A President's Reflections

Wannabe Univiversity

Posted on October 6, 2009

Inside Higher Ed has a story today about a new book by Gaye Tuchman called Wannabe U: Inside the Corporate University (http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/10/06/wannabe#).  It is based on an anonymous university, though the story later identifies it as U. Conn, and is a sociologist’s look at the shifting of higher education and the internal dynamics of one institution thriving to be better.

Of course, who defines better and how they get there is the key question.  Faculty members complain about administrators who are not scholars or intellectuals, preoccupied as they are with productivity and efficiency.  Administrators complain abut faculty members who care more about their research than students or teaching.

I read all such things through an SNHU lens and as an institution we are working through our own set of such questions. Reading  the story, I squirmed a little bit as I thought about how much time I now spend on things like Datatel conversions, enrollment analysis, and praising the blessings of multiple revenue streams.

Yet the impact of better marketing, more efficient “speed to lead” strategies for reaching students, streamlined administrative processes  — all stuff of the increasingly “corporate” university — has allowed us to grow, create new programs, and build new buildings.   We have a vibrant music program, nationally known authors on campus, growing programs like Graphic Design and Creative Writing and Game Design.  All contribute to a more vibrant intellectual and cultural campus community.

I have ordered Tuchman’s book and one of the questons I have for it is whether she connects the dots in the way I just suggested: seeing a better  run business side to the university as supporting a better academic and intellectual environment.  That’s not my sense of the book from the today’s story.

I also wonder if SNHU isn’t on a contrary path to what Tuchman describes: having been a proprietary and for-profit institution that lacked much of the character of a more traditional non-profit university, we are now putting flesh on the academic and cultural bones of the university.  We spend more on professional development than ever before (I know, it is never enough).  We more diligently seek doctorally qualified faculty when we hire.  Our faculty publish more than ever.

We have a lot more work to do.  Our library does not measure up to our ambitions (though our librarians are leaders among their peers).  We have no performance space in which to support theater and dance, whether our own or by visiting groups.  Too many of our openings, performances, and visiting artist presentations are sparsely attended by our own faculty members and staff.  It’s as if we are not yet fully in the habit of mind and sensibility, even as we persuade students that those sensibilities are part of an enriched life.

Unlike Wannabe U, we are working towards a richer and fuller academic culture and the ostensibly corporate dimensions of what we do are helping us get there.

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