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  • Kathleen Sebelius ’70: Leadership and Service

    April 11, 2014



    No doubt about it, the tenure of Trinity Alumna Kathleen Sebelius ’70 as Secretary of Health and Human Services included several healthy doses of controversy, both political and performance-based.  The political controversy over the Affordable Care Act — “Obamacare” — is still fierce, but is part of the rough-and-tumble consequences of leadership in the public square.  The performance-based controversy erupted as implementation of the healthcare reform law began — the website had notorious flaws upon its launch, and the ripple effects continue.

    Nevertheless, Secretary Sebelius, who has announced her resignation as HHS Secretary, can take satisfaction in attaining more than 7.5 million enrollments in the new healthcare program.  For millions of Americans who previously suffered healthcare problems without insurance, the new program is providing considerable relief from hardship.

    In the coming days we will surely read and watch many critiques of the Sebelius legacy in healthcare and at HHS, but for Trinity today, our focus must be on her example of leadership and service in public life.  Trinity’s primary mission in the education of women aims to develop precisely the kinds of leadership talents and service values that Kathleen Sebelius exemplified in her public career, first as the governor of Kansas, then as secretary of HHS.  She holds the distinction of being one of very few women ever to serve as a governor of a state, and that service was particularly notable in that she was a Democrat in a heavily Republican state.  She had a reputation for being able to forge consensus when she left the governor’s mansion to join President Obama’s cabinet.  Health and Human Services is among the larges and possibly most unwieldy of all of the federal agencies, and she took on that leadership challenge just as the corrosive politics of healthcare reform erupted into a monumental ideological battle that shows few signs of abating.

    The whole point of Trinity’s mission is to engender in our students the strength and commitment to stand up and be counted in public, to be voices for those who have no voice, to become advocates on behalf of justice, to understand that the best kind of leadership is service to those in need, and to have the knowledge and talent to forge solutions to human problems.

    Agree or disagree with the politics of healthcare reform, but respect the example of leadership and service that Secretary Sebelius has demonstrated.  We owe her thanks and gratitude for her willingness to stand up and speak out, to devote years of her life to leadership and service on behalf of all citizens.

    1107.carey_article“The Trinity Sisters”

    Click on the link above to read Kevin Carey’s Washington Monthly story on The Trinity Sisters

    The story behind the photo, as told by both Kathleen Sebelius and Nancy Pelosi:  at the signing of the Affordable Care Act, President Obama gave a group hug to both HHS Secretary Sebelius and Speaker of the House Pelosi.  Speaker Pelosi said, “Isn’t it great to be here with the Trinity Sisters?” and President Obama looked around trying to see women in habits.  Secretary Sebelius laughed and said, “No, HERE WE ARE!” just as the camera caught the moment.  The Trinity Sisters!

    Leader Pelosi remembered this moment when she issued her statement today on the Sebelius resignation:

    Trinity Alumna and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Class of 1962, issued this statement today concerning her “Trinity Sister” Kathleen Sebelius:

    Pelosi Statement on the Resignation of Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

    April 10, 2014

    Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi released the following statement today after it was announced that Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius would resign:

    “From day one, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has remained laser-focused on a single purpose: to make health care a right, not a privilege, for all Americans.  Her leadership has been forceful, effective, and essential.

    “Secretary Sebelius was a leader in the long effort to make history for our country with passage of the Affordable Care Act.  She has been the key figure in the day-to-day work of implementing the law and securing new protections for patients.  Her legacy will be found in the 7.5 million Americans signed up on the marketplaces so far, the 3.1 million people covered on their parents’ plans, and the millions more gaining coverage through the expansion of Medicaid.  Beyond the law, her lasting impact will be felt in her work to expand mental health services, decrease disparities across communities, and promote women’s health.

    “Whether it was during her time as Governor of Kansas or as a member of the President’s Cabinet, it has always been a special source of pride to share an alma mater with Secretary Sebelius – Trinity in Washington.  When the Affordable Care Act was signed into law, she and I were proud to stand together as ‘Trinity sisters,’ who brought our shared education and values to the fight for reform.  I know that Secretary Sebelius will carry those same ideals into her future endeavors; I thank her for her extraordinary service; and I wish her all the best.”


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    A Victory for Integrity in Public Leadership

    April 2, 2014

    BowserCouncilmember Muriel Bowser (photo credit)

    Congratulations to D.C. Councilmember Muriel Bowser, winner of the Democratic primary for Mayor of the District of Columbia.  In choosing Councilmember Bowser over scandal-ridden incumbent Mayor Vincent Gray, the voters of the District of Columbia have made a loud and clear statement about their expectations for ethics and integrity in public leadership.

    Special cheers for Muriel Bowser as a women’s college graduate — she was a History major at Chatham in Pittsburgh! — and one of the great Catholic girls’ schools of the Washington region, Elizabeth Seton High School!  Girls’ schools and women’s colleges continue to educate powerful leaders!

    Sour grapes statements from the Gray camp claim that U.S. Attorney Ron Machen is responsible for Gray’s loss.  Really?  That’s so insulting to D.C. voters.  In fact, The People have sent the message that they are sick and tired of the corruption, the sleazy deals, the sight of elected officials in handcuffs and prison jump suits.  The People are tired of being let down by politicians they once trusted.  Rather than blaming the prosecutor for doing his job, Mayor Gray needs to own the idea that, regardless of his personal guilt or innocence in the Jeffrey Thompson affair, the city and the citizens suffer when the government is consumed with corruption cases.

    The general election for the Mayor’s Office is still many months away, in November.  Until then, Candidate Bowser will  have to continue to work very hard to let voters get to know her more completely, to know her positions and talents.  Additionally, other candidates are likely to step forward, including Councilmember David Catania, so there may well be a hot contest for the ultimate election.

    Citizens of D.C. must become more engaged as well — low voter turnout does not serve anyone’s interests in our city.  40 years after enacting Home Rule for D.C., some members of Congress still act like this city is a small fiefdom on which they can impose their narrow views (even though most would not be able to find their way to Franklin Street or Benning Road or Mississippi Avenue).  Behaviors that weaken the case for Home Rule — low voter turnout, corruption among city officials — do not advance the cause of full empowerment for D.C. citizens.

    Congratulations to Councilmember Bowser, and also to Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, and all of the other winners in yesterday’s primary election!  And thanks to all for taking on the considerable responsibilities of public leadership on our behalf.


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    D.C. Primary: Vote!

    March 30, 2014

    ballott box

    Tuesday, April 1 is the primary election day for major political offices in the District of Columbia.  If you are a registered D.C. voter, please plan to vote! This election is extremely important for the future of our city.  Major offices that this election will determine include the Mayor, the D.C. Delegate to Congress, and members of the D.C. Council.

    Many websites have good summaries of the candidates, including this one on the mayoral candidates on NBC4, the D.C. Board of Election and Ethics, and most major media have various guides.

    Who will you vote for?  If you are a citizen of D.C., surely you must have an opinion and you must make a choice.  The privilege of citizenship brings with it the obligation to vote.  Vote for whomever you think will best represent your interests and needs, disagree with the other candidates as much as you like, but please go to the polls and VOTE.

    While the general election takes place in November, D.C.’s population consists of a large majority of registered Democrats, and the ballot for the election shows that Democratic candidates have the biggest contests.  Given the current controversies in D.C. around political corruption, however, the winners on Tuesday may still face opposition in November from independent candidates.  Nevertheless, historically, the winners of the Democratic primary in D.C. tend to be the final winners in November.  So, in essence, the April 1 election really does determine the city’s political future.

    By law, college presidents are prohibited from endorsing candidates for election to political office, so I’m not going to name any candidates here.  But I can suggest some goals for D.C. that I hope the winners of the primary will lead our city to achieve:

    First and foremost, the mayor and members of the D.C. Council must restore credibility and confidence in the city’s ability to govern itself honorably and with integrity.  The circus of scandal has harmed our city’s reputation enormously.  The longstanding desire for self-determination for D.C. — whether simply a vote in Congress or full statehood — suffers betrayal and disappointment every time a public official is indicted, arrested, jailed or cast under a heavy cloud of suspicion.  It’s really not that hard to stay out of trouble, my friends!  Just Say No!  “No!” to the shady dealers of campaign funds and cash prizes for influence, “No!” to the abuse of power for personal gain or gain for your friends.  While most major cities have plenty of incidents of scandal, the stakes are even higher in D.C. where the overlords in Congress are always poised to find fault with the local politicians.  Yes, we have to work harder for respect.  Yes, that’s aggravating, but it’s reality.

    Second, the mayor and members of the D.C. Council must back away from threats of further disruption in the educational system.  Too many politicians believe that they have some kind of right to tell school leaders how to run the system.  The D.C. Public Schools have suffered generations of political interference and disruption.   Yes, improvement in education is always necessary, and with Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s steady and calm leadership, D.C. is on the right track to improvement.  The last thing children in D.C. need right now is more disruption in the schools.

    Third, the mayor and D.C. Council need to focus significantly more attention on the problems of poverty, illiteracy, homelessness and violence that continue to plague the impoverished neighborhoods along the eastern half of the city.  Economic development opportunities are great, and the revitalization of the city center is stunning.  But along the edges, many children and adults are left far behind.  This week’s tragic saga of the search for Relisha Rudd casts a harsh spotlight on the utterly debased conditions that too many children and families face each day.  For every ribbon cutting on new buildings and every photo op with celebrities, the elected leaders should demonstrate at least two specific action steps they have taken to address poverty and its tragic consequences.

    The District of Columbia remains a city divided — a city with great wealth and great poverty, high academic achievement and high adult illiteracy, booming economic development and rubble-strewn places some people still call home.  Our leaders must do more to close these gaps.  We need elected officials with imagination, courage and the magnetic charisma required to bring together people with the resources and brains to solve the problems of the city.  Elected officials do not need to solve all the problems, themselves; leadership is the ability to organize and motivate other people to achieve results.

    Whatever else you do on Tuesday, April 1, if you are a D.C. resident, please vote!


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    Building Trinity’s Future

    March 25, 2014

    Untitled-1Illustration of the front of the New Trinity Academic Center

    Exciting news!  Groundbreaking is set for the new Trinity Academic Center on Saturday, May 31 at 10 am.  This wonderful moment — taking place when our graduates are here for Alumnae Reunion and also welcoming, students, faculty and staff to share in the celebration — will be a gigantic step forward in ensuring Trinity’s future.

    At a hearing earlier this week, the D.C. Zoning Commission approved the project, an essential step in moving ahead with plans for groundbreaking.  The Zoning Commission expressed great respect for Trinity and our remarkable mission today, and through their action they supported Trinity’s vision to ensure ongoing academic quality and excellence through these new laboratories and classrooms.

    Planning for the new academic center has occurred over much of the last decade, about as far back as the day the Trinity Center for Women and Girls in Sports opened its doors in 2003.  In the intervening years, our eagerness to create a beautiful new laboratory and classroom building slowed in the financial reality of the recession, and the many other needs of our campus.  But in 2010, with Trinity’s financial strength growing along with enrollment, the Board of Trustees approved the start of the “concept design” process that gave us ideas to take to donors.

    Better view from Franklin looking to Main 11 25 2013_edited-1 (Large)Illustration of the Franklin Street View of the Academic Center

    Many generous alumnae and benefactors stepped forward to support this very significant project, and last summer, as previously announced, Joan Payden ’53 contributed $10 million to propel the project from desire to reality, and the campaign now tops $20 million.

    With that support, we were able to assemble the project team.  We retained a wonderful design/build team including Clark Construction and EYP Architects to create the specific building design, and with the help of a firm called PFM our financial team began the very serious work of developing the financial plan for this $40 million project.  At the same time, our legal team at the firm Goulston Storrs tackled the legal preparation for the project, and partners at Jones Lang LaSalle provide great project management expertise for this effort.

    Entrance Interior ViewWe now have a building design and floor plans to share with students, faculty and staff, and so in the next several weeks I will be announcing a series of meetings to review the details with all members of the campus community.  Watch your email for my announcement of the meeting opportunities.

    Tiered ClassroomKey features of the new Trinity Academic Center:

    • 8 new science laboratories and related prep spaces
    • 4 new Nursing and health assessment laboratories including simulation labs
    • Spaces for Clinical Mental Health and Psychology simulation rooms
    • 21 new classrooms for all students in all disciplines
    • Classrooms of many different sizes with movable furniture
    • Lounges and study areas on each floor
    • New technology center and modern technology access throughout

    The new academic center will replace the Science Building.  We will continue to hold classes and labs in the Science Building until the new building is open, which will be in time for the Fall 2016 semester.

    We will also be building new roads and access points for the campus, and re-arranging parking areas to provide a more manageable parking plan and better traffic flows.

    Having this modern, functional, comfortable and highly accessible new academic center will give Trinity students, faculty and staff a lot more room to engage in the great work of teaching and learning that goes on here every day.  At the same time, this new facility will make it possible for us to consider more renovations in Main Hall, which remains the heart of our campus and still the most heavily used building on campus.  As we all know, Main needs a lot of work, some of which can only occur once we have “swing space” for classes.

    Piqued your interest?  Much more to come!  I will provide more information and updates in this space, and also visit our Academic Center website regularly since we will post construction updates once the project starts.

    Details also available in my Zoning Commission Testimony and the Trinity Academic Center Prospectus

    And please come to the campus meetings that I will announce shortly!

    Watch this space for updates on the project…

    IMG_20140122_100928Main is Forever!  But she’ll love a little breathing room….

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    Uncle Earl’s Ethical Enigma

    March 18, 2014

    How hard can it be for an elected official to “just say no” when it comes to taking money or other valuable stuff in some shady deal?  After all these years, it seems like a no brainer:  just walk away, as fast as you can, from someone waving a fistful of Benjamins or glittery trinkets at you.  Right?

    Sadly, some public officials in the District of Columbia and the State of Virginia missed that memo.  The roster of D.C. officials and staff caught-up in corruption cases is astonishingly long; some are already serving time, others may well wind up behind bars.  Across the river, behold the tawdry spectacle of former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell’s impending trial on charges that he and his wife took lavish gifts from a businessman who received official favors in exchange for all that stuff.

    Why do otherwise-smart people have such a hard time resisting this particularly risky form of temptation?  While every case has its own unique weirdness (Maureen McDonnell’s shopping trips, Harry Thomas’s motorcycle), the scandal dogging D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray seems to be an object lesson in the ethical enigmas that arise when otherwise-sensible leaders fall prey to the intoxicating power of political influence.

    Let’s start with Uncle Earl.

    An “enigma” is something mysterious, puzzling or difficult to understand.  With that definition, “Uncle Earl” is a total enigma.

    “Uncle Earl” is the code name that Mayor Gray and businessman Jeffrey E. (for “Earl”) Thompson agreed to use when referring to Thompson so that then-Mayor Adrian Fenty would not find out that Thompson was supporting Gray.  That’s the story, at least.  It’s complicated, sort of.  Fenty was then mayor and running for re-election, and Thompson had supported Fenty.  Now Thompson was supporting Gray, but didn’t want Fenty to know that.

    The ethical enigma of the Uncle Earl gambit seems obvious:  a public figure with nothing to hide should not play games to keep something secret from a competitor.  The lame effort to keep Fenty in the dark about Thompson’s support for Gray seems like a very dumb idea, and now it becomes evidence of a character flaw in Gray, a willingness to conceal the truth, a lie that might have seemed small at the time but that now becomes a significant ethical breach quite possibly signifying even more serious dishonesty.

    Thompson has now pleaded guilty to wide-ranging crimes of corruption in funneling funds illegally to the 2010 Gray mayoral campaign.

    Gray says that he did nothing wrong.  He labels as “lies” the statements made about him in the “statement of offenses” that Thompson signed as part of his plea bargain.  Gray deserves the presumption of innocence, and he most certainly will have a day in court.  The only question is whether that will come before or after the next mayoral election.

    I cannot comment on the mayoral campaign or candidates, nor can I comment on whether Mayor Gray will be indicted and convicted.  All of that is up to the voters, the prosecutors, the legal process.

    What I can say is this:  public officials have a large duty to be ethical role models, to avoid even the appearance of unethical or illegal activity.  Sadly, too many public officials seem ignorant of these responsibilities.

    I’ve known Vincent Gray for a long time, long before he became a public official.  Trinity students and alumnae going back across the years remember him for his leadership and advocacy on behalf of students with disabilities through his work with the DC ARC, Covenant House and other organizations.  I was happy to work with him when he became D.C. Council Chair when he pursued legislative initiatives to expand Pre-K opportunities in D.C.  I was delighted when he became mayor because of all that I knew about his long and strong devotion to improving the lives of D.C. citizens.  As mayor he has championed scholarships for Trinity students and a broad range of economic development opportunities that benefit the citizens and institutions of D.C.   I am disappointed that this great track record now suffers a serious and potentially devastating shadow of corruption and deceit.  For the sake of the city and all who depend on its vitality, I hope the processes required to determine guilt or innocence will proceed quickly so that the city can keep moving forward.

    Beyond all of that, we also need to consider the sobering facts about the ethical challenges facing public officials not only here but in just about every location where politics and money play large roles in gaining and keeping power.   In all of the debates about educational reform today, there’s almost no discussion of education about ethical choices and the role of schools in building a culture of honor and integrity.  So much emphasis is put on rote learning for standardized testing that there’s almost no place in the curriculum for the kind of deep and reflective development of mind and spirit that must occur for large ethical formation.

    Here at Trinity, we devote a good deal of time and effort to reinforcing the fundamental concepts of the Honor System.  Every student takes the basic pledge to uphold the standards of honor against which lying, stealing and cheating are completely unacceptable.  Yet, even here, with all the attention we pay to the ideals of honor and integrity, we often feel that we have not done enough, and we know we can always do more.

    The Original Sin was not really about eating the apple, but rather, lying about it.  Oh, and blaming somebody else for the misdeed.  The most fundamental ethical lesson we must reinforce at every level of education is the absolute need to take ownership of one’s own actions, to tell the truth and live with the consequences of the truth.   Imagine how much more effective political systems could be if elected officials could truly exemplify these fundamental lessons.

    It’s not that hard:  the next time some creepy “Uncle Earl” fiction oozes into the conversation, just walk away.  Fast.  Run.  Better to lose the election than lose your soul.



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    Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
    Phone: 202.884.9050   Email:



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