In the June 26, 2012 New York Times, a great article titled “Public universities see familiar fight at Virginia”. In describing recent events at the University of Virginia, author Tamar Lewin perfectly captures the difficult situation in which highered finds itself.
Here is ex-President, rumored to soon be reinstated President, Teresa Sullivan commenting on online education:
Dr. Sullivan said that online education was no panacea — and indeed, was “surprisingly expensive, has limited revenue potential and unless carefully managed can undermine the quality of instruction.”
Doesn’t this sound familiar? Let’s see, where have I heard these words before? Oh, yes:
- As a leading retailer, Sears has found that selling clothes online is no panacea and, indeed, is surprisingly expensive, has limited revenue potential (compared to our vast network of stores) and, unless carefully managed, can undermine the personal service that we provide our customers.
- As a leading bookstore, Borders has found that selling books online is no panacea and, indeed, is surprisingly expensive, has limited revenue potential (compared to our vast and growing network of stores) and, unless carefully managed, can undermine the personal, in-depth, knowledgeable service that we provide our customers.
Not a good sign for highered, for sure. The following is a great description of how highered leadership works, and provides insight into the difficulties people in those positions face:
And while she agreed that she is, indeed, an incrementalist, she stressed that that did not mean she lacked a strategic plan.
“Corporate-style, top-down leadership does not work in a great university,” she said. “Sustained change with buy-in does work.”
Many public university presidents, past and present, said that those on the boards of the leading universities — typically business executives without much experience in academia — do not always understand the complexities of leading a large research university, and the degree to which a president can succeed only by persuading.
The UVA board tried to move quickly — too quickly, it turns out — but I wouldn’t be surprised if the next board is successful in getting its way because the situation is becoming untenable for too many institutions. Faculty salaries are going to have to be cut drastically; classes are going to have to increase in size; and educational technologies are going to have to be deployed (effectively, let’s hope) on a fairly extensive scale. Difficult choices have to be made. Reality must be faced, and soon. Getting a president reinstated doesn’t change any of that.