Monday, April 30, 2007

The Secretary that Destroyed

In November of 2006 Mayor Kathy Taylor proclaimed the week "International Education Week" in Tulsa. A laudible thing to do since it's never been more important that American young adults go abroad for some study and life experience. Without a significant slice of our population having a basic understanding of what's outside our borders we have no hope to maintain our leading position in the world. But Mayor Taylor should put her resources where her mouth is.

It was, after all, Ms. Taylor that, as Oklahoma Secretary of Commerce, singlehandedly dismantled one of the nation's most successful and progressive international education programs. Prior to her appointment at the Department of Commerce that agency's international unit had developed a program that brought together the state's universities in a longterm program to promote study abroad for Oklahoma students as well as recruiting full-tuition paying foreign students to Oklahoma universities. Realizing that education services was one of Oklahoma's major exports and money earners, the agency's international unit had developed a strategic plan that got results. Within two years of implementation, Oklahoma had become the number one state of choice for graduate students from Vietnam. Other states, including North Carolina and New York were sending delegations to Oklahoma to find out what Oklahoma was doing right.

You'd think success would be embraced but soon after taking over the reins at Commerce Ms. Taylor fired the people responsible for the success and filled the agency with her friends and Brad Henry's political hacks. One agency manager that survived the destruction by Taylor told me that he still hears from economic development agencies in other states that lament the destruction of one of the nation's best international trade and education programs. "It will take years to rebuild what we had before Taylor mis-managed us into mediocrity - if we can ever get back to where we were."

Let's hope Mayor Taylor has learned some lessons.