Q&A: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discusses entrepreneurial opportunities, role of higher education

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media outside the West Wing at the White House in Washington, D.C., on October 18, 2018. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held a round-table phone call with several university student newspapers across the states of Kansas and Missouri on Monday.

Pompeo was in Overland Park, Kansas, to speak at the Road Global Entrepreneurship Summit Heartland USA event, a preview to a larger event in the Netherlands this summer. As Pompeo was in Kansas, he wanted to discuss the importance of entrepreneurship in the heartland of the United States and answer questions.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo: “I came to Kansas for an entrepreneurship summit, it’s a global effort. I was just with my partner from the Netherlands, the Dutch Trade Minister, and she was talking about the importance of freedom and liberty in their country and the connection between our two nations and how it is we can help companies all across Kansas who want to sell their products all around the world, and the State Department has an important function there.

“Then, lastly, this is most appropriate talking to you all, the opportunities to come serve America, as a diplomat, working at the Department of State are enormous. Anyone who’s attending any one of the fine institutions you all are writing for ought think about it whether they’re history majors, or engineers or they have a language skill. We hire them all, and the chance to travel the world, to learn and to represent America as an American diplomat is a wonderful opportunity and I hope students all across Kansas will take a look at the State Department website and see if that opportunity might not just be for them. And so, with that, I’m happy to take questions.”

Matthew Kelly, The Sunflower, Wichita State: “In the vein of economic growth and prosperity, you’re very familiar with Wichita State Innovation Campus and its mission of public-private partnership in higher education really being the driver of local economies. My question is, should private industry play a bigger role in higher education, and if so, what would the future of that look like?

Pompeo: “Oh goodness, you know, I think that varies. I think there’s points that it already plays a tremendous role. What is absolutely certain is that real opportunities for students — hands-on challenges for kids — who are trying to learn are incredibly important. You’ve seen that there at Wichita State, with Airbus there on campus and all the opportunities at the Innovation Center. I know the same holds true at Benedictine and the University of Kansas, schools all across our great state.

“We need to make sure that when students leave and get their degree that they have the skills that they want, the skills that they think they’re getting, the skills that will be the skills that will deliver for what is their mission. Some will choose to enter public service. Some will choose to enter the private sector. What’s imperative is access for the most creative amongst us, the entrepreneurs all across America, access to the schools so that students get a chance to experience that while they’re still in their learning mode.”

Kelly: “Where private industry is driven by political actors, like in Wichita, where Charles Koch lives ten minutes from Wichita State, is there any conflict at all in your mind dealing with public tax dollars and higher ed versus what would the political actors or is that just the nature of it?”

Pompeo: “I think you started the question by saying that the private sector drives education, or something like that. I’ve haven’t seen that. That’s not been my experience at schools, whether they’re private schools or public schools, like we have here, so many in Kansas. I’ve watched America with a model that has educational freedom, where professors are free to teach things they want to. They invite private sector in when they have a particular expertise or professional skill that they can lend so that students can have that skill when they leave as well. I don’t see the challenge as you describe it. I’ve watched these private sector companies do real good things all across the educational landscape.”

Sarah Spoon, The Bulletin, Emporia State University: “Mr. Secretary, you’ve said that you want more people from the Midwest, and specifically Kansas, to represent the United States overseas. My question for you is: does this include undocumented immigrants who might speak multiple languages and therefore be useful assets, and what would you say to those students who would like to participate in these programs, but cannot, for fear that both they and their families will be deported?”

Pompeo: “To work in the United States of America you have to be lawfully authorized to work here. Certainly, the same holds true for the United States’ Department of State. This administration is incredibly welcoming of immigrants from all across the world. We want to make sure that they come here in a way that is legal, that is lawful, and that has been one of President Trump’s primary focuses. I saw this when I was a member of Congress, how folks from Europe, folks from Asia, who wanted to come here would wait in line for two and five and 10 years to fill out the paperwork to become citizens or to become local, permanent residents.

“Others would decide to come here in a different way, not through the system. That’s not fair, that’s not right. President Trump is determined to make sure that we have a robust immigration system where we can bring the most creative minds, from all across the world, who want to come to America to participate in the American dream and to work. We’re determined to make sure that that happens, and it’s the same at the Department of State.”

Pete Loganbill, The Collegian, Kansas State University: “Why was the Road to GES Heartland event held in Overland Park, Kansas and not a larger city in the United States like Washington, D.C. or New York?”

Pompeo: “Because I wanted it to be here. Because it’s incredibly important that the heartland of America is represented in the State Department and that the heartland of America also benefits from the work that the State Department does. It’s also important that the people at the State Department get a chance to see the great things that are going on, not just here in Kansas, but in Missouri and Oklahoma and Iowa and all the places that are not on the west coast and not on the east coast.

“As we were developing what we we’re going to do, as we were partnering with the Netherlands on this global entrepreneurial summit, I thought it was important that we do this in a place that’s plenty big enough, a city that’s plenty big enough that is representative of some of the greatest entrepreneurship in recorded history. I wanted us to get a chance to experience that at the State Department and also make sure those great entrepreneurs got to experience all it is that the State Department can do to help them grow their businesses all around the world.”

Audrey Korte, The Sunflower, Wichita State University: “We appreciate the fact that you included student reporters in the conversation and that you’ve gone out of your way to do that. What’s your feeling on the role of student news, what function do you think that this plays in a democracy?”

Pompeo: “Some of the finest writers that we all know today began working on periodicals that they, often times they started in high school, but often honed their skill while in they were college, sometimes writing for the yearbook, sometimes writing for the school newspaper, sometimes writing for another journal or periodical on campus. I’ve tried, certainly when I’ve traveled here in the United States as a member of Congress, or as CIA Director, now as Secretary of State, to always make some time to hear from that next generation of great, young reporters. Reporting is a profession. Done well, it is incredibly important. Getting facts right, being willing to really work hard and not just write some rumor, not just write some half-baked story, but rather to really do real, honest to goodness reporting where the consumer, the reader of that writing actually benefits from learning as a result of that, is central to American democracy. It’s why I try to make a little but of time for those folks who I hope, are engaged in that profession for years and decades to come.”

Matthew Dollard, The Arrow, Southeast Missouri State: “You mentioned that President Trump was hoping that the best and brightest minds from around the world were coming to work in our country. A large number of the students at Southeast are international students, but those numbers have declined since President Trump took office. How can you ensure that the best and brightest minds do feel welcome to come and study and work in our country?”

Pompeo: “I’m not sure your data is quite right, but suffice it to say, the Trump administration is absolutely focused on making sure that the next generation of great minds comes to study at the greatest universities in the world, which are still here in the United States.

“There’s two pieces to that. One is ensuring that the Department of Education and state leaders all across the country continue to make sure that their universities have the resources they need to deliver world-class education and education that people from all across the world still value. I see it everyday. When I travel as the Secretary of State, it is the rare occasion when I meet a leadership team, my counterpart, or the deputy foreign minister, that some significant number of their team didn’t spend a significant piece of their life studying in the West, often in the United States of America. We have got to make sure our institutions are still attractive. It’s primarily a state function, but there’s a federal role there as well.

“The second is, we have got to make we have a process where students who want to come here can study. I’m convinced, I see it everyday: I see young people from all across the world that are clamoring to come study in the United States of America and I think that proposition is more attractive today than it was a year ago, or two years ago, and certainly than it was ten or 20 years ago as well. I’m convinced, the brightest talent from all across the world will still flock to the United States because we continue to be a beacon for liberty and a place where a world-class education on cutting-edge knowledge will be available to those who are willing to work hard to get it.”

Spoon: “I do think this is an important question, I was just wondering if you could explain to us why you’re reaching out specifically to student newspapers on college campuses. As [your press relations office] put it to me today, this is a historic move for the Secretary of State, as this not normal for the Secretary of State to reach out at college campuses, but I want to know why you’re doing this when you provided cover for a president who has made light of violence against the press, has mocked disabled reporters and has even offered to pay the legal fees of supporters who assault members of the media?”

Pompeo: “President Trump and I both understand the importance of press freedom and the importance for students like you to have the opportunity to say things. What we value is when you say things that are truthful and that engage in political rhetoric as a journalist that is not reflective of reality. What’s important is that we make sure that we have facts and data and that we report things, that reporters reports things, that are truthful and accurate and that they work hard to make sure that they get those facts right. We’re determined to do that.

“You suggested that it is unusual for Secretaries of State to engage with reporters at academic institutions across America. I think that’s unfortunate. I think that’s sad. I wish my predecessors had taken some of their time to do it. They were certainly all busy people. I certainly have a full agenda as well, but it’s imperative that we get this right, that you all have ever chance to hear from America’s senior leaders, to take your measure of them, to ask difficult questions. We have a responsibility to answer for our actions and to speak the truth to you as best we know it and as best we can deliver it, and I hope I’ve done that with you all today.”

I'm Pete Loganbill and I'm the News Editor for the Collegian and host of the Collegian Kultivate podcast! I spent two years at Johnson County Community College, and I am now a senior in Public Relations at K-State. I believe constant communication leads to progress, no matter how difficult a comment may be for me or anyone to hear. Contact me at ploganbill@kstatecollegian.com.