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The Shape of Things to Come

The Shape of Things to Come

(p.107) 9 The Shape of Things to Come
Saving Alma Mater
Ernst R. Berndt
University of Chicago Press

Public higher education is an unhappy family. The family members are governors and elected officials, trustees, regents and governing boards, college and university presidents and chancellors, and professors and administrative staff members. Ironically, all the members of this family believe in the noble purpose of public higher education. All members want to provide a high-quality education for their fellow citizens; they all want efficient, well-run, financially stable, and responsive institutions. But like all unhappy families, the members of the higher education family cannot change their behavior. Elected officials keep pressing for more controls and regulations and accountability, because they have difficulty understanding that these timeworn approaches are actually worsening the problems they are intended to solve. They see themselves as the defenders of the faith but their problems are somebody else's to solve. As with all dysfunctional families, the medicine is easy to prescribe but difficult to swallow. The first step of any cure is for the family members to admit that the problems will not disappear unless the underlying behaviors are changed. The second step of the cure is to see the repetitive patterns of dysfunctional behavior that perpetuate the problems. The third step of the cure is for the members of the higher education family to stop pointing fingers at each other and to accept their share of responsibility for perpetuating the problems.

Keywords:   public universities, college education, higher education, academic culture, behavior change, academic leaders

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