Resolving to look inward in 2013: Suggested resolutions for Higher Education



By now most of us have made our New Year’s resolutions, and whether they are traditional or new-age, most have to do not only with improvement but also reform: we want to change, and change for the better. A focus on the good means that there is often a moral, and always a values, component to New Year’s resolutions. They are, like all things in the realm of ethics, behavioral at heart, and challenge us to act according to what we say, and believe, we value.

While New Year’s resolutions are usually associated with individuals (and I have my list; I hope you have yours), it is good practice for organizations and institutions, which can have shockingly unexamined lives, to have them as well. I don’t mean a strategic goal, or an objective pressured or paid for by some public or constituent. I mean a true taking stock and doing the hard work of facing what we know is not so great about our behavior — those things that we disappoint — perhaps harm — ourselves, and others, over. That we know are, somehow, wrong, and wrong because of our own actions or inactions, and often our lack of courage.

I do have a few suggestions for institutions of higher education — individual ones, but in many ways, higher education institutions in the aggregate. Some apply particularly for research universities (and therefore the AAU), others to higher education institutions of all kinds. They are in that sense general and directional, and all are largely related to the first:

  • We resolve to spend more time looking inward examining our culture and clarifying as organizations what we stand for and what kind of place we want to be — and what we are not and do not want to be. We resolve to communicate, and defend, that to others. We will regain our independence and our voice.
  • We resolve, in doing so, to lead rather than administer or politic. We resolve to mobilize and encourage all the fragmented and isolated creativity that drifts underutilized, and detached, within our organizational scope.
  • We resolve to break the cycle of repeatedly asking for (and making veiled threats about) the need for more money for research (or whatever), and instead examine and restructure our institutions and systems to produce value for society and the institution as a whole, and to regain trust. We will stop making Faustian bargains in the search for truth, and create a lived and shared culture of ethical conduct and transparency. We will thus subvert our own needs and wants to the larger interests of scientific progress, which will bring superior performance and support.
  • We resolve to place a greater value on teaching and learning, and to restore its centrality to our mission consistent with its crying need, and its contribution to our revenues and reputation.
  • Those are my opening suggestions. I just realized this is post 13 of the blog on the first day of 2013, and so will consider that a good omen for them to come true. I know that my suggested resolutions are just a wish list of sorts, but resolutions are, after all, hopes for a better future.

    What are yours—for your institution, or for higher education generally?