There is an abundance of commodities in our economy in 2019. Do you want to get a college education? You are welcome to choose between and among 5,300 different options. These options are private, public, christian, HBCU, women’s college, you name it. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, there are $486,000 plumbers in America. There is one billion websites on google and somewhere between 600,000 and one million books published every year for your to choose and buy. On Spotify alone, we have 40 million songs to choose from and 3 billion user playlists to listen to. And to complement this madness, we can choose between 59 different kinds of salad dressings at Publix.
It is no accident that the value of these commodities are decreasing in price and need fast. Our economy isn’t scarce anymore which means that we must do something different in order to attract people’s attention to whatever we do or sell. Advertising a lot isn’t the answer, obviously. We don’t need to be cluttered with more messages these days. The over reliance on advertising isn’t the answer, I say.
What do we need to do then in order to make our offerings more scarce, then? In my opinion, this can only be accomplished by helping the client to save time.
In my industry of higher education, I do what I can to help my students to save time. I produce tutorials, podcasts, design video games, work in class with them on projects, go to the cafeteria and guide them on life pursuits, you name it. I make the lives of my students easier which in effect makes them save time. I’m willing to trade my time for their attention. They appreciate it. I innovate, earn the permission to speak with them and they choose me over the other thousands of daily stimuli they ignore every day.
It seems to be working. In the past semester alone, I carried out a conversation with 569 students, advised them in my office, at the mall, in the cafeteria, playing ping pong on campus, at the library, on the street, in their dorm lobby, at the park, during spring break, fall break, thanksgiving, at the swimming pool, via facebook, instagram, snapchat, linkedIn…
Wake up! Our economy has changed. Our standard operating procedures are being flipped upside down to accommodate for this explosion of intellectual property that is available for us all. Higher education is tanking because of lack of change and understanding about where the economy is headed. Information is now free. If we are to charge fore information, we may need to somehow incorporate the time variable in our offerings.
We don’t like (or want) to be bothered or interrupted anymore. There is so much noise in our lives because of over production. No wonder why students hate to waste time and effort. Things are available for them right now and often someplace else. They don’t need to come to a college class to learn. They may want to come, however, if they save time.
Here is my advise to you: If you want to advance your industry, be different. I’m different by saving students time. What are you doing to be different?
There is a surplus of college professors out there but only a handful of Dr. A’s. Are you the “Dr. A” of your industry? What is your competitive advantage? What are you doing different for others to choose you over the million other options they can choose from?
For now, this is what I’m doing. Tomorrow? Who knows! I will invent something else.
My old and dear friend Gary Dean once said, “College professors don’t make good chess pieces,” He used to tell me… We are in the business of thinking not marching. I must say that old Gary, this iconic figure who looked more like Yoda than the barber next door, was probably right.
College professors like to think. Thinking is what professors do. Therefore, it is futile to think that professors won’t think or that they will obey an order without critically thinking about its motives and consequences.
In the age of the internet, where everything is about a click away, forcing intellectuals to blindly follow a cause, a mission, a movement, anything… will only result in more student anxiety in higher education due to high faculty turnover overtime.
By thew way, students hate when faculty members come and go because they need to learn how the new professor operates.
It is true that the more a peon works, the closer he gets to the king. As a consequence, the king stays longer in power the more the peon works. The challenge when the former logic is applied to higher education is that professors aren’t peons and/or chess pieces.
You can define king whatever way you like…
The best way to lead a group of highly educated people (college professors, for example) is to give them space to think and create. Involving them in decision making is “king.”
College professors don’t make good chess pieces. College professors like to think. Thinking is what professors do.
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.
Fear of not getting tenure.
Fear of not having enough students.
Fear of losing students.
Fear of not getting accredited.
Fear of doing something different.
Fear of change.
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.
We need the baby boomers to retire en masse
We need less managers and more leaders
We need managers to be a minority in higher education
We need to empower leaders to redefine what higher education means
We need to empower leaders to create a total new system of higher education where creativity and innovation precedes grades and attendance
We need to redefine failure in higher education
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.
Listen to students. Let me repeat it again — Listen to students. If you plan and dream to become an outstanding academic advisor, you must make an effort to listen to what students have to say and want to talk about. The secret to being a great academic advisor is mostly listening and caring. I am not aware of any dedicated college professor who wants to make a difference in college students’ lives yet ignore advising. Be inspiring, be “there” for students, strive to provide the very best academic advising sessions you can possibly deliver to your students. Remember: In the end, education is all about students not you anyways.
In my career as a college professor, I’ve advised over one thousand students and the numbers keep increasing. In my academic advising sessions, I chat with students about classes, jobs, victories, defeats, more jobs and of course… careers. I have to admit that helping kids to succeed has been a great ride for both my advisees and I, that’s for sure. Having placed students in a large number of companies all across the United States has been a blessing to both my students and I. I pray that God keeps blessing me with the necessary enthusiasm and caring abilities that is required for advising college students with distinction. They do deserve our best, every time.
There are a number of ways that you can advise college students these days. In this article, I will share with you three ways that I’ve used, which have resulted in tremendous undergraduate and graduate student success. I do realize that my self-made methods are unorthodox but I promise… they work. Are you ready?
Don’t start your advising in “advising” season. Academic advising doesn’t start in pre-registration. It starts on day one when you decide to have an open door policy and make an effort to chat with students outside the classroom, sometimes even playing ping pong in the cafeteria informally. The idea that great academic advising is to take 15-20 minutes in mid-semester only is erroneous. What do I mean by that? Sure, creating a schedule for a student regardless of rank shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes per student. However, talking about careers many times can take 30 minutes sometimes longer. The former is precisely why “advising” students throughout the semester should be made a priority if you want to be known as an extraordinary academic advisor. I encourage and recommend that you take academic advising seriously and that you make an extra effort to helping pupils to achieve greatness in this world early on in the semester. One of the ways to accomplishing the former is by taking the initiative and being available.
Make an effort to attend student and athletic events. This is exactly what I’ve said. You need to make sure that students realize that you legitimately care about what they do and what they are involved with. Attending campus events and supporting athletes by attending their home games is a great way to connect with students and attract them to having a longer conversation in your office later in the week. Students do appreciate college professors who they perceive care and are invested in their college life and professional development. It ain’t complicated, ladies and gents. If you think about it, excellence in academic advising is a mix of common sense combined with caring attitudes over and over again. You just have to do it! Listen to me: Make an effort to attend student and athletic events. That’s the right thing to do.
Recruit and mentor a few students every semester. Students love to be mentored. Make sure that every semester you select a few students to work with you in your office. Teach and empower them. I guarantee you that by the end of the academic year, there will be a line of students wanting to be a part of your “advising” or shall we say, “mentoring” program. Empowering students to make decisions and learn one-on-one with a caring academic advisor produces big dividends, e.g., free publicity for the department and many times increases in enrollment. Why don’t we have more faculty-advisee advising experiences and mentoring opportunities in college campuses all throughout the United States ? I honestly don’t get it! We should provide these opportunities to our students. I most definitely do. You should strive to do it, as well.
If you plan and dream to become an outstanding academic advisor, you must make an effort to listen to what students want and have to say. The secret to being a great academic advisor is mostly listening. Do yourself a favor: Don’t start your advising in “advising” season. There is not enough time to do a superb job in advising if your advising starts in April or November. Make an effort to attend student and athletic events. Students do appreciate you making an effort to attend some of their events. Make sure to recruit and mentor a few students every semester. Part of our job as academic advisors is to inspire students. If you are serious about your job and care for your students, recruiting and mentoring students should be part of your operating procedures every semester. That’s what I say.
Leadership isn’t position — it is action as Maxwell has said repeatedly. Leadership isn’t about you, your wishes or your legacy. Leadership is de facto about others and developing them to be better in what they do, unconditionally. A true leader doesn’t use their team as a mechanism to be “known” or “look good” to others. Leadership is about others and what we as leaders can do to make them look better. Of course that along the way… many will end up not being appreciative to the extra efforts that we put into it but this comes with the territory and is part of life. Don’t take it personally, I advise you. In the end, life (and leadership efforts for that matter) is about glorifying God first, as Mother Theresa once said.
If we lived in a perfect world where everybody’s skills and contributions were ranked in the 1%, folks were motivated, reasonable, committed, loyal… leadership would then be easy and only a small variable in the mix of what makes good organizations become great. The problem, my friends, is that we live in an imperfect world where most people are not motivated to do their best, are many times unreasonable with what they say and do, are not committed to the organization and tend to backstab others once in a while instead of choosing to be loyal and follow when helped. The reality is that the majority of the people we hire doesn’t belong in the 1%. Let’s keep in mind that the bell curve does exist for a reason. You will never have a perfect team despite of how hard you try. We need to be realistic — Let’s not forget that 68% of the population belongs to the mean and that the 1% is in fact an outlier. Your goal as a leader is to find good hires and turn them into great ones.
I am an Interim Department Chair of a research intensive university in Mississippi where I work with good people who seem legitimately invested and interested in the educational development of our students. The former is a blessing that produces fruits every semester. If we were a small liberal arts teaching university, I would consider our team to be in perfect alignment with the mission and goals of the university, a good to great team. However, we work in an institution that is being quickly transformed into the heaviest category of research production and grantsmanship. These types of institutions tend to make teaching secondary and only grant tenure to a few professors who are prolific and bring funding to the department and the university and have a record of helping students to complete doctoral dissertations. Only a small number of tenure-track faculty members actually survive the cut.
Now, this is a dilemma — What would you do if your faculty doesn’t have the academic credentials to fulfill the contract of a true research university yet you really like them? It is quite atypical and certainly very challenging for any department chair to lead a department with a division 1 status planning to operate under the protocols and guidelines of an R1 university with only 25 percent of faculty trained to conduct empirical research studies. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that this is a very difficult position for a department chair (and its faculty) to be in. An intervention must be planned immediately and checked often. The hope, of course, is that you don’t have to deal with accreditation along the way because if you do, life will then be a living hell for you.
This is the reality of our times. Higher educational institutions’ Carnegie classifications are changing rapidly. The operational nature of public institutions of higher learning has changed to a more lean model of “getting your own funding,” replacing tenure-track with temporary faculty, and in only committing to a very small number of professors being funded indefinitely. If you don’t have what it takes to be a college professor, e.g., a PhD, outstanding writing skills, and the ability to construct and complete empirical research studies, life will be very tough for you until you retire, pending on you surviving the transition.
I predict that folks who find themselves in such positions will have a very short tenure in higher education. The department Chair must inform his/her team of this reality and can only do so much. Remember: We live in 2017 where the support for colleges and universities are decreasing by the year. Tuition is increasing yearly to offset state funding deficits. Don’t believe me? Go and check the percentage of state appropriation that your state gives your public colleges and universities. In fact let me make your life easier. The American Council on Eduction (ACE) does cover this topic in great detail. Check it out –> State Appropriations overtime. Please refer to the graph below.
Leadership is tough. Resources are limited and decreasing. Unemployment is sky rocketing. There are no widespread unions to protect you and me. So, how do you lead an academic unit with very little funding to recruit the very best faculty members on the market yet being expected to advance the mission of the university with distinction? Stay tuned, we are going to talk about this in a bit. Let me say something first. Are you ready? We live in a world of formal protocol. we need to follow the protocol more than ever. This is the reality, are you ready? Listen carefully and take notes : Old friends won’t be able to save you from losing your job because we are heading towards more accountability and frequent school audits especially in higher education. The powers to be are paying very close attention to both credentials and competence.
Those used to operate in what we call “the buddy-buddy system” will struggle tremendously in this new system and will be forced into retirement by higher ups. I am a retired APSCF union member and learned by training and mentoring how to navigate and operate under a clearly defined set of higher education protocols. I had no option to even consider running anything via the “buddy-buddy system” because APSCUF makes all its standard operating procedures of its universities transparent to both administration and faculty. There is nothing to hide. There is no room for esoteric practices. You simply learn the protocol and put the protocol into practice.
Back to the discussion of leading an academic unit with little funding to hire the best people for the job… I am still struggling to find the best answer to this question. What I do know, however, is that being a department head in some college departments these days is like having a small subway franchise operating with staff who isn’t trained in making all available subs for sale on the menu. I am not saying that the employees working in that subway aren’t capable of learning how to make subs, of course. With good training and time, many will turn out to be great subway artists but at what price to the manager?
What would you do if you lead a team of talented professionals yet may lack the basic credentials to fulfill their contracts? Some might say, “you need a new team.” Others would say, “You are the leader, do what is right.” I reply… Ok, I will do what is right. We need practical faculty to teach our practical courses! We need to keep them all. To me, this is right. However, the former doesn’t always solve all the problems. In my world, good teaching rarely pays the bills, unfortunately. By the way — Even when we increase tuition dollars, e.g., increase enrollment for both undergraduate and graduate students, tuition dollars rarely cover the cuts in yearly state appropriation. This is why, folks, hiring talented PhD’s is an absolute necessity these days if you want to transform your academic unit from good to great. The reality is that if you can’t generate your own funding, your unit will cease to exist or will be merged into another operation as the last resort to get “sh&T” together.
I do agree that as a leader of an academic unit, I must do what is right under the realities and circunstances of my authority under the recommendations and vision set by the Dean. Of course that doing what is right often means more work on the part of a leader. I am okay with that. So the question then is, “Are you ready to sacrifice your time and efforts for the benefit of your team?” This one I can answer more easily. YES! If you are not sacrificing your efforts for the benefit of your team, resign as the leader of your unit right now. Clearly, you are in peter principle. Just remember that you are not God. You can only do what is humanly possible to accomplish what needs to be done.
There are too many ways a leader can sacrifice his/her time for the benefits of others so you make them look good and give them an incentive to be extraordinary. In this article, I will share with you three approaches I take to transforming good teams into great ones.
I write proposals and put their name on it. If the team wins, everybody wins including the leader. Leaders must help the team and celebrate their successes even if you have to do most of the work. This blog’s photograph was taken at the Mississippi Communications Association, a regional conference in Mass Communications that took place in Pearl, Mississippi… about 20 minutes away from our office in Jackson. Because I care and want to see my colleagues succeeding and having a job next year, I made a self sacrifice and wrote an entire panel proposal for an academic conference using data from my own research studies and included them as panel participants to talk about their specialties pragmatically. My goal was to ensure that the team had the opportunity to attend and present in an academic conference and have a taste of what is required of them to do next year as faculty members of a research university. Sometimes, leaders just have to write proposals and put their teammates’ names on it, pending on them accepting the invitation and with the understanding that next year, they themselves will do what they can do produce their own scholarship. Be inspiring and do what you can to help others.
Lead by committee. We don’t live in Rome anymore. Avoid taking what I call the “Caesar” approach which can be easily spotted — A leader making all the decisions and stating, “This is the wish of the senate and the people of Rome” when no decisions were vetted by parliament and the people had no say in the decision making process. Lead by committee instead. Team members will appreciate that and if they are reasonable, will be loyal to you. If the team isn’t capable or is unwilling to do the work then an intervention must take place even if it requires replacing people on the team. Leadership isn’t about self. Leadership is about making others great. A great team can only be great if it is already good. Give your team the benefit of the doubt and empower them to come up with solutions. If they prove to be incompetent, then an intervention is the answer. The only exception to this rule is when the department is in a state of crisis and little knowledge exists without the unit. Then, perhaps, having a more authoritative approach is the only answer.
Avoid closed door conversations and despise esoteric meetings. The moment that knowledge in your unit becomes esoteric, it is only a question of time for the unit to be dismantled. It is difficult to empower others and motivate them to do great work by having selective communication. The former, in fact, can turn great working units into unproductive, dividi et impera like toxic environments. Great teams will rarely if ever come out of such places. Typically, constant closed door policies and esoteric meetings are evidence of toxicity in workplaces. There is a wide body of research to substantiate this claim. Business Insider has published a concise article in 2015 on the topic. Bustle.com has also written on toxicity as well as Forbes.com. Having an open door policy and less esoteric meetings should be the norm not the exception. Never, under any circumstances, use esoteric meetings to plan sabotage against others directly or indirectly. The former always backfires. Be transparent and caring and do what you can to help. Transforming good units into great ones requires both talent and ethical leadership. Be careful to not lose your very best employees by being sneaky. It is going to cost you your reputation and much more. Don’t do it.
Leadership isn’t position — It is action as Maxwell has said repeatedly. Leadership isn’t about you, your wishes or your legacy. Leadership is de facto about others and developing them to be better unconditionally. Please refer to the lessons of Maxwell and his level 5 leadership teachings. If you don’t know what I am talking about, you might want to consider reading his literature on the topic, immediately. If it is too much for you to handle, consider employment alternatives or retirement.
Every leader faces challenges when accepting a position of leadership. If you are in public higher education, your challenges will be many. Transforming a good team into a great one might mean seeing great people leave, for the long term health of your unit. You are going to have to make some pretty difficult decisions in order to do what is best for your unit, that’s for sure. If you want to lead, sometimes you’re gonna have to write proposals and share your victories with your team, lead by committee and avoid having conversations with a few and having esoteric meetings for self gain and aggrandizement. The former is known for destroying teams and resulting in very high levels of turnover.
Losing talent can be deadly for any organization that wants to grow and be great. If you don’t have continuity in vision, there is no leadership. Leader! It is your job to make the team move from good to great. Never forget that. If your goal is to make your unit to move forward. You need to do what is right for the benefit of the organization. Do your part and be vigilant. You have no choice.
Things always make sense to someone. What sometimes appears to be illogical, idiotic or unlikely has de facto roots in systematic reasoning. As I said, “Things always make sense to somebody.” The appointment of billionaire Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education of the United States is a clear cut example of that. Ms. DeVos’s appointment doesn’t make any sense to anyone who works in public education or have a little bit of common sense like you and me. However, her appointment will certainly make sense to many who want to destroy public education and make a buck on your child’s future. In a sense, appointing DeVos for Secretary of Education is like appointing Hitler to take care of the Jews or Lenin to save the Tzars. The whole situation doesn’t make too much sense overall but for the Trump administration and its allies and supporters… it is a dream come true. It isn’t really that complicated to understand, is it?
The facts are the following — Ms. DeVos has no working experience or any interest to advance and/or expand public education in this country. When a person campaigns to defund public education, privatize schools, and reduce accountability for educational institutions with a for-profit educational status, you can imagine what will happen to those who depend on these public funds to operate their public establishments. When Trump got elected President of the United States, I immediately shared on my social media accounts the following, “You guys just wait. This administration will destroy public education as we know it.” Why was I so sure about that then and even more convinced about it right now? Because public education is defenseless. The system has little to no defense against defunding practices initiated by “public” officials. The unions are destroyed, severely damaged and near extinction. The “body has no white blood cells” to fight back against a dangerous and contagious virus.
Don’t be fooled, folks. Let me repeat — Ms. DeVos’s vision and her clan’s stance for public education is for the enterprise to be destroyed in the name of choice and profit. What a dangerous position for anyone to advance regardless of whether one is a republican or a democrat. The long-term sociological side effects that this appointment will cause in our culture will be many. I predict the systematic rise of uncontrolled violence and disorder in this country due to lack of opportunity and political oppression. Write this down: Not every poor or lower middle class kid will have the chance to get educated. American families will end up paying more for education on average. Choice will turn into choice for the wealthy only. I bet that in 10-15 years, we will all pay a big price here in the states. The wealthy will drive bullet proof cars surrounded by first world country’s favelas. Educators will make pennies and the many will consider leaving the country for opportunity. We are going to experience, for the first time ever, mass expatriation.
History has taught us that when no hope is left for the average people, a revolution then becomes eminent. Public education gives hope to the hopeless. We kind of need it in order to control the masses. Order is directly related to chance. Remember history: The Bolsheviks only came to power because the Tzars along with the Russian upper class abused the rights and resources of the common men. Ironically, the United States is on its way to becoming a Communist country, unfortunately. When the people have nothing to lose, the powerful and wealthy loses more. Don’t believe me? Watch Dr. Zhivago. Don’t be fooled and always remember, “Things Always Make Sense To Someone.” Nothing, I repeat… nothing is an accident.
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.
Lack of funding has been slowly destroying the public system of higher education of the united states. A system that once has received 75% of its allocated funds from the state is now battling to keep its 27% of state funding allocation it currently receives. State governments, especially in red political states, are allocating flat funding or state cuts in an attempt to privatize one of the jewels of American society and transform its populist mission into an elitist system of higher learning driven by market trends. Because of lack of funding, traditional public teaching universities are trying to be what they are not: To become research universities.
What a dangerous evolution of events and a sad reality in American society. The consequences of attempting to be what you are not are easily predictable — Slow academic death and more lack of funding in the long run. Let me explain. What would happen to Sugar Ray Leonard if he had to fight Mike Tyson heads on? He would die or would be severely incapacitated, right? I think so. Realistically, Sugar Ray Leonard has a very small chance of beating Mike Tyson because Tyson is stronger. Mike Tyson was developed to fight opponents like Mohamed Ali, George Foreman, and many other heavy weights of boxing. Sugar Ray Leonard isn’t the competition!
The same analogy can be applied to the industry of higher education. What would happen to a weak division I or a strong division II university if they shift its focus from being a primarily teaching institution competing against other teaching universities to becoming a true research university and competing against big research schools? How in the world can a public university in Chicago whose primary mission is to help first generation college students with limited funding compete financially and scholarly with the mighty University of Chicago? Are higher education administrators choosing to ignore the tenets of competitive advantage? Are they going mad?
Let me give you some fun facts — Stanford has a 22 billion dollar endowment fund. XYZ public teaching university often has something like 55 million dollars in its endowment account if the institution is lucky. Entry level student SAT scores at the University of Texas-Austin are much higher than the SAT scores of Praire View, a HBCU located in the state of Texas. At Penn State, faculty members teach two courses per semester sometimes one. At Indiana University of Pennsylvania, faculty is to teach four courses a term sometimes five due to lack of full-time faculty lines. Ohio State has a research and development office full of staff that literally assists professors with grant acquisition and support. This is the same for Harvard, Cornell, NYU, and many other tier one large research universities.
The office of grants and acquisitions of a teaching university in Mississippi only has 5 employees in order to assist faculty to write, manage and receive grants. A true research university in Massachusetts employees 53 staff members to assist with its yearly operation. Teaching institutions are not set up to compete against research universities in what they do best — Research! Much like Sugar Ray isn’t set to beat Frank Bruno.
Unless teaching universities totally redesign their systems to be in alignment with research institutions, e.g., reduce faculty load per semester, hire dozens of staff in the grants and acquisitions office, refine internal procedures and efficiency, give millions of dollars for faculty coming [Assistant professor] in (lab support) in order to fully conduct meaningful research, teaching colleges attempting to become research universities will only hurt their bottom line in the long run. Is it possible to do? Maybe. Evander Holyfield did it. He did pay a high price to adjust. Is Public higher education system in the position to redesign itself? We all know that in the draconian times we are living today, such undertake would be too costly! By the way, did anybody asked the students if they like this colossal change, anyways?
Let’s not forget that students coming to a teaching university attend these types of schools to have a more hands on interactive relationship with their professors and to learn skills to get positions in the workforce. They rarely attend these kinds of institutions to “learn for the sake of learning.” They are often interested in attending them to “Get a job.” Having an open door policy where students feel welcomed to speak with professors is critical for the survival of such universities. The moment professors in these institutions are asked to close their doors and do more research — Inevitably students will ask, “why should I be here? “My professors are not around anymore! I thought they would be here to help me out. Maybe I should just go to another teaching school where my professors will teach me something practical. Or perhaps… I should transfer to those research universities where I can cheer for a bigger football team that is always on television on Saturday afternoons. If I have to do all the work myself anyways, I might as well benefit from getting a degree from the University of Wisconsin! It will look great on my resume.”
Being what you are not for the sake of money is like telling your kid that they should become a doctor because physicians make a lot of money. What if your kid isn’t good enough to be a doctor or have little resources to becoming one? I personally don’t buy into the idea that we can be everything we want to become because nobody can perform at the highest level in every thing they try. As one of my professors once said, “There are individual differences.”I would never have made it as a petroleum engineer. NEVER! The good God didn’t bless me with engineering skills. I am okay with that and more importantly, I am not ashamed of it.
Media departments in teaching institutions whose goals is to becoming a research powerhouse experience tremendous stress in the transition. If accreditation is added to the bill, it becomes literally unlikely that the institution will attain such credentials unless continuous support is given by administration and time to receive the honor isn’t a variable. Media departments by craft are hands on departments. Differently from departments of philosophy where production isn’t a part of their curriculum, media departments are to teach students to produce artifacts. Therefore, asking media professors to close their doors in order to conduct more academic research is much more problematic because students need to literally learn hands on skills in production. A research paper published by a faculty member in media studies academic journals mean next to nothing to a student of media wanting to become a TV anchor. The irony of all of this is that professors of fine arts and theatre deliver a performance and their performances count as scholarship in most universities I’ve worked at. Media artifacts are often counted as service not anything scholarly in media departments! The former hurts our operation tremendously.
Here is my dilemma. So, what would you do? Risk losing a great production faculty who help the students to get great jobs yet he/she has a deficiency in research productivity or keep published professors who ignore their students and teach them outdated skills they don’t need? The “somewhere in between” isn’t a good option, either. Students of media must gain advanced skills in the field as advances in technology have changed the composition of the workforce of our industry forever.
In reality, this teaching university crisis isn’t going to be seen in media departments only. The systemic implications of this national trend of turning teaching colleges into research universities due to lack of funding will have a much larger implication than what I have described so far.
Faculty and staff turnover will exponentially increase. No institution of higher learning can achieve anything great if leadership and faculty changes so frequently. Talent won’t stick around for long if they become overworked which in turn will cause a higher wave of student anxiety, a burden for Human Resources as now HR will need to allocate more funds and resources for internal training, as well as an impact on shared governance. Although everybody is replaceable, not everyone coming in to a university understands the culture of the institution and its standard operating procedures. There is also not a guarantee that the faculty member coming in will be of any quality. Therefore, there is a tremendous risk in asking star faculty and staff to do the impossible. Here is what I think will happen. Faculty are likely to use these type of upcoming institutions to build their CVs and move on to another university, eventually landing in a research institution. Teaching four sometimes five courses a term is a lot of work. If you have to now produce heavy scholarship and acquire a grant on the top of that… why stay? Faculty might as well work for a well equipped research university under such draconian and toxic conditions. Walt Disney might have done the impossible but he didn’t do it alone.
In trueness, this whole mess that we are in is a consequence of decisions made in the 1980’s. Alan Greenspan once stated, “If the workers are more insecure, that’s very healthy for the society, because if workers are insecure they won’t ask for wages, they won’t go on strike, they won’t call for benefits; they’ll serve the masters gladly and passively. And that’s optimal for corporations.” Which adjective would you use to describe Greenspan? His economic policies of never rising the interest rate to “stimulate the economy” as a means to compensate for his free market ideology (outsource) and Reagonomics in the 1980’s caused the mess that we are in today, in my opinion. His policies have transformed the United States into India. India is known for two things, poverty and inequality. Okay, India is also known for corruption. Does the former ring a bell to you?
Greenspan accomplished what he wanted — reduce democracy and profit from outsourcing our jobs overseas. Now, he has the audacity to state, “Income inequality “most dangerous” trend in America today. Really, Mr. Greenspan? The educational system is in turmoil because of your economic leadership and ideology. Where is the tax base necessary to support higher education? Some of us know it. Transforming institutions into something they are not won’t solve this reality. In fact, I hypothesize that it will only cause more turmoil.
The United States is a republic in which its citizens are guaranteed by law to have liberties and justice for all. At least, this is what it is written in the pledge of allegiance of the flag for the United States, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States and to the republic for which it stands — One nation under God indivisible with liberties and justice for all.” I have bad news for you, readers. Our republic is in serious trouble. Higher education is one of these troubles. The biggest one I see, however, is the overall crisis of identity we are facing today. God bless America… We are going to need him.