In choosing a recipient for an honorary degree, a university strives to find an individual that represents the university’s values. James O. Freedman, the former president of Dartmouth college, confirms this in his essay, “Education and the Public Interest
,” as he writes, “In bestowing an honorary degree, a university makes an explicit statement to its students and the world about the qualities of character and attainment it admires most.” In a broad sense, the primary value and mission at the heart of every university is virtually the same: to inspire excellence on a personal, academic, and professional level. David Ulrich, currently a professor of business administration at the University of Michigan, does just that. Ulrich has not only revolutionized the Human Resources field over the course of his career, he has also made valuable contributions to the academic community as well. While it might seem unlikely for The University of Southern California
to award a professor from another university an honorary degree, I think it would be making a bold and effective statement--that USC sees beyond petty lines and has a bigger sense of what it means to make a valuable contribution to a community as a whole. USC would thus establish itself as an integral part of the academic community, as it would demonstrate that it places higher value on bettering the community, than it does in bringing attention to itself as an individual university. It recognizes that in raising the bar for the academic community as a whole, Ulrich is directly effecting and increasing the academic integrity of the university itself. In taking a deeper look at the purpose of an honorary degree as outlined on the university’s policy
, it becomes increasingly clear that Ulrich is a perfect candidate, as he embodies the qualities valued by the university.
In a recent HR Magazine article
listing the top 100 HR Professionals in the world, Ulrich was the number one pick. The article states, “Today’s common model of just what is expected of a
modern human resources function is distilled from Ulrich’s thinking—effectiveness; strategy; added value; and delivery. These are all central to any dynamic HR professional’s approach.” With this in mind, consider the first purpose of Honorary Degrees as outlined by the USC Honorary Degrees Committee
: “To honor individuals who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements in scholarship, the professions, or other creative activities, whether or not they are widely known by the general public.” Ulrich has undoubtedly distinguished himself in his profession, not only for the work he has done as an HR professional, but for the contributions his ideas have made to the field as a whole.
Through his innovative thinking, he has given HR Professionals a more action-oriented way to approach their
work—a way that elevates the value of the profession as a whole. And considering the common criticism
from the business community that the HR function lacks true value, Ulrich’s teachings are vital to the future and sustainability of the field itself. What Ulrich has done is he has essentially taken a human resources approach to improving the human resources profession, in the same way human resources professionals improve individual companies. Furthermore, he presents his ideas and solutions in a way that is understandable and applicable to his peers. He communicates these ideas
through the more than 90 articles and book chapters he has published throughout his career. In his books, which include HR Scorecard: Linking People, Strategy, and Performance
and The HR Value Proposition
, his ideas are easy to understand and apply. A Fast Company article
published last year acknowledged his inspirational teaching style as it stated, “Ulrich inspires others because he brings zeal and hands-on experience to human resources, a subject generally buried in bureaucracy.” B. Joseph White, Ulrich’s former dean at the University of Michigan Business School, added, “Bridging theory and concept to practice and application -- no one does that better than Dave.”
By offering this new perspective in an applicable way in which results are visible, Ulrich has not only increased the value of the Human Resources function within companies, he has also made professionals within the human resources community feel better about their personal value added to their company. The same Fast Company
argues that through his books and teachings, “He has empowered HR executives with the idea that 50% of their firms’ market value comes from things they control – thinks that aren’t mentioned in the accounting statement.” As a result, they not only feel better about their personal contributions, they feel better about the value of the human resources profession as a whole. Martin Moore, head of HR at the British Museum, verifies
this as he says, “For me, he helped to bring into being the view that HR could not only contribute to the organization’s bottom line, but also provide a source of competitiveness. The fact that many of us feel more confident about the future of our function than we did 20 years or so ago is, at least in part, thanks to the work of Ulrich.”
It is no coincidence that so many of his peers experience a feeling of personal impact from Ulrich’s teachings, as his emphasis on the human element of Human Resources is one of the primary factors that distinguishes him in his community. He encourages employees to become aware of their personal growth, and he emphasizes striving for a feeling of purpose as well as a sense of belonging and community in the workplace. Ulrich also lives his own life by these standards. This is reflected in his decision to take a step back from the human relations world to give back to his spiritual roots: the Mormon community. In 2002, Ulrich left his successful career
to work as the Quebec mission president for the Mormon Church
. For three years, Ulrich oversaw 32 wards, 9,000 members, and 150 19- to 25-year old missionaries spread across 600,000 square miles. As a mission president
, "There are no vacations. There are no weekends. Ulrich act(s) as parent, boss, and spiritual leader to his missionaries. Their schedules, apartments, vehicles, medical--everything falls under his jurisdiction. The indices of his leadership are individuals, and victories and setbacks are personal." Through his work, he was able to apply his Human Resources skills to help further the Mormon Church. His emphasis on community service supports the second purpose
of awarding honorary degrees, as proposed by the Honorary Degrees Committee, “to recognize exceptional acts of philanthropy to the university and/or the national or world scene.” Through this experience, Ulrich was not only able to better the Mormon community, but he also gained a new perspective and new ideals that he plans to use to better the Human Resources community. He acknowledged
this as he ended his mission and prepared to return to the corporate community, “As I return to the ‘real’ world, I wonder which world is more real,” he writes, “The world I live in now – focused on a caring community – or the world I left (and return to) of building a competitive community. Hopefully, we can find ways to build a competitive community through caring.”
Not only has he made valuable contributions to the Human Resources community and the Mormon Community, but his most relevant contributions in this case, stem from his work in the academic community. At the peak of his career and success, Ulrich decided to enter the academic realm and devote his life to teaching others the
knowledge he has gained throughout his career. As a professor of business administration at the University of Michigan
, Ulrich is highly involved with the university, where he is also on the core faculty of the Executive Program, and he is co-director of both the Human Resource Executive Program and the Advanced Human Resource Executive Program. As a part of the academic community
, "He studies how organizations change fast, build capabilities, learn, remove boundaries, and leverage human resource activities. He has helped generate multiple award winning national data bases on organizations that assess alignment between strategies, human resource practices and HR competencies." His teachings and research helps to better the community at the University of Michigan, and therefore the academic community as a whole, as his is raising the bar of education. This brings us to the third purpose
for awarding honorary degrees, which is, “to honor alumni and other individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the welfare and development of USC or the communities of which they are a part.” Ulrich is an active member of every community he is a part of, including the HR, Mormon, and academic communities, and he adds tremendous value to each one.
In his book Meaningful Work: Rethinking Professional Ethics
, Mike W. Martin, Professor of Philosophy at Chapman University
, discusses how personal commitment and ideals contribute to whether an individual's work is meaningful. In his book he writes,
“By providing specific goals and by shaping character—personal ideals contribute to the coherence of entire lives. Personal ideals serve as organizing principles that motivate, discipline, structure, and integrate activities. In doing so, they contribute to the overall coherence and significance of professional endeavors” (21). The meaningful work Ulrich does in his personal life, transfers to his professional life as well.
Focusing on his career alone, Ulrich has distinguished himself as a leader in his community. He has worn many different hats in the HR world, with experience as a professional coach, consultant, author, teacher, and public speaker, and he has worked with companies including AT&T
, General Motors
, and General Electric
. He served as editor of the Human Resource Management Journal
(1990-1999), he is a member of the editorial board of 4 other Journals, and he is a fellow in the National Academy of Human Resources
. He is also co-founder of the Michigan Human Resource Partnership. With his pioneering ideas and contributions, it is no surprise that he is so highly regarded and widely recognized within his field for his achievements. He has received an extensive amount of honors and awards acknowledging his exceptional work. Among these awards are, as previously mentioned, the number one spot o
n HR Magazine
’s 2006 “HR Top 100: Most Influential”
list. Also, in 2001, Business Week
ranked him the #1 management educator
, and in 2000, Forbes
listed Ulrich as one of the “World’s Top Five”
business coaches. Awards are not the only indicator of how well regarded Ulrich is in his field, as his resume reveals that his expertise are valued by some of the world’s top companies. Most notably, Jack Welch
, the former Chairman and CEO of General Electric, who is widely regarded as one of the top businessmen of our time, hired Ulrich to help design a program to cut the workload and bureaucracy at GE. Ulrich’s program “Workout” was an unprecedented success, and Welch commented
on its effects, “Workout helped to generate an openness we never had before in the company. We needed smart, independent people like Ulrich so that our hierarchy wouldn’t get in the way.” This recognition for his work fulfills the fourth and final purpose
of awarding honorary degrees, “to elevate the university in the eyes of the world by honoring individuals who are widely known and highly regarded for achievements in their respective fields of endeavor.” For the University to recognize an individual who is so highly regarded in his field would undoubtedly elevate the University in the eyes of the world.
Moreover, the fact that the Human Resource field is so vital to the business world, yet so under-recognized on a larger scale, makes awarding a leader in that field an even more admirable choice. This is enhanced by the fact that the USC Marshall School of Business
, of which Human Resource studies are a part, is a strength for USC. This is evident as the School was recently ranked #10 in the Wall Street Journal
list of Top 2006 American Business Schools
. According to the USC Honorary Degrees Committee
, “The Committee is particularly interested in candidates from diverse backgrounds, and whose own accomplishments might serve to highlight areas in which the University has developed exceptional strength.” The Business School is a source of pride for USC, and in highlighting a key figure in the business world today, such as Ulrich, the university will bring attention to the fact that it has developed exceptional strength in this area.
According to the Role and Mission
statement of USC, “The University’s mission is to cultivate and enrich the human spirit through teaching, research, artistic creation, professional practice, and selected forms of public service.” Ulrich’s life work, and his contributions to every community he is a part of, parallels this mission, and awarding him and honorary degree would prove USC’s dedication to our mission.
If awarded an honorary degree, Ulrich would offer a commencement speech that is applicable to every student, regardless of their field of interest. His primary concern is ensuring that every person lives up to their potential and offers the most value possible in both their professional and personal lives. This is a universal message that everyone can relate to and benefit from.
As a fellow educator, his has spent his life teaching others. Whether educating CEOs on how to more efficiently run their companies, or HR Professionals on how to better the field, or the Mormon community, or college students on how to reach their potential, Ulrich has devoted his life to helping others and that is deserving of recognition.