Dear colleagues and friends,
Today marks the first day of classes for the 2018-19 academic year and it was pouring rain this morning.
As I was rushing to an early-morning team meeting, I saw lots of students who were soaking wet trying to get to class. I’ll bet that the College Store had a very good day today for umbrella sales! It amuses me each year that this critically important item, the umbrella, is so often overlooked when packing for college. Do all of your friends a favor and remind them to buy their college student an umbrella. Or, better yet, make an umbrella your signature gift for high school graduates.
Since rain was on my mind this morning, I found myself wondering if rain on the first day of class is anything like rain on a wedding day? I am told that if it rains on one’s wedding day, it is a harbinger of a happy marriage. Does the rain on the first day of class mean that the 2018-19 academic year is going to be awesome? I sure hope so!
This year is an important year at Augustana and in external relations.
- There are new colleagues to onboard and integrate. I can’t wait to welcome their contributions to the team and learn from their experiences. I know they will inspire us to better than ever before.
- We will launch a comprehensive fundraising campaign in October. This is a critically important moment for Augustana College, our alumni, and all those who believe so deeply in this place. I hope the advancement team, and this place, will inspire the sort of transformational giving we need in order to achieve the goals of this campaign.
- The recruitment team made some important strategic decisions over the summer that will help us rebound after a somewhat disappointing recruitment year. I am really excited to see how well some of these efforts work and look forward to seeing our efforts pay off.
It is at these moments that I am reminded how important it is that every single member of the team is operating at their full capacity. The beginning of a school year is always a good time to reset, or take stock of, what makes it possible for you to operate at full capacity. Do you need to give something up? Do you need to tell someone that they are driving you crazy? Do you need to exercise more? Do you need more sleep? Do you need to eat right? What do you need to do right now in order to operate at your full capacity?
A thought I can’t get out of my mind
Last week there was an article in Inside Higher Ed about Goucher College and its decision to eliminate majors and restructure features of its academic program. It was an agonizing read. If you have not read it yet, please do so. The journalism was a bit of a disappointment, but was not much different from other articles about similar situations.
The comments were predictably angry and emotional and I get it. We experienced similar passions throughout Augustana’s transition from trimesters to semesters. In fact, the passions ran hot enough that during the course of a meeting several years ago it was suggested that some financial projections I was asked to offer must be “in Confederate currency.” (Seriously, that was a funny comment).
While the negative reactions to Goucher’s announcement may have been predictable and devolved into the standard narrative about “the bottom-line” and “abandonment of mission,” it shouldn’t be this way.
I don’t know anyone at Goucher College, but I am absolutely sure that the leaders there considered every possible scenario before making any decisions. And, I suspect that their decision-making revolved around many of the questions below:
- How do we best serve students given our current realities?
- How do we ensure that we can continue to pay our faculty and others who serve our students?
- How can we align our offerings (academic and co-curricular) with student interests?
- Are there practical and cost-effective alternatives to what is being discussed?
- Does this do the least harm of all of the options considered?
I am sure they asked these questions and many, many others. Senior leaders on college and university campuses make difficult decisions to strengthen and sustain, not to harm. I wish others understood and appreciated this fact.
I wish some of those who are so critical of Goucher would be bold enough to offer their suggestions of pathways forward. Regrettably, rather than productive solutions, one is more likely to hear about votes of non-confidence and fiscal ineptitude on the part of those who are trying to do the right thing.
In this uncertain time within every sector of higher ed, it is even more likely that difficult decision will need to be considered in order to preserve the diversity of educational experience that has come to define higher education in the US.
Experts in demographics have been reminding us that we can’t create an eighteen-year-old in less time than it typically takes. The same is true when it comes to creating demand for academic and co-curricular programs. Higher education has tried the offer-it-and-they-will-find-us-somehow-when-they-are-ready-for-it strategy, but it’s no longer practical.
Goucher seems to be trying to take the right steps and deserves credit for making difficult decisions.
What are your thoughts about Goucher’s announcement? And, what do you think of the reactions?
Two things I think are worth reading (if you haven’t already done so)
Despite strong economy, worrying financial signs for higher education–Jeff Selingo’s piece in the Washington Post received a lot of attention and for good reason. Higher education faces significant challenges ahead. This is a pretty sobering read for anyone working in higher ed, although Selingo does focus on an outlier in featuring Earlham. However, Selingo’s concluding paragraph is the $64,000 question:
“Indeed, one needs only to look through the Moody’s reports on public and private colleges and the research on what Generation Z wants out of college to know that major changes are on the horizon for higher education. The question is whether college leaders will be able to find the right solutions, and in enough time.”
I think he may be implying that Moody’s and other rating agents–not to mention Boards, charged as fiduciaries–are going to be looking for vision, rather than stewardship of the status quo from college leaders.
Will leaders rise to the challenge? And, will they receive the support needed from others on campus.
These 40 powerful life lessons can immediately change the rest of your life–A friend posted this several weeks ago and it was in my saved items on Facebook; I recently went back through it and remain impressed. There are some maxims worth pondering.
Here are five things that really resonated with me:
- All things, including success and failure, ebb and flow.
- Time is your most valuable asset. And you must use it wisely.
- Most people don’t have the courage to live according to their values.
- Falling short of your potential comes from doing what is comfortable.
- Your perspective isn’t the only correct answer.
I am sure some of these resonated because of shortcomings I see in myself and others are aspirational. What are your top two or three?
Something for you (and me) to think about
This summer I attended a conference of college presidents and general counsels. Since I am neither, it was a fascinating experience and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to attend this inaugural meeting, sponsored by Husch-Blackwell, a law firm specializing in higher education.
The topics ranged from Affirmative Action and Freedom of Expression to innovative programming and budgeting. It was really interesting to me to listen to these presidents as they sorted through this array of challenges facing higher education and higher ed leaders.
One session in particular stood out and it was not the one I predicted it might be . Anita Dunn, who ran communications for both of President Obama’s presidential campaigns, was interviewed about crisis communication by her sister, who is a partner at Husch-Blackwell. Ms. Dunn shared a few war stories and walked us through a handful of case studies, but her off-the-cuff advice about dealing with a crisis was the greatest take-away for me.
She outlined the following steps for dealing with a crisis:
- Transparency of process
- Authenticity of voice
- Communicating actions as they happen
Dunn’s advice and perspective provides a helpful framework to avoid paralysis in the moment of managing a crisis. I found the call for authenticity of voice and communicating actions as they happen to be especially compelling. Too often organizations don’t think about these two elements and pay the price for choosing the wrong messenger or being tempted to wait until everything is wrapped up to communicate actions.
I now carry Dunn’s advice in my wallet so I don’t forget how wise it is.
Is there something you’d like me to muse upon?
If you are curious about a topic or would like some musings about something in particular, please let me know by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
P.S. If you know of someone who you think I should add to my distribution list, please let me know and I will gladly add anyone who might benefit (or have mild interest). I try to get one of these out every Monday. Past issues of my musings can be found at my blog @bowtieadmission