Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Applying the Logic of Blogging to Academia

Why don’t colleges post their org charts on their websites, for all to see?

It’s an incredibly low-cost thing to do (most colleges already have org charts in HR; all they’d have to do is post them online). Scholars of higher education would have much more raw material to work from in doing studies of what works best. Colleges could swipe ideas from each other. (That may initially seem like a deal-breaker, but the fact is that most of the larger states already have systems of linked colleges. Besides, academics are better at information-sharing than information-hoarding. For that matter, wasn’t academia one of the places the internet initially flourished?) In fact, if colleges supplemented their org charts with some basic Institutional Research data, also posted openly, enterprising managers and other geeks could start to reap the rewards of easily-accessible facts.

If the regional accreditors, say, started mandating it, it would happen quickly. And it would be incredibly, almost laughably, cheap.

The folks who do open-source software would have a much easier time engineering work-flow software for academia, if they better understood the work flow of academia. Then we wouldn’t be held hostage by the likes of Banner, Oracle, Datatel, etc.

We could do a Moneyball of academia, applying actual data to test hoary chestnuts. Are Centers for Teaching and Learning worthwhile? Does the ‘provost’ model work? When does it help retention rates to increase the number of online sections, and when does it increase attrition? What ‘emergency’ budget cuts always wind up getting restored anyway? How many levels of remediation are optimal for student success? What’s the ‘tipping point’ in perceived quality for the percentage of classes taught by adjuncts?

Conceptually, none of these is all that hard. Individual colleges collect data on most or all of these questions, but the data are kept in-house.

Let productivity flourish, and resources will take care of themselves. More efficient internal processes, generated by the ‘value-adding’ increments of thousands of users, will free up precious resources for other things, like, oh, I don’t know, teaching and research.

Just a thought...

Get the wretched IRBs on board first, or better yet declare all institutional data an IRB-free zone.
I work in an "objective" field (accounting) where there are many large surveys with resulting data available to participants and sometimes the public. The problem is that the participating institutions use different methodology. Even in areas that *should* be the same, such as tax returns, they aren't.

But publicly available data is a good starting point.

-I'm accounting as fast as I can
One possible problem with posting university/college org charts is that they have much less of an effect in practice than they do in companies. When I worked in a corporate research lab, the org chart truly showed lines of power and responsibility. If a manager tells his/her employees "work on this", they do. (Perhaps they grumble, but they do it, because they have to.)

A university or college does have an org chart, but the connections don't have the same power flow (as noted in numerous posts here). My dean can say, "Dept X should focus it's research on Y", and we have no risks if we ignore the request, because resources to conduct research aren't being provided anyway. A dept chair can make the same request to faculty colleagues, and it can be ignored as well, because there is no compelling reason for tenured faculty to comply.

My experience has been that successful programs work because there are individuals who are personally willing to see through their completion and implementation. That type of commitment won't show up on an org chart (in the academny or in industry).
I work in institutional research and post almost everything our office does on-line, including surveys of students, learning outcomes, program reviews, enrollment and unit cost statistics, and district information, to name a few. It provides a level of transparency and accountability to the public.

The unfortunate part, though, is that the people who should be looking at it don't (board of trustees, president's council, etc.). I remember posting our Fact Book on-line and sending the link out to everyone on campus and providing the president's council with paper copies, only to have a VP walk in my office weeks later with a Fact Book from another college and telling me that it would be a good idea if we did one! I guess they are so wrapped up in the politics of the college, they are more comfortable basing their decisions on anecdote than evidence. Or, maybe it is a generational thing - in my experience baby boomers have difficulty navigating websites. Or, it could be they have difficulty in defining goals and objectives.
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