I have been reading a lot lately on Gov. Dannel Malloy’s thinking on a second chance society. It is an interesting concept that has merit supported by reasonable, good evidence-based research.
Last week, over coffee with friends, we debated the value and whether the people actually learn from mistakes and are able to make better decisions going forward. One of my friends, an advocate for public higher education who knows my previous relationship with Connecticut’s higher education system, posed the question, “What if the CSCU system was given a fresh start? Do you think they would learn and not repeat the past mistakes?”
Some would argue that the CSCU system has already exhausted a first and second chance. Others will rightfully point out that the names and faces have changed, but, the same mistakes have been made with compensation increases for administrators, disregard for shared governance, too much emphasis on system management of the campus, tone-deaf system leadership, system office overly stated enrollment and revenue projections that have led to various fiscal crises, and questionable expensive consultant contracts. The most concerning of all is the lack of accountability for the people supposedly in charge.
Although, I am not convinced the system leader and the Regents have the capacity to provide the type of leadership found at the better higher education systems, for the sake of this article, I will let my mind wonder and imagine, “what if” the CSCU System had a third chance with effective, inclusive leadership that placed the success of the 17 institutions above the System.
Given a third chance, with the right leadership, I suspect much of the following would become the norm for a new Board of Regents and a new system office:
- Stop being antagonistic to the faculty and instructors and acknowledge a faculty member dedicates more than 60 hours per week to students, academics, and the university.
- Acknowledge that the faculty shares equally in the governance of the system and campus.
- There would be less emphasis on enrollment growth and more focus on degree completion.
- Put into practice its mantra “student-centric” and develop an effective student financial aid plan for low-income, first generation, and underrepresented populations to meet 100% of their demonstrated need through grants; work with textbook publishers and distributors to reduce the cost of textbooks; and where feasible allow students to opt-in or out of some current mandatory fees.
- Rely upon the faculty to determine the best student learning environment that includes face-to-face instruction, team-based learning, self-directed learning, and hybrid and online courses.
- Place less emphasis on anecdotal assumptions and more focus on evidence based research to support an effective, inclusive decision-making process.
- Place less emphasis chasing what is fashionable in higher education and more focus on performing the basic functions of teaching, research, and outreach that characterize a high performing college and university.
- Place less emphasis on a corporate style of management for higher education and realize the issues in public higher education require the broadest possible exchange of communication and thinking from all stakeholders including legislators.
- Balance their appointment by the governor and other state agencies with their primary responsibility to advocate for the needed funding to support the colleges and universities; manage the political process; and keep unnecessary distractions away from the institutions.
- Be better stewards and more accountable of state funds and student tuition and fee dollars.
- Acknowledge that better relationships with local and state elected and appointed officials are imperative to build allies and financial support.
- Realize that effective strategic planning emanates from the campus and rolls up into a system-wide plan.
- Value and encourage the different role, scope, and mission of each college and university and place equal emphasis on employment skill training and a broad-based liberal arts education that prepares graduates for many careers.
- Respects the responsibility, functions, and authority of the campus presidents and develops annual performance metrics to hold the president accountable.
- Support for and implementation of the collegial model: to listen, share the broadest possible exchange of information and communication, encourage freedom to express difference of opinion, gather the expert judgment, facilitate compromise and negotiate as needed.
If ever a third chance was granted, the faculty, staff and students deserve the opportunity to have effective campus, system, and board leadership that understands, respects, communicates and appreciates the complexity of a multidimensional college and university system.
It is sadly apparent that the sacred bond of trust, respect and confidence between the System and Regents and the legislators, faculty and other stakeholders has been severely compromised to the point that change in management is necessary. Without change it will be nearly impossible to address the many issues facing higher education in Connecticut.