Regular readers know that milestones are important to me. One occurred today, and it merits a post. Unhappily, American Airlines confirmed that as a result of their Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, they will no longer be able to support my classroom teaching. They have done so for almost 23 years, since I first stepped forward in Professor Noden’s airline management class at Cornell University in April 1989. It has been a remarkable ride.
With certainty, the journey to the classroom will continue, because it is important to me in several ways. First, as an element of my volunteerism; together with work building wheelchair ramps for Dallas citizens who cannot afford them, it is a small expression of giving back. Second, the airline industry needs people who can explain it clearly and convincingly, to combat nonsense in the media and elsewhere. Third, my guest lecturing is after two decades woven into my identity and my sense of purpose. And fourth, it is simply a great deal of fun.
This teaching year has been typical of those of the past decade. By the numbers, in 2011 I visited 25 schools, including three new ones: the University of Cologne, the Technical University of Delft (Netherlands), and the University of Maryland. And I was fortunate to return more than once to some favorite places: the University of Cambridge (numero uno on my list), the Instituto Tecnologico de Buenos Aires (ITBA), and McGill University in Montreal. As always, I’ve had memorable informal discussions with students and faculty hosts, especially at ITBA and with my great friend Jan Heide at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The 73 classroom hours approached the teaching load of some of my faculty hosts.
But it’s never been about volume, only about the opportunity to connect with students. My teaching style is almost always different from what they usually experience. I see each lecture as a performance. And beyond conveying perspectives on my chosen industry, the business of getting people together, my presence in classrooms outside the U.S. gives students and hosts an opportunity to see an American unlike those in the movies or on the news – not some Hollywood star or Washington politician, but a regular guy from the heartland (though one with views on the world and his nation different from what they expect).
In previous years, American’s Silver Birds and its purse propelled me to fascinating places afar, like the American University of Armenia, the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, the Australian Graduate School of Management in Sydney, and the Hanoi Foreign Trade University.
It’s unclear how much teaching I’ll be able to do with a combination of my own resources and increased support from the host institutions. Anticipating this change, in the past fortnight I have reached out to schools and several have agreed to increase their expense support. I’m very much hoping that my work with Intelligent Avionics will bear fruit in 2012 and beyond, and that some commission checks can be deposited into the teaching fund. But in the end, if pressed, I’ll shake my piggy bank, because on some levels it’s an avocation; in their later years, some people spend more time on the golf course or on a mountain. I head to the classroom.
I am determined to continue.
Finally, a word of thanks to everyone at American Airlines who made my teaching possible: the executives who supported it, people like Arnold Grossman and Bob Crandall; workmates like Steve Schlachter who stepped in when I was away; and people like Debbie Shanks who made sure I got reimbursed. I like to think that my classroom presence also reflected well on that airline, which has struggled so greatly in the past decade.