Monday, January 09, 2017

“Mom Always Liked You Best!” The Multi-Campus College

I don’t really have an answer to this, but I’m struck at how pervasive it is.

I work at a multi-campus institution that also has several off-campus locations.  (For accreditation purposes, there’s a difference between a branch campus and an off-campus location.)  While the relationship between the main campus and the other locations is quite good, there’s always a vague undercurrent of questions.  Some folks on the main campus assume -- incorrectly, but widely -- that the other locations are financial sinkholes.  Some people at the other locations assume -- also incorrectly -- that they’re largely forgotten, or in some sort of limbo.  

I’d ascribe that to local conditions, except that it seems to be true almost everyplace that has multiple campuses.  A sort of sibling rivalry emerges, along with a contest for resources.

And that’s within a single county, with an undisputed main campus.  With a system like, say, Ivy Tech, with small locations of a single institution scattered over an entire state, I can only imagine the issues being much more pronounced.

Anyone who has worked in a multi-campus structure -- whether the mothership-and-satellites kind or the confederacy of equals -- will be struck at how quickly and clearly each location takes on its own personality.  Some of that is a function of, well, personalities, especially at smaller locations, where a single personality can have outsize impact.  But much of it comes from the local population and conditions.  Sometimes each location has its own programmatic identity; when that happens, they’ll tend to reflect the feel of their native program.  In the context of commuter colleges, where students will often go to the closest location, the students at each location will be drawn from the closest towns.  If the towns are relatively segregated by race and/or class, it’ll show up in the locations.

DeVry had locations all over the country, which made informal communication nearly impossible and which required harmonizing the edicts from Home Office (in Illinois) with the regulations of each campus’ home state.  Even there, a sort of sibling rivalry emerged among campuses, often based in rumor.  We’d hear something in New Jersey about what may or may not have happened at some campus in California, and immediately try to size up what it meant for us.  

Here the physical distance is much less; it’s not unusual for faculty to teach in more than one location in a given semester.  That dispels some of the more baroque myths.  And with a clear flagship campus, folks from the other locations drop by for meetings on a pretty regular basis.  But even with all that, and with the best of intentions all around, that undercurrent of unease never quite goes away.

I’m wondering if any of my wise and worldly readers have seen or found reasonably successful and imitable ways to reduce or eliminate that sibling rivalry.  Any thoughts?