Chameleons and leaves change colors. Caterpillars change into butterflies, car models and colors change, fashions change, seasons change… everything changes yet folks are still afraid of change. Change is part of life and should be widely celebrated instead of being avoided. Change is good, necessary and an important process in the develop of any living system. For some goofy reason, however, change rarely occurs in higher education which in my opinion is a sin. Presidents come and go; Governors start and finish their mandates; Representatives are elected and re-elected and little is done to make public higher education institutions better funded. What is often certain and also don’t change is that school operating budgets will be cut every year, professors will have to learn to do more with less in public colleges, and most taxes payers will complain that colleges and universities are a burden to their pockets and their state finances. In fact, many would rather see you and your family go into poverty than being financially generous for the common good. The truth is that change is difficult but it shouldn’t be. Public universities are fat dinosaurs draining a self-destructing system that refuses to re-invent themselves for the sake of tradition. Although there are a number of ways in which public universities can change, I will discuss in these article three ways in which schools could change for the better.
- Hire more practical professors. Public universities would be better places if they reduced the amount of “theory only” college professors from its body of docents. The age where scholars just came to class to share knowledge with students is coming to an end quickly as knowledge is now available for free on-line. Why should anyone be hired today as a college professor to teach a course using a book and give students quizzes, only? This antiquated system and approach only creates the illusion that passing the course with an “A” grade equates success. Do you really think that companies want to hire students who can perform well on standardized tests, only? I am not saying that we should abandon the quiz system and all that type of stuff. My suggestion is that this former education protocol becomes complementary to the practical skill-set that students receive from professors who de facto practice their crafts. We need more professors who can train students to be doers not reciters.
- Identify faculty talent early on and train them to be administrators. One of the most challenging tasks of any university is to find faulty members with talent for leadership. I am not aware of any academic unit that can properly function without a Chair and Dean who are versed in budgeting, sophisticated technology skills, foresight, the ability to focus and manage resources, have open meetings with constituents, and know and implement processes and procedures of higher education according to the rules and regulations of the institutions in which they work for. Just because a professor is a good teacher doesn’t mean that he/she will be a great administrator or even read the faculty handbook. The skill-set that is required for a Department Chair to have is much different than one of an Associate Professor whose primarily responsibilities are to teach, research, and serve. People who speak about others are small minded and often incompetent and unsuitable for a long-term career in administration and leadership with success. Identification of talent must occur early in any public university and should occur during what we call the tenure-track years of potential candidates… which is the time where senior education administrators can mentor potential faculty stars into a career in educational leadership.
- Spend money in people first, technology second. It has been my experience that students like to speak with professors not a machine. In the three universities I’ve worked for, students along with their parents and siblings made the choice to attend our universities because of a full-time professor that they have spoken with. I myself have recruited literally hundreds of students simply by returning phone calls and hosting them on campus; by answering their questions with enthusiasm and care; by giving them information about our schools and the surrounding communities, and such. A lot of what I’ve told potential students was available on-line but parents and students want to talk and speak with people. If the overall goal of colleges and universities today is to attract more students, I recommend hiring more professors first, and invest in technology second. Let’s not forget — a public university without students isn’t going to be in business very long, despite having all the technology in the world available.
Chameleons and leaves change colors. Caterpillars change into butterflies, car models and colors change, fashions change, seasons change… everything changes yet folks are still afraid of change. Educators are terrified of change but they shouldn’t be as long as change is done with planning and care. Change is eminent in life. I have learned, served and contributed to a number of systemic change projects in my profession in the public sector and quite frankly, I am pretty proud of it. We need folks who care and are able to plan real change. The future of the enterprise depends on it. I am confident.