Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Coming in like a lion

The campus is awash with problems that cut to the core of the mission. Applications for admission are down 15%. Revenues from the state are also down. Capital programs are frozen. The question this morning is whether these negatives can be turned into a positive.

Motivations for reform that come from a bottom up (individual instructor) perspective may have good effect in the particular courses the instructor teaches. But invariably, this type of reform does not produce long coattails, because the pioneering faculty member goes through some sort of self-sacrifice that others are not willing to do and because the others don't have the same vision.

If the institution as a whole needs to change because of overt changes in the environment, that has the potential to produce a more systemic change on campus. Of course, the changes might not be the ones that I'm hoping to see. This will depend on leadership.

There are several possible adjustments to make in light of the downturn in applications. Among the more obvious are to (1) lower the standards for acceptance to increase the potential pool of applicants and (2) increase financial aid to lower the net price of attending the University. Both of these can be done by administrative fiat. The costs and benefits of each approach are obvious. Another possible adjustment is to make efforts on improving the product, both as it is perceived by students on campus and how it is perceived by potential applicants. This is what might motivate systematic reform.

So for all the current doom and gloom, there is the benefit that it might set in place the conditions for fundamental change --- and I hope change for the better. The next few posts will take on what that might look like and how we might get from here to there.

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