The Elephants Have Arrived At The Party And Most Aren’t Prepared For Them

It’s true and it’s here. The elephants now own the house and have little to no competition, ladies and gentleman. The old factory is approaching irrelevance and is likely to be shipped overseas because of complacency and fear of change in the very near future. Get ready! The birth pains are just starting. For the first time in the history of the higher education factory, you are going to be asked to think differently for your own sake. It’s survival mode. The irony? Oligarchs will listen, agree, but will resist the same ideas that could transform the system into a new paradigm.

The irony is… we, for the most part, have dinosaurs in positions of authority, teach our classes the same way, isolate linchpins, promote complacency, persecute the weird, and insist fear and penalties in anybody who questions the status quo. Go figure the elephants are now here. There are so many elephants at the party right now! I see old school administrators implementing analog tactics in a digital world, teenagers who think for themselves, a system of higher education trying to survive with no funding, and technology who can literally replace human labor if implemented appropriately.

It’s tragic but its true.

We could have avoided this crisis by attacking these elephants with lions and crocodiles back in the day when elephant juveniles were in the wild but the oligarchs of higher education insisted in doing business as usual, protecting themselves with protectionist cabinets and using processes, procedures, and arguments used in the Fordist era to maintain the status quo.

It worked back then… Take a guess. The world has changed much, you know? In the shared economy era, on demand products and services are weird (innovative), new and fluid. Uh oh, it ain’t the higher education environment of today.

Lack of innovative thinking guided at reshaping existing systems, lack of curiosity for the sake of maintaining the “known procedures” and benefiting from it, lack of common sense along with saying “We do things like this here” with a lack of courage has contributed to what colleges and universities are experiencing right now.

An industry that reminds me of the old steel mill industry factories back in the 1980’s.  Dated, slow to change, logistically in misalignment with the demands of the market, expensive, and managed to kill new ideas for the sake of regulation.

I don’t hear the voice of curiosity too much in colleges and universities, anymore. I see, however, fear everywhere.

  1. Fear of not getting tenure.
  2. Fear of not having enough students.
  3. Fear of losing students.
  4. Fear of not getting accredited.
  5. Fear of doing something different.
  6. Fear of change.
  7. and now…

Fear of elephants.

I’m seeing the end of higher education as we understand. Today, I advised two high school students. They were both bringing in 60 credits of dual enrollment straight from high school!  In higher education, an incoming freshman must complete 120 credits to graduate with a bachelors degree. This process used to take four years to complete. 17 year olds, if planned correctly, can now graduate college in 2 years with a bachelor’s. Wait, what?

Yep. I’m glad that I’m not a music or English professor or a professor of philosophy… even though I hold a doctorate of philosophy! They will be the ones who will go first. The liberal arts curriculum is not becoming an elective commodity. The only problem (for colleges and universities) is that we are a very expensive commodity in an era of free community college education. Sebastian Bach would cry after reading this paragraph. Hey, the market doesn’t care what Bach (or me and you) have to say. The market is the market.

To a large degree, the system has done this to itself, fueled by management practices that wanted to automate and break down its tasks into smaller less sophisticated tasks in order to replace expensive labor with ease and increase profit instead of redefining complexity into something as complex and on demand. Isn’t it how factories operate, by the way? Can you see what I see?

Let me tell you a true story. Today, a clever high school student who thinks for himself told me in my office, “I hate education. The teacher kills my ideas and gives me a C because I missed a comma. He also said, “Why do I need to go to school to learn photoshop when I can get free tutorials on youtube? That’s why I’m not majoring in digital media.” What can I say back to this kid? Tell me. 

The elephants are next door. The elephants are up and down. The elephants are left and right. The elephants are everywhere and there is no where to go but to create.

What is as scary is that I see the industry choosing to destroy itself before going somewhere. Let me be real with you. Sometimes I feel like a witch in the middle ages. Because I do something different and choose to lead a tribe, I’m seen as a blasphemer who does things “not like us” like standing on tables, having party event classrooms and critical thinking sessions through chess playing in my office, and because I skateboard on campus. Should I be labeled a heretic because I innovate?

I see managers maintaining the status quo to protect themselves and those above them. I see a call to management instead of a call for leadership. This is a bad idea in an age where we idolize Tesla and disdain GM.

Here is what I know.

When you do something worth making a remark about, people remember your actions AND they often come back for more because it’s remarkable. What is higher education doing to be remarkable? Let me ask you to think critically about this one for a moment.

So, what do we need to do Dr. A to get out of this mess? We can still do something about it to save our jobs in the age of automation. Being aware that we are terminal is the beginning of wisdom.

Let me do my best to tell you what perhaps can help us to survive longer in this important business we call higher education.

  1. We need the baby boomers to retire en masse
  2. We need less managers and more leaders
  3. We need managers to be a minority in higher education
  4. We need to empower leaders to redefine what higher education means
  5. We need to empower leaders to create a total new system of higher education where creativity and innovation precedes grades and attendance
  6. We need to redefine failure in higher education
  7. We need to be much more human

That’s it. It’s out! The elephants have arrived at the party and most aren’t prepared for them but at least you are aware that the elephants are here. What are you going to do about it? Tell me.

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