marker of aspiration through his sweepstakes mailings. Fawcett’s looks remained the hallmark of her celebrity for thirty years. Yet it was her awareness of the trappings of beauty that drove her to confront her audience with issues of domestic violence, rape, and women’s autonomy. Fawcett turned the stereotyping of actresses and models into a signifier that forced her audiences to question and, ultimately, to reject the two-dimensional image of white women as fragile prizes or long suffering caregivers. Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon mastered and manipulated their celebrity in numerous projects to redefine American public culture over the last fifty years.

Michael Jackson pioneered the global entertainment landscape in an era that struggled to reconcile racial differences. He was the face of American economic globalization between 1979 and 1995. His death resonates around the world because Jackson represented a singular presence that overwhelmed language, religion, nation, and race. Jackson used his talent to expand the power of Muhammad Ali’s social challenge to recognize the inherent value of all human beings. He blazed the trail that created the process of developing the public personas of Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, and Barack Obama. His musical and dance talents were windows that shaped the flow of inspiration and investment to more than 3 billion people. The scope of his achievement will require decades to assess. However, the cost of his work surpassed his victories. Jackson gave the world his soul. His closest friends all confirmed the ways he asked for personal guidance in the maintenance of his private life. Celebrity destroyed his ability to connect to other people in the basic, unspoken ways all people require to experience a sense of belonging. Jackson chose public adulation over private comfort. He lost track of cost he paid to achieve unprecedented entertainment success.

Imagine that you woke up tomorrow, and the headline was “Ronald McDonald, dead, at age 60. All McDonald’s restaurants closed permanently.” Michael Jackson was a global institution in similar ways to a massive conglomerate. His face and name were brands that generated billions of dollars from the intersection of radio, broadcast television, and cable television. Spike Lee’s film, “Bamboozled,” represents the formula of celebrity and its cost that consumed Jackson, Fawcett, and McMahon’s lives. If humanity can take any lesson from the shock of losing these three stars this week, it might be that we need to be more thoughtful about our entertainment as performers, communicators, and audiences. Entertainers like Jimmy Fallon, Vanessa Hudgens, and Lupe Fiasco should carefully weigh the choices they make about how they enter and engage global recognition. Bloggers, paparazzi, and news sites should track and manage their own coverage to allow more private time for talented musicians, dancers, and actors. Audiences should remember to turn off the media feed regularly and give more time and attention to their families and friends. Let’s open a public discussion about the cost of celebrity in the twenty-first century. More widespread conversation about the function and limitations of fame will honor the best gifts Jackson, Fawcett, and McMahon gave us.

R.W. Emerson’s Saxons by Nell Painter

Distinguished scholar Nell Irvin Painter offers an extraordinary analysis of Ralph W. Emerson’s “English Traits” and its historical importance in the Journal of American History (March 2009).

If you cannot get a copy quickly, here is a video of the lecture that shaped the essay.

Pat Buchanan, Bill O’Reilly, and Tim Wise

Bill O’Reilly recently claimed that Democrats and liberals believe that white men are the problem with society. Tim Wise (among several students of white identity) concisely responds that it is not the men themselves, but the attitudes and behaviors they offer in regards to women and people of color that need to change. Making those changes does not require a political realignment. It is simply a recognition of every human being’s inherent value.

Pat Buchanan is the single most famous example of the resistance to this realization among white men in the United States. In the aftermath of the “Lone Wolf” assassinations over the last six months, I appreciate the essay on Buchanan’s career of racial and gender smears that appeared on Media Matters. Perhaps one day, these views will receive their proper rebuttal on the national stage whenever they appear.
Walter Cronkite, broadcast news anchorWalter Cronkite, broadcast news anchor

* Urgent Political Notice *

Please take a moment to call Congress and support the major health care reform that will occur this summer.

Thank you in advance for your time.

The Congress will vote on healthcare legislation soon. Please join with President Obama to win quality, affordable healthcare we all can count on in 2009.

Call Senator Specter toll-free Monday through Friday between 9 am and 6 pm at 1-888-436-8427. Urge him to support President Obama’s healthcare plan with a public plan choice (info below).

A Public Health Insurance Plan Option – What is it?

A public health insurance plan option is a key element of healthcare reform proposals from President Obama and leading members of Congress. Individuals could keep their private insurance or join a new public plan.

The new public health insurance plan would be established by the federal government and available to individuals nationwide. It would offer comprehensive benefits and broad access to providers. Individuals’ premiums would be affordable and based on their income. No one would be denied because of pre-existing conditions. Its overhead costs would be signficantly lower than private insurance, which includes profit, advertising and administration.

The plan would be designed to slow the growth in medical costs, inject competition into the private health insurance market, foster payment and delivery system reforms, remedy disparities in access to care and guarantee that high-quality, affordable coverage will be there for individuals and families no matter what happens to their jobs or their health.

For more information visit

Irreconcilable Differences

President Obama described the opposing sides in the abortion debate as having irreconcilable differences. As I watch California, New Jersey, and many other states struggle to manage their budgets, I wonder if there is also very little common ground when it comes to the debate about state services and funding. More importantly, it may be that the nation has become so polarized on several issues that the process of political deliberation cannot move the nation forward. Has compromise died in American politics?

One of my colleagues has notoriously claimed that it is better to have a benign dictatorship than a functioning democracy. My optimism has led me to resist accepting that premise. I believe there are ways to generate broad public consensus on almost every issue. I fear that too few elected officials are committed to finding that level of agreement in the Congress or the state legislatures. When voters choose to risk state bankruptcy to resist one-day furloughs for state workers or to encourage the release of felons, popular perspective on the fiscal needs of democracy has been lost. These events are the consequence of irresponsible calls to reject all taxation over the last forty-five years.

In Pakistan, the Army and the clergy are fighting for control of the country. The lack of strong civic institutions like a consistent judiciary, widespread public education, responsible banks, trustworthy legislators, and an insightful academy make the possibility of a failed state under Taliban rule a threat to global peace. In Philadelphia, reformer politicians propose to slash municipal services in one month, then expand income, property, and sales taxes in the next, before returning to plans for service reduction in the last few weeks. Murder, arson, and robbery continue to afflict the most vulnerable in the city and its suburbs.

We need to find common ground about local, state, and national politics in the United States. The achievement of transparent, accountable democracy with an array of functioning, national institutions provides the most succinct statement showing the inadequacy of Islamic fundamentalism. Supporters of the President and his agenda must take additional steps to make this achievement real. We must build the institutions — financial, educational, political, and cultural — we want to work in this world. We cannot afford the price of failed compromises and irreconcilable discourse.


President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)
President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)

Blackness and Whiteness as Historical Forces (new essay)

My review essay covering Kevin Gaines’ “Uplifting the Race”, Nikhil Pal Singh’s “Black is a Country”, Adolph Reed’s “Stirrings in the Jug”, Tim Wise’s “White Like Me”, and David Roediger’s “Colored White” and “Working Toward Whiteness” appeared in the January-March 2009 issue of “Multicultural Perspectives.”

Give it a look if you have the chance.


“At the core of the epistemology of black identity in the twentieth century United States is the assertion that freedom is a human right, not a privilege to be earned. By the late nineteenth century, an ideology of racial uplift had emerged that revolved around four concepts – compassion, service, education, and a commitment to social and economic justice for all citizens, as Kevin Gaines notes in Uplifting the Race. (1996) These elements would form the foundation for black identity and the argument for racial integration in the United States. It was the strength of these ideals that ultimately civilized a plurality of American citizens between 1955 and 1965, resulting in the landmarks of the Civil Rights Movement (the Brown decision, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the confrontations in Selma and Birmingham (Alabama), the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965). For the first time in American history, white Americans publicly rejected the legitimacy of white supremacy as a pillar of civilization. This is no small accomplishment.”

Tim Wise and a precocious youngster share a laugh at Ursinus College.
Tim Wise and a precocious youngster share a laugh at Ursinus College.