Institutional change. As folks invested in the future of higher ed, I suspect we all want to make some. And there is no shortage of opinion about how to do it.
In his recent and thoughtful book, Checklist for Change*, Robert Zemsky makes provocative suggestions about how to move higher education forward in constructive ways. Ultimately, though, he asserts that “the number of people on whom real change within higher education actually depends is substantially less than a thousand”. He believes government officials (state and federal), the leaders of higher ed associations, the leaders of faculty unions, heads of accrediting agencies, college presidents, and some attentive journalists (18) are the only ones positioned to make the dramatic changes he thinks are necessary. This is probably realistic, but also disheartening to those of us stuck in the trenches, trying to bring good ideas to fruition. Since Zemsky is addressing some of the big, vexing, meta issues facing the future of higher education (student loans, accreditation, etc), maybe there is some wiggle room for making smaller changes happen. But how?
There may be a blueprint for doing this here. This blog post, which grows out of Cathy Davidson’s ambitious and exciting MOOC about the future of higher education, claims to provide a practical template for institutional change. But how practical is it? Many of the strategies discussed there are engaging and sensible. The author suggests being clear about what you are trying to change. Agreed. Identifying the problem is often more than half the battle. We often try to accomplish too much or lack a clear objective in trying to make change happen. The author also advocates forging good alliances with other “change makers” and seeking to initiate change at the local level (think globally, act departmentally?). Yes. This is wise strategy. But I don’t share the optimistic assertion that by creating momentum and communities with well-defined objectives we will be able to persuade provosts and presidents to embrace these changes. Sometimes we will succeed, but I think we also need to attend to why employing these sound strategies sometimes fails (one possibility is discussed here in my recent blog post).
What do you think? What makes change succeed or fail at your institution?
* Robert Zemsky, Checklist for Change: Making American Higher Education a Sustainable Enterprise (Rutgers, 2013).