Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Corporatizing the University of Iowa

November 17, 2009, 8:45 a.m.

If We're Going to Do It, Let's Do It Right
(brought to you by FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com*)

Ten days ago I was introduced to the writing of a business executive, Scott Westerman, and thought enough of his description of a profitable substitution of cooperation for competition to pass it along to you. "Cooperation vs. Competition, Conflict, Combat and Catastrophe; Peace as Process," November 6, 2009. I've now discovered his Web site, scottwesterman.com, and a series he's begun, "Monday Motivator." I want to share some UI-relevant excerpts from his comments yesterday, . . .
. . . but first, here are links to earlier entries on some of the other hot topics from the past week or so that are now getting the most direct hits, among which may be the entries you are looking for:

UIHC, Regents and UI.
Strategic Communications VP position: "Strategic Communications a Failed Strategy; Actions Speak Louder," November 13, 2009

Executives trip to Disney World: "Mickey Mouse Patient Satisfaction; UIHC's Troubles: Is Orlando the Answer?" November 8, 2009

"Contributions from patients" proposal: "UIHC: 'Sick Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?'; A Check-In and a Check," October 31, 2009, 7:00 a.m. (with numerous updates through November 4, links to additional, related material -- and now with over 30 of the Press-Citizen readers' comments on B.A. Morelli's stories)

Board of Regents and State universities' budget cutting: "Cutting Slack, Cutting Budgets; Regents, University Presidents, Deserve Some Thanks and Credit," October 30, 2009, 8:30 a.m. (with links to prior, related blog entries)

Spence break-in grand jury proceedings: "UI Spence Break-In: Gazette Scoop Illustrates Issues," October 27, 2009

School boundaries, school boards, and the ICCSD.
"School Board Election: Now Work Begins; It's Swisher, Dorau, Cooper; Old Board 'Starting Off Backing Up' With Consultant and Tough Decisions," September 9, 2009, 7:00 a.m. (with its links to 11 prior and related blog entries including, for example, "School Boundaries Consultant Folly; Tough Boundary Questions Are for Board, Not Consultants or Superintendent, Plus: What Consultant Could Do," and "Cluster Schools: Potential for IC District?")

Nicholas Johnson, "School Board Has Work to Do," Iowa City Press-Citizen, November 2, 2009 (and reproduced in blog)

"Boundaries: Only Board Can Do Board's Job; Drawing School Boundaries Made Easy," November 2, 2009
The issues confronting the University of Iowa to which Westerman's insights from yesterday relate are contained in the two prior blog entries, "Strategic Communications a Failed Strategy; Actions Speak Louder," November 13, 2009, and "Mickey Mouse Patient Satisfaction; UIHC's Troubles: Is Orlando the Answer?" November 8, 2009.

Here are excerpts from a comment [11/13/2009 11:43 a.m.] an anonymous reader put on the former blog entry ("Strategic Communications"):
It is obvious that the Univ of Iowa Corp is rolling on. Most of the comments [on the Daily Iowan's editorial about the new VP position] focus on how a corporation needs good PR. How a position like PR director is cost effective.

Did the academics all die over night to be replaced by the business majors en masse?

In the world of business ethics, it probably is more cost effective to hire a PR professional, than to hire a TA or a librarian.

[But] if this is really the new wave of academic higher education, let's just remove the veneer, and the sooner the better.
The anonymous reader of this blog is right. It's not just the University of Iowa; it's higher education generally that has been corporatized.

I can remember a different day. A day when "SUI" really was the public State University of Iowa, sufficiently funded by the Iowa Legislature, willingly and with pride, so that any Iowa family could afford to send here any child with the credentials to be admitted. A day when financial shortfalls were covered with additional appropriations, not increases in tuition to near-private-school levels. A day when students came for a liberal arts education, not "80 Hours" (the DI's characterization) of binge drinking every week at what's advertised as one of the nation's top "party schools" -- and we try to retain them for their tuition money. A day when the UI president, Virgil Hancher, answered his own phone, may have had a vice president of something or other, but certainly not an army of them in wagons circling Jessup Hall (or as it then was, the Old Capitol) -- least of all a "Vice President for Strategic Communications." A day of male professors in old tweed jackets with leather elbow patches (because the elbows really had worn out), smoking pipes, and writing with ink pens, or pencils kept in working order with the pencil sharpeners in every office and classroom. A day when medical services were provided to faculty families for free, as a matter of "professional courtesy." A day when parking was free rather than a source of revenue, University units served the needs of each other without internal billing, and there simply weren't enough administrators and their assistants to make reports, approvals and paperwork an issue (the notion of a "purchase order" and exchange of funds before "audio-visual" would bring a 16 mm film projector and film to your classroom would have been laughable). A day when Hawkeye football wasn't on television -- because there was no television -- the coach was not paid in the millions (one of the early coaches, before my time, was a math professor who just coached for fun), there were no $100,000 skyboxes for the wealthy elite, kids who were members of the "Knothole Club" could get into Kinnick for a dime, and football was just a sport instead of a subsidiary of the big business that is the entertainment industry today.

I don't want to get into an argument about whether those days were better. There were downsides I could itemize. My only point is that today's corporatized "University of Iowa" is decidedly altered from the public "State University of Iowa" of my childhood.

Today's UI more closely does represent, as the anonymous reader commented, a for-profit private corporation than a non-profit public "state university." The UIHC is one of the largest employers in the state, a multi-billion-dollar operation. The big business that is the football program is in many ways a farm club for the NFL -- with a coach capable of preparing players for its teams, and who could himself coach one of them if he chose. The UI president is paid (salary, benefits, bonus, housing, transportation, expense account, deferred compensation) something between $500,000 and $1 million a year, and is surrounded with highly paid vice presidents and their supporting staff members. Her job is of necessity, in large measure, fund raising. "Students" have become "customers," retained with their access to alcohol, the UI's largely unsupervised and unpunished party atmosphere, and the high grades resulting from grade creep -- customers who can produce the revenue stream that comes from charging "what the market will bear." Still enjoying tax-free status and the ultimate power of eminent domain against any who might protest, this 800-pound corporate gorilla, like GM in Michael Moore's Flint, Michigan, simply takes whatever property it chooses, destroying even adjacent residential neighborhoods that once housed faculty, removing homes from the property tax rolls and shifting the tax burden to the community's remaining homeowners.

This is the reality. There is no turning back the clock. The legislature and people of Iowa are no longer willing to pay for a genuinely "public" university. Football is the most popular thing about the University. The city's bar owners dictate underage drinking policy. The combined UI units demand a payroll that has to be found somewhere -- naming buildings for donors instead of scholars, increased tuition and ticket prices, taking patients' donations before taking their blood pressure, cutting employees' retirement benefits, and selling the right to park by the month and by the minute.

Now that we have, to borrow from George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill, "ascertained what we are" and are "just haggling over price," what are we to do?

I suggest, so long as we are going to trade in our universities for corporations, that we should at least set out to find the most modern, creative and compassionate ways to run them, rather than relying on 50-year-old business practices.

All of which, at long last, brings me to these excerpts from Scott Westerman's latest:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
It’s hard for large companies to be authentic and transparent. Size and scale are, by their very nature impersonal. You seek to distill the success formula to it’s essence and replicate it as fast and as profitably as possible. As you become more successful, the risk of failure is greater and the natural tendency is to hunker down and let someone else carefully do the talking for you.

Traditional public relations methodology is all about message management and reactive damage control. But in the Internet age, a new paradigm is emerging. The carefully crafted circular PR speak we all get from politicians, chief executives and their handlers, doesn’t work in the lightning fast, viral pace of the social media culture.

We want straight talk from real people. We want them to talk with us, not to us. We want them to listen. And we expect them to respond . . . fast.

And we’re starting to demand that they “relate” to us.

In the end, our ability to build a strong and personal relationship with our customers and business partners is the ONLY competitive advantage.

Just watch what goes on at Whole Foods, Disney World or Southwest Airlines and you’ll see that people will accept other inconveniences and sometimes will pay higher prices to enjoy a better customer experience.

And what distinguishes these guys from the rest of the pack?

You get the sense that these are real people who genuinely care about you. They use your name often. The ask questions and listen. Sometimes they guide you to another store, knowing that by getting you what you want somewhere else, you’re likely to come back. And they have personality.

Some of the best have the courage to be vulnerable. . . .

Earlier this fall, I had the singular experience of spending an hour and a half with the President of Michigan State University. Dr. Lou Anna K. Simon is running a major academic institution in a State with a significantly troubled economy. The funding model for higher education is evolving right before our eyes and Universities are having to re-invent themselves on the fly.

Lou Anna is everything Jim Collins’ Good to Great Level 5 Leader should be. She is candid, she is transparent – answering our straight questions with equally straight answers, she is genuine in expressing the joys and frustrations that face her every day. And she lives the famous Stockdale Paradox, directly confronting the unpleasant current realities, without losing faith that the Institution will ultimately prevail.

She won’t remember this, but I asked her during Homecoming weekend how she kept her attitude. “It’s something you choose to do,” she said. “I don’t like the alternative.” . . .
Not the answer to the UI's every prayer, perhaps, but a small dose of some of the more creative observations from within the business community of relevance to our proposed trips to Disney World and the new VP for strategic communications.

Westerman warns us against "the natural tendency to hunker down and let someone else carefully do the talking for you" (read "Vice President for Strategic Communications").

He advises that "in the Internet age, a new paradigm is emerging. The carefully crafted circular PR speak we all get from . . . chief executives and their handlers, doesn’t work . . .."

His advice to UIHC, searching for ways to improve "patient satisfaction"? "[R]eal people who genuinely care about you. They use your name often. They ask questions and listen. Sometimes they guide you to another store, knowing that by getting you what you want somewhere else, you’re likely to come back. And they have personality."

He gives us something to read: Jim Collins, Good to Great -- which explains how to reach a long-advocated goal of the University of Iowa.

And he even gives us an example of a university president elsewhere who is doing it.

Not bad for one Monday morning piece from corporate America.

If we're going to corporatize higher education, let's at least do it right.
* Why do I put this blog ID at the top of the entry, when you know full well what blog you're reading? Because there are a number of Internet sites that, for whatever reason, simply take the blog entries of others and reproduce them as their own without crediting the source. I don't mind the flattering attention, but would appreciate acknowledgment as the source, even if I have to embed it myself. -- Nicholas Johnson
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Anonymous said...

It was interesting to read the article in the DI about a week ago. The text discussed the U of Iowa's pursuit of 100 new foreign students a year for the next 5 years.

Forget that the U of Iowa is crowded. Forget that even domestic students cannot obtain classes on time. Forget that classes are over-crowded. Forget that it takes at least 5 years to obtain an undergraduate degree.

The UIowa need diversity.

However, the Provost game away the game. He said the Univ of Iowa needs "revenue".

It is no wonder the U needs the PR post filled. At least pretend that there is something more to higher education than revenue. Unless there isn't.

There may not be.

Interesting that the leaders of business in this country, the supreme capitalists came out with a statement this week, that the #1 priority in the USA is not the weak currency, is not unemployment, is not deflation or inflation, is not the exportation of jobs...but is education.

So what is high education now? In the minds of the educators, it is about "revenue".

Perhaps the statement about capitalism and rope should be amended to 'higher education and rope.

An administrator of higher education will attempt to extract revenue from the rope and the education of the hangman that will hang him...

Nick said...

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