Consequences, standards, and deadlines can be incredibly powerfully motivators.

I consider myself a motivated person, but sometimes I still need the motivational power of deadlines. Ask my assistant. I generally finish my continuing education courses required to renew various professional licenses just a few days before the deadline.

I consciously look for standards, internal and external, on which to anchor myself, to motivate myself. When I graduated from high school I weighed 150 pounds, so I intend to live my life at 150 lbs. If I get above that weight, my self-image (an internal standard) kicks in and I use my patented, secret weight loss system: I eat less and exercise more. (Shh! Don’t don’t tell anyone how I do it.) Before starting law school, I was concerned about being able to consistently put forth the high level of effort I knew would be required. When I got there, my competitiveness took over and I picked up my speed to synch with those around me.

I like having institutional partners in some of my real estate deals. While institutional partners may be cumbersome at times, they impose rigor, standards, and accountability that I find invigorating and motivating. Having to account brings out the best.

As a society, I fear we have forgotten the benefits of accountability. In an attempt to eliminate all pain and suffering in life we seem to have forgotten that there is legitimate pain, legitimate suffering. The old gym saying of “no pain, no gain” has some truth. We have become a society searching for “all gain, no pain.” That’s nice when it can happen, but reality usually does not work that way. Or if so, not for long.

An illustration on point came from a recent New York Times article (in full below) on a controversy that erupted when a Long Island college revoked dorm rooms for students who failed to maintain a 2.0 average. Virtually anyone who shows up for classes and reads the material can maintain a 2.0. The only ones who can’t are the partiers who go to college to have a good time at the taxpayers’ expense.

Remember that tuition generally pays only a small percentage of the total cost of college. Plus most dorms are heavily subsidized. The vast amount of the cost of higher education is being picked up by you and me. I don’t know about you, but if anyone is going to party on my money, I want it to be me!

In some circles a belief has emerged that life should never, ever require sacrifice, that it is downright cruel to ask anyone to suffer any loss, to endure any hardship, to extend himself to any extent, or to undergo any form of deprivation. It seems the ultimate goal is people should be able spend their entire lives cushioned from any difficulty, cocooned from any harshness or unpleasantness.

I’m as fond of my creature comforts as anyone but I sincerely believe that most growth comes from successfully surmounting challenges, pushing ourselves to the edge and sometimes beyond. The greatest danger arises when we become too afraid to accept any risk. As Scott Peck teaches in “The Road Less Traveled,” there is such a thing as legitimate suffering.

Let us never lack the courage, the self-assurance, to demand the best of ourselves and others. As President Kennedy said in laying down the challenge to send a man to the moon within the decade, we do these things not because they are easy but because they are hard.


Dorm Rooms are Revoked Over Grades
By Corey Kilgannon
Published February 13, 2008

OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. The day before she was to return to the State University of New York campus here for her second semester, Denisha Dennis opened a letter from the administration to learn she had been kicked out of the dormitory because her grade point average had fallen below 2.0.

She rushed to clear out her belongings from her room in the Woodlands residence halls, but found that her ID card would no longer open the building door. She soon learned she had been removed from the meal plan, too, under a policy crackdown intended to boost academic performance at Old Westbury, a small state school on Long Island.

Now Ms. Dennis, 20, a sociology major, is left to commute from her parents’ home in Mount Vernon, N.Y., a two-and-a-half-hour, $30-a-day slog that could constitute a graduate course in transit. She takes the bus to the subway to Pennsylvania Station, then the Long Island Rail Road to Hicksville, and finally a cab to campus. She is thinking of dropping out, as 23 of the 87 students ousted from the dorms last month have already done.

“With all the changing and transfers, I can’t concentrate on studying, so it’s five hours a day wasted,” said Ms. Dennis, adding that her average had slipped to 1.9 because she got sick during the week of final exams. “It feels like they just want the struggling students to drop out.”

In enforcing the 2.0 rule for the first time–it had been on the books since 1994 but ignored–Old Westbury administrators are trying to seize upon dorm living as a motivational tool. The policy, for cumulative averages, is meant to “inspire higher academic achievement,” said a college spokesman, Michael Kinane, and to remind students that dorm living is a privilege, not a right.

“If you want to live in the dorms, you have to be serious about studying,” Mr. Kinane said, adding that students may be readmitted to campus housing if they bring their averages back up (13 of the first 87 have already done that by taking a special course over winter break).

The unusual step by a school that for years was considered among SUNY’s least selective has spawned open criticism by students both on campus and on Facebook, as well as opposition from professors. The Faculty Senate unanimously passed three resolutions seeking to suspend the policy, saying it was “overly punitive and counterproductive.”

College policy watchers were hard pressed to name another campus taking a similar hard line, though other institutions have experimented with housing as a carrot, if not a stick.

“Not on the radar screen nationally,” is how Kevin Kruger, a spokesman for the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, put it. Many educators share the “philosophy that students who are struggling academically should remain in an academic environment and close to advisers and study groups,” he said. “Students living on campus have a higher academic achievement rate.”

Radford University in Virginia has two honors dormitories. Baker College in Michigan has a sliding scale for housing fees based on academic performance; those with a 3.5 to 4.0 live on campus free.

In 2001, Seton Hall University, in New Jersey, began requiring students in residence halls to maintain at least a 1.8 average. But dorm keys were not revoked immediately; students could stay if they agreed to close monitoring, intensive tutoring and other academic services, said Tara Hart, the director of housing and residence life at Seton Hall.

“It’s not meant to be punitive and remove them, but rather to help them succeed,” Ms. Hart said, adding that the university had yet to remove a student.

SUNY’s Farmingdale campus also has a minimum average rule for on-campus housing, but has taken an approach like Seton Hall’s rather than Old Westbury’s. Westbury’s new enforcement was first reported on the Web site insidehighered.com. Mr. Kinane, the Old Westbury spokesman, said the policy had already motivated students to seek remedial help.

Opened in 1968 on a wooded 605-acre expanse that once was an estate, Old Westbury welcomed women, minorities, adults returning to school and students not well prepared for college. The college is one of the most diverse liberal arts schools in the country: 29 percent of its students are black, 18 percent are Hispanic and 6 percent are Asian.

About 1,000 of Old Westbury’s 3,500 students live in dormitories (off-campus rentals are rare in this area, which is sandwiched between dense suburbia and the expansive estates of Nassau County’s Gold Coast). Tuition is about $5,200, with room and board an additional $8,900, according to the college’s Web site.

Old Westbury’s admission requirements are modest: average grades of 80 and combined SAT scores of 1,000 out of 1,600. Even though 1.0 is considered a passing grade, Old Westbury requires students to have a final G.P.A. of 2.0–the equivalent of a C–to graduate. Students who dip below a 2.0 are put on academic probation.

The overall student body’s average G.P.A. has remained steady at 2.83 since the fall of 2006, Mr. Kinane said; the freshman-class average G.P.A. was up to 2.87 last fall from 2.80 the previous year.

The school has had a turbulent history, with racial problems, sit-ins protesting the curriculum and protests over a perceived neglect from the state system. Amid such turmoil, the Rev. Calvin O. Butts III, the politically prominent pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, was hastily selected Old Westbury’s president in 1999, despite his lack of an academic resume. Mr. Butts was a strong supporter of Gov. George E. Pataki, and supporters said he would help recruiting and fund-raising and bring prominence to the college.

Two years ago, when college officials first tried to enforce the 2.0 rule to raise the academic bar, Mr. Butts abruptly canceled the crackdown, saying he feared that students had not been adequately notified. Maureen Dolan, president of the Faculty Senate, said professors were not consulted on the policy, which she said was unfair to freshmen because they had only one semester to establish a G.P.A. before potentially losing their dorm rooms.

Emily Rausenberger, a sophomore, said that when residence hall advisers told students in September about the policy enforcement, “some people were really shocked, especially the partiers. I do think they should give us a warning because a lot of classes just have a midterm and final, so there’s not a lot of time to pull your grades up,” she said.

Ashley Brinson, 22, a junior majoring in business who was sitting with Ms. Dennis in the student union one day last week, said many students from lower-income urban areas especially valued dorm life. “A lot of people come here to get out of the ‘hood,” she said, “and this rule sends them back to the ‘hood.”

But Prince Simon, 20, a junior majoring in psychology with a 3.1 average, said, “If you want to live on campus, you have to keep your grades up and not party too much.”

“Come on,” he added. “It’s easy to keep a 2.0.”

Angelica Karnofsky, 19, a freshman who said she has a 4.0, said professors have been reminding students about the policy enforcement, warning that if they are barred from the dorms, “it can have a snowball effect, and you might drop out.”

“One thing is good about it,” Ms. Karnofsky said. “The dorms are definitely not as crowded as last semester.”