The Story of One University Family

Once upon a time, there was a large family who lived in College Town, U.S.A. The family loved each other very much and gathered together on regular occasions to watch football, celebrate a homecoming of older family members, and to say goodbye to graduates of the family. They often dressed in their family colors and sang their family song together at the end of their sporting events.

Unfortunately, as is the case with all families, they had a few disagreements. Thankfully, everyone in the family was respectful to each and conflicts rarely occurred, but when they did emerge, they could be quite troublesome. It just so happened that one of these arguments occurred at a family gathering where everyone was present. Each member of the family somehow had come to believe that they were the most important member of the family. They all had what they thought were convincing reasons for their beliefs.  It was decided that they each person should be allowed to share their perspective about why they were most important to the success of the family. This is the conversation that ensued…

Mrs. Mission: I would like to think that everyone knows that the reason our family exists is because of our mission. Without our mission, we would have no guiding direction. Our mission describes the essential purpose of our family better than any other statement. Our mission is quoted at more public gatherings of family member than any other. Our mission is what makes us great.

Granddad General Education: No doubt our mission is an important statement – but that is all it is – a statement. If we really want to talk about what is most important to our family we need to look at the heart of the family; our promise to young people when graduating from the family. If we can’t form them in to adults, we clearly are not doing our jobs. In other words, if we can’t deliver on our general education outcomes, outcomes that every student must have gained before graduating, then we have failed. Who can argue that learning critical thinking, communication, citizenship, etc. are not the ultimate goal of our family education?

Sir Strategic Plan: Yes, these general education outcomes are foundational to our family, but have you been reading or listening to anything coming from our family leadership recently? We have an entire marketing plan centered on our new strategic plan. The faculty meetings, the president’s messages, and even TV ads are all emphasizing our current strategic plan. And this plan is built on the emerging issues of the world that our family is capable of addressing.  It is clear to me that our strategic plan is the most important thing we should focus on for the next decade.

Mother Money: I hope all of you realize that everything you are talking about is impossible if we don’t have what is most essential to the survival of a family – money. Without money, we would not exist to live out our mission, educate our young people and achieve our strategic plan! I know we hate to say it, but without money, this entire dream of our family collapses.  If you disagree, just stop fundraising, spend the endowment, lower the tuition, increase our debt, and maximize our net price and see what happens.  We may last a year or two.

Aunt Admissions: Mother Money, you hit the nail on the head. Without money, the university ceases to exist. But who do you think pays that money? Did you know that over three quarters of our family’s annual income comes to us in the form of tuition from our students? Basically, if we can’t attract the right students to our family, we have no chance of making our budget and achieving our goals. If you disagree, let’s lower our total number of students, move to open admissions, and stop worrying about entering students’ credentials.

Sister Student Success: Thanks Aunt Admissions – it is nice to know we realize that without students we would not have a family. However, it is one thing to attract people to our family but it is much more important to keep people in our family! How can we be a family if we don’t end up helping our students succeed? For example, it is one thing to make it to the gates of Disney World, but much more to truly experience all that Disney has to offer. We must focus our efforts on keeping our students in the family before sending them out to be successful. If you disagree, let’s just stop worrying about our retention, graduation and job placement rates.  I don’t think the students or the public care that much about these measures – or do they?

Financial Aid Friend: Although she is young, Sister Student Success is absolutely correct; we need to do everything we can to retain and graduate our students. You should know that the most commonly mentioned reason for students leaving our family is finances. If students can’t afford to be in our family, they can’t stay with our family! Making membership in our family affordable is the most important thing we can do to help our students. Our students’ financial success is dependent on their loan amounts and total debt, the amount of financial aid that we meet, their social mobility, and their earnings post-graduation.  The cost of being in this family is no joke and it needs to be the focus of our attention.

Aged Accreditor: Can we just all agree that our students and their money are absolutely critical to our family? But they are not most important. I would like to shift your attention to something, without which, our family would not exist. Families that are not accredited shut-down at extremely high rates. Students, faculty, and the public are not interested in sending anyone to an unaccredited family. Students aren’t even eligible for federal financial aid if our family is not accredited! How could anything be more important than our accreditation…without it, our family ends.

Reverend Rankings: Come on, Aged Accreditor, you are so out of touch! Do you really think students spend that must time focusing on which families are accredited? Have you ever read news releases about accredited families?  Of course not! What gets people’s attention is where our family is ranked among other families each year. Our ranking is essential to our success in attracting the best students and educators and maintaining our reputation as a family of distinction. If we don’t rank well, we can forget succeeding at everything else. We have to think about our reputation and maintain our place in the top 75 families!

Amateur Athlete: OK, OK, OK. I know you all don’t think I deserve a place at this table; but hear me out. Our family’s athletics generate significantly more attention than our once-a-year rankings. Our football team attracts 50,000 people to College Town so that they can yell and celebrate our family! There is no single family event more popular than a football game. Furthermore, our basketball games attract thousands of students, faculty, staff, and people to many games per year. If you think athletics are not one of the most important aspects of our family, look at how much we spend on the athletics facilities and athlete academic success.  Take our family out of our athletic conference, offer losing teams, and stop investing in athletics facilities and see where we end up.

Father Faculty: I’ve had just about enough of Amateur Athlete’s hot air! Of course, most of us enjoy going to a family sporting event, but this by no means equates athletics with being the most important thing about our family. I am confident that I speak for almost all the faculty when I say that without us, there would be no athletics, no students, no family. Faculty are the people who make it all work. We educate our students to think and communicate, we play a transformative role in their lives, and we get them to graduation. We are, by far, the most expensive item in the university budget, due in large part to the essential role we play in the family’s success. If we don’t pay careful attention to faculty salaries, new full-time faculty positions, and smaller class sizes, our family won’t have anyone to teach our young ones.

Relative from Research: Thank you Father Faculty. It is about time someone let the rest of these folks know about the overriding importance of faculty to our family. I want to refine your argument just a little. When we look at how tenure-track faculty are evaluated and promoted in our family, it is primarily due to one criterion, their scholarship. Furthermore, we know that there is no way our family will ever maintain our research-focused Carnegie Classification without major increases in faculty research. We must continue to increase our research expenditures and expand our research productivity.  We need more research support, improved labs, and lighter teaching loads to succeed.

Cousin Community: I think it is about time that the last person to speak up bring you all to your senses. Does anyone here know what almost all family members say is the most important thing in our family?  Our people!  And our people become a part of our family by learning about our family history and family traditions.  Go on a campus tour and listen to the many special elements of our family culture.  Without these traditions, this history, this community, our family would not a place anyone wants to be.

Mrs. Mission: So what do we do now? We have heard from each member of the family and now we have to decide who is the most important member of our family.

Cousin Community: We each think that we know what the essence of Baylor is and yet we only know that part of Baylor with which we come in contact. I think we need to learn to talk to each other to understand the other important parts of our family and only then can we accurately describe who we are.

Granddad of General Education: I remember when I was a little boy, and my parents, William & Mary, from the second oldest family in the U.S., told me a story…

Once upon a time, there was once a man whose body parts could speak. They, too, were arguing about which part was most important. One by one, they each made their arguments for why the man would not survive if they were removed.  Their arguments were persuasive, and it soon became clear that without each of them the man would die. Each of the parts were indispensable: the heart, brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, skeleton, stomach, skin, pancreas, intestines. And so the man and his body parts came to realize that not one of them was more important than the other, but that all of them were essential to the man’s survival and success. Sister Student Success: What a great story, Granddad General Ed. I think I know what you are trying to say. Every one of us is important to the family. We each play a part in the success of our family. If we lose any one of us, we are going to find it hard to go forward.

I think it is time that recognize we need to better understand each other so that our entire family not only survives, but thrives going forward.

The End

Credits: These were the real names of the family members considered most important to higher education, introduced in order of appearance:

  1. Mrs University                                            Mission Statement
  2. Granddad General Education                  General Education Outcomes
  3. Sir Strategic Plan                                        Institutional Strategic Plan
  4. Mother Money                                            University Revenue Streams
  5. Aunt Admissions                                        University Admissions
  6. Sister Student Success                               Student Success Departments
  7. Financial Aid Friend                                  Institutional Financial Aid
  8. Aged Accreditator                                       Regional Accreditation
  9. Reverend Rankings                                    US New and other institutional rankings
  10. Father Faculty                                             The Faculty
  11. Relative from Research                             Research Production
  12. Amateur Athlete                                         College Sports
  13. Cousin Community                                    University Culture

Reader Reflection: So what do you think?

Are all these key parts of a university equally important to you or are some more important than others?

If you believe some of these factors are more important than others, do you think all the members of the university will agree with you?

If you were the president of your institution, and expected to honor and support these important critical components of a university, how would you prioritize your time?  (It is not easy, is it?)

Which of these components do you understand the least and might you take some time to learn more about?

The next time someone tells you what is most important at a university, what questions will you ask them to better explore their thoughts?

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One Response to The Story of One University Family

  1. Ian says:

    Hi Jeff- thank you for the blog post, I enjoyed reading it! I agree that all the areas you mentioned have an important role to play in the life and health of a university. To answer your third question under the reader reflection section, if I was a university president, I would put a large portion of my time into identifying the key areas (like you did in your post), assessing how we’re doing in those key areas, and hiring talented people to manage those key areas. I wouldn’t be so concerned with prioritizing my time among those key areas as finding the right people who could focus all of their time into one of the key areas- the area they oversee and have expertise in.

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