Monday, November 25, 2013


A Shingle

Entrepreneurialism works differently in higher education.

In most professions, dissatisfied practitioners have the option of setting out on their own.  They can hang the proverbial shingle, beat the bushes for business, and go their own way.  Doctors can start medical practices, lawyers can start legal practices, and the like.

I don’t see many professors having that option.

Yes, high-powered researchers can take their labs with them from one university to another, or even to private industry, to some degree.  But someone who decides that, say, the existing models of higher education don’t work the way they should would have a hell of a time setting up her own shop.  At this point, the barriers to entry are largely prohibitive.  Accreditation alone is a major one, but it’s far from the only one: the infrastructure of record-keeping, financial aid, student services, public safety, and compliance with all manner of regulations has to be present, in meaningful quantity, from the outset.  The only obvious ways in are with investment capital -- which expects a return -- or with public funding, which is both scarce and increasingly controlling.

Sometimes I wonder if some of the morale issues on many campuses stem from a largely accurate sense that dissatisfied people have nowhere else to go.  Research superstars are mobile, but a fiftyish English professor at a community college is unlikely to have that kind of pull on the market, or the capital to start a college of his own.  The blogosphere is so focused on people trying to break into the full-time ranks -- and rightly so -- that it neglects the folks who are already there, but who wish they had other places to go.  

It’s one of those background conditions that has been around for so long that we think it’s normal.  But in most fields, it wouldn’t be.  

In practice, most innovation has to occur in the context of institutions that already exist.  It’s a different kind of challenge.

SNHU handled the challenge by forming a spinoff, complete with separate office space.  That’s probably the cleanest way to do it, but it requires a level of operational autonomy that most publics simply don’t, and won’t, have.  Instead, we need to foster internal entrepreneurialism.

That requires giving a great deal of conscious thought to the creation of the right internal climate.  It requires a delicate blend of urgency, freedom, and patience.  The urgency motivates.  The freedom enables.  And the patience enables the necessary tolerance for the inevitable bugs, failures, and obstacles.  

Even then, success isn’t a given.  But I like the chances a lot better.  We may not have the option of hanging out shingles, but we do have the option of making a point of innovating from within.

"we need to foster internal entrepreneurialism"

I like that, a lot.

I'm usuall just happy when the college tolerates indvidual initiative.
College life = awesome life. After that there are no life. What you say friends???

Komatsu Parts
Consider the possible sources of discontent. Start with your post on seed money from a few days ago. Get a team of professors together, write a grant, get the funds, then when the grant expires, either put the project on the college budget, with the troubles that brings, or fold it. Repeat. After a while the people who have been called upon repeatedly to work on such projects tire of it, and they may go so far as to gripe about being punished for being cooperative (because their other work suffers while they're on the latest pet project). Continue with the rigidities of academic tenure. From the perspective of an administrator, it's Burkeans raising the middle finger to chores that don't please them. From the perspective of a faculty member, it turns into an administrative hold-up: yes, he or she has job security, but there's no presumption of pay increases or continuation of projects that work or exemption from management ukases. In any responsible department, the senior professors protect the junior faculty from the scutwork and the fad projects in order for the juniors to establish themselves as tenure-worthy. That responsibility ought not be interpreted by administration as an invitation to introduce additional scutwork or new pet projects.
The relevant analogy to private practice would seem to be private instruction, which in this country looks like tutoring and is generally reserved for remediation or test prep. If there were a market for private instruction that professors were willing and able to provide, I think we'd see more of that sort of thing. As it stands, the folks who did this would have to create a market that doesn't currently exist. And then there's the question of oversight. Private medical practice is regulated. Private academic instruction...?
Anastasia - it comes back to accreditation/proving you've learned it. I've often toyed with offering private after school math classes (at the high school level - I have a high school teaching license in math) for students and parents who are not happy with the classes offered at their middle or high school.

However, since very few people take math classes for fun, I wouldn't get students to sign up unless I could somehow offer then transferable credit, which I basically can't do without being a large institution. There's just no model for doing this individually and, at least around here, no generally accepted test students can take to prove that they know, say, algebra and can get credit for it without taking the class so I can't even skirt the credit issue that way (which would probably be the cleanest way to allow this sort of innovation, since quality control would be then enforced by students and parents caring about that provider's previous pass rates on the test rather than by someone having to come around and inspect all of these random providers).
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