How do we work on changing the narrative of college as business? I’ve discussed information and communication in the previous posts. I’d like to end this short series with the third component needed to put the academics back in the academy: determination.
We will need determination to reorient higher education away from its current emphasis on business and money and back to an institution whose primary aim is education. As we’ve seen, this transformation can take place on any campus: public or private, two or four year.
Businesses are in it for short term gain. Colleges, with their steady revenue base and government subsidies, are far from a true business. While they need to earn enough money to sustain and plan for the future, these plans need to fit within academic frameworks. Even the masters of disruption, Clayton M. Christensen and Henry J. Eyring, warn against change for change’s sake in The Innovative University. Before dismantling all of higher ed (except, of course, the elite universities: don’t worry upper 10%, your children will still be taught by humans), they strike a cautionary note:
As a general rule, the university alters itself only in thoughtful response to significant needs and opportunities. Entrepreneurism occurs within fixed bounds; there is rarely revolution of the type so often heralded in business or politics. This steadiness is a major source of universities’ value to a fickle, fad-prone society (21).
One such fad is the ideology of college as business. This leads to a CEO mentality. Instead of quick the deliberative, measured direction of shared governance, there is the “vision” of the CEO. A vision she will attempt to enforce regardless of the consequences. And why must this be done? Because of disruptive change. And what is this disruptive change? Technology, the teacherslayer come to rid higher ed of the tyranny of the professor. And woe to anyone who dares question her authority. (I’ve been reading too much Game of Thrones).
To change this narrative we all need to “raise our voices.” Whenever you can, remind people, administrators, boards of trustees that the true mission of a college is education: the sound of a classroom discussion on the role of love in Things They Carried, the quiet hum of a physics lab where students work in groups solving a problem, the skritch of a chalkboard as a class works through a calculus problem. Education is not found in the swipe of a credit card when registering for class.
And here we get to determination.
Wouldn’t it be nice if after a quick conversation, meeting, or presentation the public, college administrators and boards would realize the error of their ways and return to the real business of college: education?
Wouldn’t it be nice if faculty could just work on teaching, developing curriculums, planning for classes, conducting research instead of attending meetings for change that will have no or a negative impact on learning?
Wouldn’t it be nice if faculty didn’t have to stay on message and continue repeating themselves till long after they’ve proved their point and want to just get back to the real work of education?
Yes, it would be nice, but it ain’t going to happen.
If you agree that colleges need to move from a focus on entrepreneurialism and leadership and return to education, it’s going to take work. People are not going to convinced by a conversation or two; administrators who gain power and prestige by this shift are not always willing to give it up; and boards are often too distant from the workings of a college and rely on the dog and pony show of board meetings (indoctrination sessions is a more apt term at some colleges) to get a sense of the pulse of the institution.
The only way change will occur is if we make it. While this fad, like all others, will fade, we need to hasten its exit. And that will take work and commitment. If you agree, let’s get started.
See you on Wednesday, Sept. 3 at our first FAOCC meeting.