The Case of Not-So-Nimble U.S. Higher Education

Several of my past essays grouse about higher education not being particularly nimble places despite administrators who implore faculty to be more so while they themselves are anything but nimble. My own workplace is warming to the idea the institution is not as nimble as we would like. My hopes are some administrators are awakening the realization the true hindrance to our lack of dexterity lies both within themselves and their peers. While an individual faculty person can “flip a classroom” or engage students with real problem-oriented assignments a university must itself inspire a complete culture of creative thinking and innovation, not simply using sole faculty in specific departments as examples of “See, look what Professor X is doing! Isn’t that spectacular?”

Colleges and universities across the United States were seen both as sources of innovative thought and sites of infectious social liberalization. Examples are easy to find, from UC-Berkeley on the West Coast, Kent State in the Midwest, to Columbia University in New York, university and colleges across the United States were loathed by many as disruptive to U.S. culture, promulgating ideas of free love, Socialism, peace (or anti-war), Civil Rights, and other ideas which some people felt threatened the very fabric of the U.S.

UCB Bear-smCurrently, I would argue universities and colleges are not the liberating influencers they once were. I feel comfortable saying this in part because U.S. society has become more liberal, has become more accepting of people, more nuanced in their approaches to societal concerns. U.S. society has become more tolerate of the LGBTQ community, has over-come some aspects of racism, such as interracial dating and marriage.

No doubt the U.S. has more changes to make, but we have come a long way. We haven’t seen 100 years yet since women were allowed to vote. Many Conservatives would like to prevent even more people from voting. But, to be Conservative, by definition, means “resistant to change.” So, those of us who would prefer Humanity to stop judging people should not be surprised by those people among us unable to tolerate change. Some human brains are simply not wired to adopt change.

People who hold conservative viewpoints can be found anywhere and higher education is no different. Administrators who once stood in front students and goaded them into adopting new ways of thinking, and being open and receptive to new ideas, and to think about different approaches to problem-solving, go through some type of Kafka-esque transformation, construct a bureaucratic trench, and then impose the same myopic perspective their proselytize to their students to eliminate from their own lives.

I don’t get it. I have an allergy to logical inconsistencies.

OK, enough soap-boxing.

In this post, I am releasing into the “wild” a proposal for an internal internship program. I think all universities need an internal internship program. The changing demographics of the United States mandate changing some of our mindsets and protocols to meet the needs of students. For instance, adult unmarried students with children may desire an internship yet don’t have the required support system to leave their children behind for 8-, 10-, or 12-weeks to engage in distant internship. Why should these students be denied the opportunity to gain experience simply because of their life circumstance? Why should working for a university office be any different from working for some distant employer?

Granted, I do see the benefit of relocating for an internship. I also see the benefit of doing Study Abroad. However, an adult back in school may have already work experience and/or life experience which satisfies part of the rationale behind internships. Secondly, the experience gained in working for a university IT department, research center, Student Affairs, Publications, or some other office on a college campus is potentially no different if we simply reframe our vision of other offices on campus as “clients.”

My generic draft proposal: DraftProposal_Generic_Internships2014-2015_v2 (Word document)

I have found some universities already support internal internship programs. Morehead State University (KY) is one example. Western Kentucky University is another. I’m sure these programs exist at many different colleges and universities. Not at mine; not yet.

I’m trying to get administrators to support this program. I’ve met heavy resistance, actually, from administrators. Mostly because I didn’t follow the chain of bureaucracy. I didn’t want the proposal to get trashed which has happened to other ideas of mine. I made sure the people who read my proposal drafts were also those who were able to get the proposal read by the president’s office.

In addition to the internship program universities should support, I have a few other ideas which I have written posts about.

Higher Education is Anything But Nimble Basically, some thoughts about thinking which does not work to the advantage of faculty, staff, or students, thinking which impairs or detracts from student engagement.

Building Consensus for an Idea Lab I’m a firm believer all universities need a forum and a makerspace to encourage students from all disciplines to work together on projects. No one can honestly say where new ideas will come from. I’ve run across too many presumptive administrators in higher education who state, “Our students will never …” or “Our students will always …” and that person automatically loses credibility in my eyes.

Promote Innovation in Higher Education Using a StudentStore I cannot take credit for this idea. Wallace Patterson, Education Account Manager for Makerbot, and I were riffing back and forth on the phone one day and we hit on this idea. Look, why should art students or horticultural students or whatever organization get a “One Day Only Sale to Support Our Organization?” Why can’t something like this exist for both individual students and for organizations? And, why can’t a university support a student-run retail store / gift shop showcasing student work? Would not parents of current students, current students, potential students, and alumni like to see how their education investment is paying-off? When a student ambassador can walk parents, and students and donors and alumni through a space and say, “This place is managed, staff, and stocked with items produced here on campus by our students. They gain management and business experience, plus have a place in which to sell the fruits of their ideas. We want to inspire innovation and entrepreneurship, and this store is only one component of making sure our graduates leave our school ready to hit the ground running.”

Using Social Media to Promote Your Department, College, and University I don’t have this essay posted. I thought I did. Evidently, the draft exists only in my brain. In essence, the idea is this: all departments, colleges, and campus offices need to have some sort of social media presence. I frequently visit the Social Media page at the University of Victoria (Canada). In my opinion, they have “best practices” for higher education social media presence. Their home page has a nice social media widget at the bottom 1/3rd of the page. They have reorganized their page some but from the bottom of the front page one can access all social media at UVic. Now, if you are following along to this point, thanks, but notice how UVic has their campus social media organized. This is brilliant. Easy-to-access, easy to locate pertinent social media sites for each office and department. The person managing social media for UVic knows what they are doing. Now, in case you say, “Big deal,” it is a big deal. Parents, grandparents, legal guardian, current students, alumni, and potential students all use social media. Social media are no longer a luxury, an interesting side-bar activity one does when a break from the routine. Social media are expected, is anticipated, by everyone. Social media is proactive; social media managers “push out” information and actively try to engage people. A webpage or website is not proactive; if anything it is a passive response requiring someone to visit your webpage or website. Social media, i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Pinterest pushes out content (in some cases, special configuration is necessary, but still.) Returning to a previous comment, we cannot presume to know the minds of people. We can make some really ignorant choices presuming knowledge. Social media basically is like a broadcast tower, “Whoever can here me, here is what I have to say.” Then, interested parties either tune-in or tune-out. But, the receiver gets to make that choice. The dangerous presumption is one shutting down communication because of a particular bias someone has no interest in your message. Or, equally worse, the presumption someone will seek to find your passive message hiding within the maelstrom of all of the active messages being broadcast. My hypothesis is: always broadcast, always be active about broadcasting and leave the decision to listen or not to the audience. While the immediate audience may not have an interest, they may know of others who do, and again by the power of social media the reach of your message extends beyond the range of the initial message. It just makes sense to me, yet I have failed consistently this year to get my point across to administrators who simply refuse to acknowledge the potential of managing positive messages conveyed through social media. Ta da!

Ok – to all who read my admittedly rambling discourse, and my occasional hyperbole, I really appreciate you taking the time to consider my posts, especially when so many good sites exist.

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