Larry Higdon-Advocate for the Professions Talk about multitasking: Larry Higdon, a 34-year ASHA member and director of Governmental Relations at the Texas Speech-Language-Hearing Association, instructor in the Lott Leadership Institute and adjunct associate professor in the Department of Communicative Disorders of The University of Mississippi, and an audiologist in private practice at AudioLabs and Conflict ... President's Interview
President's Interview  |   January 01, 2004
Larry Higdon-Advocate for the Professions
Author Notes
  • Ellen Uffen, is managing editor/features of The ASHA Leader.
    Ellen Uffen, is managing editor/features of The ASHA Leader.×
Article Information
Professional Issues & Training / President's Interview
President's Interview   |   January 01, 2004
Larry Higdon-Advocate for the Professions
The ASHA Leader, January 2004, Vol. 9, 4-22. doi:10.1044/leader.PRI.09012004.4
The ASHA Leader, January 2004, Vol. 9, 4-22. doi:10.1044/leader.PRI.09012004.4
Talk about multitasking: Larry Higdon, a 34-year ASHA member and director of Governmental Relations at the Texas Speech-Language-Hearing Association, instructor in the Lott Leadership Institute and adjunct associate professor in the Department of Communicative Disorders of The University of Mississippi, and an audiologist in private practice at AudioLabs and Conflict Resolution Resource, Inc., has taken on his newest challenge-as ASHA’s 2004 president.
A resident of both Austin, TX and Oxford, MS, Higdon is about to experience an even longer commute to the ASHA National Office in Rockville, MD.
And it’s also a very good thing Higdon is used to being busy because he already has a packed calendar for 2004. Read on.
Since the ASHA presidency is the highest volunteer position in the Association, let’s start with the subject of volunteerism. Although 2003 was officially ASHA’s Year of the Volunteer, the habit of giving of one’s time and skills in the service of others shouldn’t stop just because it’s now 2004. How do you intend to keep the momentum going?
Our professions and our Association have flourished for many years because of dedicated volunteers, willing to give of their personal and professional talents. What am I going to do to maintain the momentum? I’m an advocate of mentoring and support the personal touch in identifying and helping to develop leadership talents. I’m particularly supportive of creating a greater opportunity for members to serve on committees and boards of the Association as well as to volunteer in the professions’ various grassroots networks. I would like to see the “Emerging Leaders” workshops and program revived after lying dormant for several years. Individually, we need to actively encourage volunteerism, and capitalize on the talents of those who offer their expertise. We also need to encourage and recognize the need to be active volunteers in organizations and causes outside the ASHA sphere of volunteerism. Members can be very effective on behalf of the professions serving as school board members, campaign chairpersons, legislators, city council members, grant reviewers, and by being part of the myriad of other projects that benefit our society.
Are there any particular areas of interest to ASHA members that you think are in the greatest need of volunteers?
Our grassroots networks are important for several reasons. First, they provide an opportunity to identify our leaders of the future, and to nurture young leaders’ growth and development, particularly though their early volunteer efforts in state association programs. Secondly, to advance the agenda of ASHA on behalf of the professions we need colleagues to be active in contacting administrators of regulatory bodies and legislators at the state level and in Congress. Thirdly, we need our colleagues who are doing yeoman’s duty in the trenches, in their home area, to let the National Office staff and elected leadership know of their good work as volunteer leaders. We need to know both the successes and challenges of their endeavors, and their methods of accomplishing the tasks. I believe we need to cultivate grassroots involvement across the discipline. Every area of practice and research in communication sciences and disorders needs advocacy efforts.
Before we leave the subject of volunteerism… you’ve had various leadership positions spanning your 35 years of ASHA membership. Now please toot your own horn: Why are you so good at being a leader? What does it take?
I like to think that the ability to lead can be summed up in a few words: honesty, trust, respect, and friendship. Earn the trust of others by respecting individuals and their opinions, being a good listener and mediator, and collaborating with colleagues to arrive at considered decisions and actions. Certainly not the least component of leadership is the enjoyment of meeting and caring about people and making friends with colleagues you would never have had an opportunity to collaborate with under normal professional circumstances.
Having had the opportunity to meet professionals from across the country has made it possible for me to identify colleagues with leadership traits and an interest in volunteerism. Were it not for ASHA volunteer efforts, I would never have had a reason to meet colleagues such as Mary Saylor of Maryland, Anna Alexander of Nebraska, John J. O’Neill of Illinois, and Gay Ratcliff of Florida, who are now also good friends.
I have to give credit to my early mentors, Lear Ashmore in particular, and Lennart Kopra and Jesse Villarreal who instilled a sense of community in us as students at The University of Texas. We had a choice then-get involved in the Texas Speech-Language-Hearing Association (TSHA) and ASHA, or have a very good reason why not. We were challenged to find a way to help build the profession we envisioned, and ultimately to give back to the profession(s) that would offer us opportunities and satisfaction.
The Association is at the start of what might be some significant changes in direction-your presidential year also marks the first year of Arlene Pietranton’s tenure as our new executive director. What would be your advice to her? Where do you think ASHA is headed?
The changes in the United States demographics certainly speak to our need to increase recruitment efforts to attract cultural and linguistic minorities to the professions. If we are to provide quality services to all our consumers we need to become more knowledgeable of the many cultures of the people we serve. We need to be proactive in reaching out to colleagues and consumers in a more global manner and we need to become even more sensitive and aware personally as well as professionally.
With our own technological advances, and those in medical and pharmacologic research, we should be looking carefully at the world we are preparing our graduates to enter. It may well be that our efforts could be primarily related to wellness and prevention versus rehabilitation in the next generation of professionals.
I hope ASHA can be the vehicle to effectively market our expertise in the literacy arena, and speech-language pathologists will become the “go to” professionals for identifying at-risk children for reading problems. As we make more progress in demonstrating that our practice is evidence-based, marketing how we make a difference should become much easier.
With Arlene Pietranton taking over the reins of the National Office Jan. 1, 2004, we should take this opportunity to reflect on where we have been and evaluate where we are and what our future may look like in the next several years. Fred Spahr has provided insightful and skillful leadership over the past 25 years as our executive director, bringing the Association into the new millennium as a respected, healthy, diverse, and much larger organization. The only advice I would offer Arlene is that she listen to the membership, consider all options in confronting the challenges we will face, and step forward as a leader in collaboration with the elected and appointed leadership of the Association. She is a dedicated member of ASHA, and served on the Legislative Council in a volunteer leadership capacity prior to joining the National Office as the Chief Staff Officer for Speech-Language Pathology.
Do you think you have a particular niche in the professions? How did you find your way to it?
I would probably describe myself as the epitome of the true generalist. I’ve been fortunate to find my way through most of the options available to us in the field of communication disorders.
Having done some of my early work in the pre-licensure era, I had an opportunity to work as an SLP in the public schools and private residential facilities. When licensure and professional credentialing changed how we do business, I worked in an ENT office for a short time (the only time as an audiologist that I worked for an ENT physician-since then I have always contracted for independent services). I was privileged to work in a community not-for-profit agency and ultimately serve as its executive, and concurrently be an administrator of hospital-based rehabilitation facilities. I entered academia through my volunteer efforts with ASHA in the credentialing area. I started out in academia by being asked to join a faculty to assist with some accreditation issues and progressed from there to be the director of clinical services at two institutions. Over the years, I developed a private practice that expanded from providing services in physician offices, hospitals, and industry to contracting with TSHA as its director of legislation (lobbyist). Research is the only arena that I wish I had more in-depth experience in, only having served as a graduate research assistant while at The University of Texas-Austin.
Another great interest of yours is advocacy work, particularly in the state of Texas. Talk a bit about your accomplishments in this area. How will you make your talent as an advocate work for the Association?
I’ve been blessed with the opportunity of working with many talented Texas colleagues. Many of those professionals I am fortunate enough to have had some influence on, or was in a position to offer them the opportunity to grow and share their leadership skills on behalf of TSHA and/or ASHA. Many have moved into leadership positions and are now mentoring others. Person-to-person mentoring is one of the most effective ways of sharing leadership skills and opportunities. I would hope we could expand the number of colleagues who actively take a colleague under their wing in a mentoring capacity.
I trust our leadership will continue to embrace the concept of getting our students involved in advocacy at the early professional preparation phase in their careers. Learning to give back to our profession(s) is an integral part of our commitment and responsibility. TSHA has done a very good job of keeping leadership development in the limelight over the years, both formally and informally.
There are big challenges facing the professions-reimbursement, workload and caseload issues, funding of research, doctoral shortages, for some serious examples. What are your ideas for alleviating these problems?
I think we are currently moving in the right direction addressing these issues. In addition to our budgeted allocation, we have identified reimbursement, schools issues (including workload and paperwork reduction), and the doctoral shortage for additional targeted funds in our focused initiatives. Research funding and work with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are also being addressed by the Executive Board.
By targeting the focused initiatives we can directly develop strategies to effect positive change. The personnel issues related to the graying of the professorate are particularly troubling. We need doctoral-level teacher/scholars in the pipeline in order to alleviate the shortage of faculty. Without teacher/scholars we lose both research that will help maintain our scientific base as well as clinicians for our schools and health care settings. The doctoral shortage among bench scientists restricts our ability to obtain research funding and turn out quality didactic work, the lack of which, in turn, severely affects the ability of clinicians to treat their clients. It’s a vicious cycle. When we gain the credibility we deserve in the literacy arena we will certainly need twice the number of SLPs in our schools.
The ever-shrinking dollar in higher education combined with technological advances in media presentation will lead to more innovative academic programs via distance education. We’ll find that the tried and true ways of preparing students during the past 40 years may not be the only ways to offer a quality education. The ASHA Executive Board has developed a Request for Proposals seeking to fund an innovative/creative quality doctoral degree option.
Collaborative partnerships between state associations and ASHA will help develop a two-way street for communication and effectively addressing issues at both the state and national level. We have a Joint Committee of ASHA and the Council of State Association Presidents that identifies and reviews topics related to state-national issues. It is essential that there be a concerted effort to establish communication networks to ensure we know when topics have been introduced either nationally or at the state level that affect our professions. Effective communication provides a vehicle for mutually addressing the issue efficiently and in a manner acceptable to all.
The NOMS projects have certainly helped us provide data suggesting that we “make a difference” in a positive way, but we also need to find funding to expand the clinical trials projects (Jeri Logemann, principal investigator) that offer us an opportunity to provide credible evidence from an independent source. Additional research funding is critical.
Do you have your own challenge that’s close to your heart and to which you plan to devote time this year?
I would hope we could embark on a course of collaboration with organizations and associations, both internal to the professions and external, with whom we sometimes see things differently. We often spend too much non-productive time trying to “fix” or react to disagreements that have little direct positive effect on our members or consumers. It would benefit all, including our consumers, if we could agree to collaborate on issues where there is agreement, and set aside those on which we may not now, or ever, come to consensus. Having said that we need to be collaborative where feasible, I also think we need to be very aggressive representing the Association and professions when others take positions that are contrary to our best practices, the best interests of our consumers, and our own best interests.
In our current health care and education environment it is necessary that we demonstrate unity regarding issues relating to communication disorders and sciences in order to effectively market ourselves. It is appropriate that we should be collaborative and openly and honestly present ourselves in a unified fashion to those not part of our discipline. There is nothing wrong with disagreement-it would be a dull and non-challenging world if we all agreed on everything. Differing opinions often bring about better solutions to problems if we mediate them forthrightly, with sincerity, in discussions relative to topics of concern. The Association’s collaborative efforts should not be viewed as a weakness but as strength and confidence in our ability to make proper decisions on behalf of our publics.
It should go without saying that the major challenges we face which are identified in the focused initiatives are addressed proactively with aggressive strategies to produce results that will be seen in a short period of time. We must also continue to concentrate on permanent removal of the $1,500 cap, and seek reauthorization of IDEA with language that assures our children are provided services by the “highest qualified provider.” IDEA also has many other facets we need to address including funding and personnel preparation.
Take a longer-visionary-look now. What will ASHA be like in, say, 20 years?
In 20 years I see us as autonomous, independent practitioners in the practices area and our researchers will have increased status in the scientific community.
The Association may be part of a confederation, thus allowing for increased interaction with all peoples of the world through improved technologies. I think, for example, if the profession of audiology is to remain a viable entity in hearing health care, there will need to be a confederation of audiology organizations, of which ASHA would be a part. In general, we may see a shift from a focus on “disorders” to “wellness and prevention” because of improved genome studies and pharmacologic advances relating to communication disorders.
A final, important question: How are you going to find time for your grandchildren in Virginia and Texas? Or for golf?
Fortunately, George and Davis, my grandchildren in Virginia, are in Leesburg, just down the road from the National Office, so hopefully Carolyn and I will have an opportunity to visit often when we are in the area. Since I spend a significant amount of time in Austin at the Capitol, I plan to see my Texas-based children and granddaughter Kayla on that end of the work spectrum. As for the golf, I play for the enjoyment, the scenery, and the joy of being outdoors away from the phone. Now that I realize I will never be a pro, or even very good, it is a great form of relaxation.
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January 2004
Volume 9, Issue 1