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Securing America’s Future:

The Power of Liberal Arts Education

Bill Kling

President Emeritus, American Public Media Group
Saint John’s University (MN), Class of 1964
Bill Kling serves as president emeritus of American Public Media Group (APMG). APMG is the nonprofit parent company of Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) in St. Paul, Southern California Public Radio (SCPR) in Los Angeles, Classical South Florida in Miami and Palm Beach, Florida, and the national public radio network, American Public Media (APM), serving over 900 public radio stations that deliver content to a weekly audience of 16.5 million Americans.

Bill Kling is the founding president of MPR and APM and was responsible for MPR’s three regional networks of 44 public radio stations and its program production centers in St. Paul, Miami, and Los Angeles as well as its news bureaus around the world.  American Public Media is the second largest national producer of public radio programming, following National Public Radio (NPR) in Washington. APM produces programs like Marketplace in Los Angeles and A Prairie Home Companion in St. Paul, and it is the U.S. radio distributor of programming produced by the BBC.

Kling was one of seven founding board members of National Public Radio, and he was the founding chairman and president of Public Radio International as well as of American Public Media.

He is a trustee of St. John’s University and a former member of the Board of Trustees of the JL Foundation in Los Angeles. Kling also serves as a director of ten fund Boards of the Los Angeles based Capital Group. 

Kling holds a BA in economics from St. John’s University and an MS in mass communications from the Graduate School of Communications at Boston University. He has been awarded Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees from St. John’s University and The College of St. Scholastica.

Kling was awarded the “Edward R. Murrow Award” in 1981 by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to recognize outstanding contributions to the industry by an individual.  In 2000, He was listed as one of the “100 Most Significant Individuals of the 20th Century” by both the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. In 2014, Kling was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He and his wife, Sally, live in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
I’ve been around a few young adults recently. At seventeen or eighteen, they know everything, need nothing (except money), and haven’t a clue what they want from college except to get away to a new adventure and a better job someday.
 
I was much the same at that age. Yet I found that college is a place to explore. I found great professors who could excite students about almost any topic. Great athletic programs that helped build confidence, foster competiveness, and develop a sense of achievement. I found that a good college nourishes the mind, body, and spirit – providing a sense of belonging and imparting a set of values that serve one throughout life.
 

The residential community of students, faculty, and even the highest level administrators were interested in me, on a personal level, and that made an enormous difference.

 
At Saint John’s, I found all of that. But at Saint John’s, there was more. What enabled me to absorb those principles was the environment. The residential community of students, faculty, and even the highest level administrators were interested in me, on a personal level, and that made an enormous difference. Professors and administrators were available; they engaged with their students individually to help us filter new experiences, opportunities, and options at our relatively naive stage of life. At Saint John’s, it was clear that “It is about the students.”  It was and is about student learning, values, and maturation. In contemporary terms, the institution encompasses its students in a personal way that helps them sort through how and why their interests, courses, majors, and other elements of their emerging adult lives can be formed into an orderly next step.
 
At the time, I didn’t have a next step in mind. But I was curious, and that curiosity was encouraged. I received a broad, liberal arts exposure to several disciplines that fed my natural curiosity – some I thought I might be interested in, but failed to excel in, others that I hadn’t originally been attracted to but did excel in. The counseling and nurturing that Saint John’s provided for me set me up for success in my career – as well as in a wide range of interests beyond that career. Smaller liberal arts schools like Saint John’s are especially adept at doing that for students.
 
What was important to me then, and continues to be now, was the ability to explore widely and to absorb things that were of little use until later in my career – when they suddenly were. And to be guided to understand better who I was and what options I had for my next move – and the one beyond that.
 
The experience of a nurturing residential college community contributes to confidence, knowledge, judgment, and eventually wisdom. That’s what Saint John’s does.
 
I left with an “attitude,” an attitude that caused me to constantly ask “Why not?” where that was rarely asked, to think strategically and a few steps ahead, and to muse over why a broader perspective might not result in a better alternative. A liberal arts attitude.
 
From clueless to clued-in with an emphasis on finding “myself,” the whole person: that was what Saint John’s did for me and it made all the difference.
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