Between the LinesPreparing for the Uncertain
Crisis communications has long been top of mind for all university leaders, and we know what a challenge it is to prepare for something that is often un-preparable. From natural disasters to large-scale protests, university leaders are charged with ensuring the safety of their campuses and providing timely, reliable information, all while triaging often contradictory reports and rumors on social media platforms.
In her article, “Navigating the Return of the Culture Wars and Other Crises,” writer Karen Doss Bowman explores the president’s role in crisis management and how higher education leaders can ensure that when a potential calamity comes to campus, the right people and procedures are in place to address it.
As Patty Cormier, president emerita of Longwood University (Va.), points out, “It’s about constant communication, and the key is not to hide, but to tell the truth. You need to be forthright; you need to come forward; you need to say it; and you need to be in charge.” is presidential must-read begins on page 2.
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Navigating the Return of the Culture Warsand Other Crisis
Austin Peay State University (Tenn.) president Alisa White was at an official dinner event in April 2016 when her phone started blowing up with texts. A staffer was sending pictures of six rainbow-colored yarn nooses—decorated with flowers and ribbons—hanging from a tree just outside the building that housed the Art Department.
University police, concerned about hate symbolism, had already begun removing the nooses as an investigation started to find out who put up the nooses and why. Even the FBI was involved to determine whether it was an act of hate. Many on campus were angered by the racial implications of the nooses, while others speculated the display was a gesture lamenting the high suicide rate within the LGBTQ community.
By the next day, university officials had learned the display was a freshman’s project for an introductory course focused on using yarn as a medium for creating art. It was part of a series the student created on the theme of death and rebirth. She displayed it in the tree, despite her professor’s caution about its potentially negative connotations. She also neither included an artist’s statement to provide context nor received permission from campus officials to put it up, which violated university policy.
“It’s incredibly unfortunate that the student artist did not understand the significance and the implication of a symbol that represents so much negative for so many people,” White said in a statement at the time. “While we support the freedom of expression on our campus, we also have to keep in mind that there are symbols that have very specific and negative meanings to everyone, especially if context is not provided. Therefore, the artwork was inappropriate and had to be removed for the safety of our campus.”
The Demographic TestHow well is your institution positioned for a future where students may be scarce, the student body will be more diverse, and some learners may need more help to succeed?
W hen the retail giant Toys R Us declared bankruptcy in 2017, one reason was the decline in birth rates. “Most of our end-customers are newborns and children,” a company document stated, “and, as a result, our revenues are dependent on the birth rates in countries where we operate.”
It’s not much of a leap to see that higher education faces similar challenges. Declining birth rates are stemming the pipeline of high school graduates. That trend is worse is some pockets of the country, but projections suggest that demographic challenges are going to cast a long shadow across most of higher education well into the next decade. Those trends are likely to be hard-felt among state colleges and universities— exacerbating the financial challenges they already face.
AASCU American Democracy Project Launches Initiative to Help Students Fight Fake News
It probably takes less than two seconds to retweet an article or share a post on Facebook. But how do you know the information you’re passing along to your friends and followers is accurate? In the era of social media and “fake news,” information literacy— the ability to seek and find credible information and use it effectively— is vital.
AASCU’s American Democracy Project (ADP) launched the national Digital Polarization Initiative (DigiPo) to equip college students with the skills they need for online civic reasoning, to encourage them to make positive interventions in the online information environments they inhabit, and to elevate best practices for teaching digital fluency.
“Nowadays, [students are] going to go straight to Google,” said Mark Alan Canada, provost at Indiana University Kokomo (IU Kokomo). “If you’re doing research beyond well-known topics, you're not going to find much that’s useful.”
Millennium Leadership Initiative Celebrates 20 Years of Preparing Diverse Candidates for College Presidencies
Colleges and universities are tradition-bound, and change in higher education has never been easy to effect or fast to take hold. Any reform that has occurred in the academy has typically been championed by thought leaders who recognized a problem and moved to address it. That has been true in the case of demographic disparities in the college presidency.
Beyond just “doing the right thing,” diversity in campus leadership—including leaders of color and from the LGBTQ community and other underrepresented groups—means more perspectives to solve difficult issues, a better ability to shape inclusive learning environments, and strong role models for diverse student populations.
In the late 1990s, a group of African-American college and university presidents who met informally at various national AASCU annual meetings had grown increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of progress that people of color and women had made in being appointed to college presidencies. They came together in 1998 to form AASCU’s Millennium Leadership Initiative (MLI).
They envisioned MLI as “the premier leadership development program in higher education with an emphasis on preparation of minority candidates for college and university presidencies.” MLI attendees, called protégés, take part in an intensive four-day conference, the MLI Institute, and receive active guidance in year-long mentorships with experienced college and university presidents. Recently, the program added experienced coaches who continue to nurture protégés after their MLI mentorship ends.
Statehouse Advocates Have Key Role in Advancing Opportunities for All
Few things in legislative advocacy are a slam dunk. The Opportunities for All (O4A) campaign is one of the few, and its impact extends far beyond the confines of the Capitol: to Main Street, to regents, and to other critical influencers and decision makers.
O4A is an excellent encapsulation of the four core values that set state colleges and universities (SCUs) apart from the other major categories of higher education institutions: high quality, accessible, affordable and responsible. Below, I’ll discuss these core values and why they are so relevant to legislators.
Responsible: From an accountability standpoint, O4A is pure gold with legislators and others because it so clearly indicates that as four-year institutions, we are focused on being stewards of place for our service areas. At the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO), which is a metro-serving institution to the 1.5 million residents of the Oklahoma City Metro, we often serve as the agenda setters for the regional conversation by defining our purpose as making the Metro a great place to live, learn, work and play. We enhance community capacity through spurring economic development, promoting resource sustainability, resolving sociological issues, and improving quality of life.
How Can State Colleges and Universities Use Partnerships to Achieve Their Goals?
“Partnerships” is an increasingly common word in the higher education lexicon today, particularly for public colleges and universities. With these institutions facing a diverse array of challenges, including eroding state funding, increased pressure to meet evolving workforce needs, and continual technological disruption—just to name a few—partnerships are one strategy public college and university leaders can use to advance their mission in today’s environment.
Partnerships are certainly not new to higher education, particularly AASCU institutions. They are, in fact, woven into the fabric of institutional missions. Nevertheless, their increased presence on the campus scene today poses new challenges for university leaders.
Because of the high stakes and growing role of partnerships on campus, AASCU convened a task force of current and former AASCU presidents and chancellors in June 2017 to inform the discussion by creating a guidebook for campus leaders. Entitled Making Partnerships Work: Principles, Guidelines and Advice for Public University Leaders, the guidebook begins by emphasizing the key role of partnerships in today’s public university landscape. However, it also stresses that pursuing new partnership opportunities does not mean public colleges and universities will compromise their integrity or mission. Rather, partnerships are simply a tool that campuses can strategically use to advance their missions in today’s environment.
Types of Partnerships
University partnerships are incredibly varied, ranging from small scale collaborations with local school districts to ambitious public-private endeavors with decades-long obligations and millions of dollars at stake. The goals of these endeavors are as diverse as the partnerships themselves.
The guidebook documents three types of partnerships: community relationships, partnerships with other educational institutions and public private partnerships (P3s). Community partnerships can have both economic and non-economic goals and many points of contact at all levels of campus. They are rooted in the state college and university commitment to being stewards of place. Alongside community partnerships, collaborations with other educational institutions are common in the public university landscape, including shared services arrangements with other campuses, alliances with the K-12 community, transfer agreements with community colleges, and agreements with universities around the globe. Lastly, P3s are a diverse category of partnerships that includes agreements with developers to build on campus. P3s have played a key role in campus infrastructure today due to limited new state funding and the need to modernize campuses to meet today’s needs.
Higher Education Access and Resources Vital to Immigrants
AASCU is an unfailing advocate within the higher education community for the legal rights entitled to all, including immigrants. It’s the mission of state colleges and universities to provide opportunities to all who are willing to work hard to be successful, and American higher education is also intellectually enriched by the presence of foreign-born faculty and international students. In a statement she made in June about the Supreme Court’s upholding of the Trump administration’s travel ban, AASCU President Mildred García highlighted how immigrant rights affect higher education and our nation.
“This decision will damage the nation’s public institutions by restricting the free movement of qualified individuals,” she wrote. “Worse yet, it undermines America’s global standing as a beacon of openness and freedom to all people.”
Research shows international students and immigrants contribute significantly to the U.S. economy. The over 1 million international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities contributed about $37 billion to the U.S. economy and created 450,000 jobs during the 2016-2017 academic year, according to the National Association of Foreign Student Advisors. Additionally, immigrants paid over $325 billion in combined taxes in 2014, research from the American Immigration Council states. These tax dollars are vital to state colleges and universities, which could not successfully perform their missions without adequate support from federal and state governments.
In terms of education, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients have made significant gains since the inception of the program, with 45 percent enrolled in higher education as of August 2017, according to the Center for American Progress. Ninety-four percent of those surveyed indicated they were only able to pursue their educational goals thanks to the DACA program.
Presidents & PracticesRestoring a Once-Leading Program Back to Prominence
What happens when the effectiveness of a program on which your college was built gets called into question? How do you respond when you realize what worked so well for so many years may no longer be as strong as you thought?
That was the situation facing Rhode Island College’s (RIC) Feinstein School of Education and Human Development just one year ago. A comprehensive review and subsequent report by the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) required changes to ensure all academic offerings met newly established standards while preparing graduates for current classroom demands.
Once a flagship program of Rhode Island College (originally founded as a Normal School), the School of Education plays a significant role statewide as the largest provider of teaching certifications. While education majors now account for just 17 percent of RIC students, we knew that preparing our students to teach K-12 students across Rhode Island was not a task for which we could adopt a “check the box” mentality.
Currents & Transitions
This fall, Southern Connecticut State University will celebrate its 125th anniversary—celebrating all that is good about our institution and its time-honored mission of building communities and empowering lives. Southern students come from varying racial, ethnic, religious, gender and economic backgrounds. Many have had to overcome life’s obstacles to earn a degree: working jobs while studying; supporting children or elderly relatives; taking those initial, uncertain steps as the first in their families to attend college.
But the needs of our students cannot be addressed, and their goals cannot be achieved, without an institutional commitment to social justice as a core value of our university. In my view, social justice is not a political platform, but rather the full realization of the values on which our nation was founded: the right to be who you are and to espouse and express what you believe in.
These values have been tested at institutions across the country during the past year, with angry, sometimes violent reactions to speakers from the far right or, in our case, the use of a racial slur in a classroom setting.