Northeastern University’s Fight or Flight Decision, September 26, 2012

Fight or flight choices are about survival. Knowing when it’s best to make a tactical retreat and when it’s time to fight is baked into our genes. Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun’s strategic investments illustrate the advantage of fighting while others are fleeing – in some cases.

Sometimes the Only Viable Defense is Offense

During the American Civil War, General Joshua Chamberlain was told to hold the end of the Union line on Little Round Top at Gettysburg “at all costs.” If he and his forces did not, the Confederate army would overrun the entire Union army. So they held. They held through multiple attacks and ever-mounting causalities. They held until they had exhausted their ammunition. Then they could hold no longer. So they attacked. Their bayonet charge resulted in 101 prisoners and the retreat of the Confederate forces they faced.

The Northeastern Advance

The economic troubles of the past several years have hit universities hard. With endowments and fundraising in decline and costs rising, many universities have been forced to slash and burn their offerings or even shutter completely.

Aoun faced those same issues, and the same fight or flight dilemma. Aoun chose to fight. “We are not retrenching.” Instead, he chose to leverage Northeastern’s strengths and invest to grow, particularly in its renowned internship program, faculty and facilities.

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