Culture of Success

A few days ago I attended the President’s and Provost’s meetings, given annually at the start of the fall semester. Here is a brief critique from my perspective as a Lean thinker and practitioner:

The president emphasized accomplishments made over the last 9 years and attributed these achievements to a “culture of success.” What I saw was mainly a recitation basic things that any university needs to be do, but largely focused on spending money (vs. spending ideas) as the measure of improvement. He made a call to reduce criticism and improve alignment and support for the president and for the strategic plan (an odd thing to ask for when faculty are trained to be critical and ask questions). There was near-zero focus on improving teaching – the core activity – as a means to grow enrollment, improve retention, and improve graduation rates. From a Lean perspective, our path is the same as other regional public universities. We are following the herd.

Last year, the provost asked that we expand our use of educational technologies and create more online and hybrid courses. Basically, a call for high-tech, low-touch teaching. This year, the provost asked us to focus on low-tech, high-touch ways to improve undergraduate student retention and graduation rates. It came across as a mixed message. The reality, of course, is that we have to do both – despite the fact that evidence indicates educational technologies do not improve undergraduate student engagement, learning, or academic success among some groups of students.

Finally, higher ed is no different from other industries in that senior managers search within the industry – other colleges or universities – for solutions to its problems. They think they are unique. Leaders do not look look outside of higher ed (which would be interdisciplinary), resulting in the herd mentality and which fails to distinguish one institution from another. That narrow focus makes it tough for Lean management and Lean teaching to gain an audience among university leaders and a foothold in higher education. The lack of innovative thinking means that students and other stakeholders will continue to suffer.

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