Category Archives: Higher Education (General)

The book every change agent in higher education should read

Shoot me if I ever begin a presentation with a slide that says: “The world is changing”, followed by some brilliant insights on the impacts of globalization and social media, and concluding with a call for dramatic change in higher education. Fact is, the world has always been changing. And universities, sluggish and monolithic,  have always struggled to respond and stay relevant – relevant enough, that is, to continue to attract the support of trusting taxpayers and hopeful parents.

But what interests me more these days is the role that higher education plays, intentional or not, in preservation, in holding onto things that seem to matter – not just texts and

John King Books in Detroit

John King Books, Detroit, MI. Do visit if you get the chance.

artifacts, but customs and culture, ways of being and doing – in the face of so much pressure to change.  In this current era of rapid transformation around us, I find myself thinking more and more of the comfort of campus, its predictability, and how we decide what we’ll preserve, for better or worse.

And so it was serendipitous that I would discover, on a recent vacation to Detroit, in amongst the one million volumes contained in the four vast floors of  John K King Used & Rare Books on West Lafeyette Blvd., an inspiring collection of essays on the future of American higher education. Continue reading


Enter the “BA Lite”: a review of Lowering Higher Education

Lowering Lowering Higher Education book jacketHigher Education: The rise of corporate universities and the fall of liberal education

By James E. Coté and Anton Allahar

Among the books reviewed at this year’s Open Book Session as part of the annual conference of the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services were several that painted a rather grim picture of North American higher education. Academically Adrift – making waves in both the U.S. and Canada – has been described as a “damning indictment.”  DIY U argues that the crisis in American higher ed will lead young people to use the ample resources of the web to fill in the gaps left by institutions that simply can’t deliver the experience students expect.

Lowering Higher Education provides the Canadian variation on this ubiquitous theme of declining quality. Authors Coté and Allahar, professors at the University of Western Ontario, gained some notoriety a few years back with their critique of the university system: Ivory Tower Blues. (See CACUSS Reads review.)  Though they had a strong thesis based on both data and teaching experience with their original work, it stank of cynicism.  In Lowering Higher Education, they have not only strengthened their arguments, but they come across as far more concerned than caustic, constructive than cranky. Continue reading

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Why leadership in higher education is like driving a nail through blancmange

A review of:
Turnaround Leadership for Higher Education
by Michael Fullan & Geoff Scott, Jossey-Bass, 2009

I have spent the better part of the last decade trying to understand, from the inside, what makes institutions of higher education change. We all purport to be in the midst of it – change, that is – with strategic visions and plans that call for us to “build on our strengths”  or “define our dreams.”  Let me guess, your institution’s plan says something about…increasing enrolment/graduate enrolment/international enrolment, improving your profile/reputation regionally/nationally/internationally, probably talks about some “pillars” and sets a lofty goal around “improving the overall student experience”, the part that gets us student affairs types all giddy.

And yet, despite all the effort – townhall meetings and consultation sessions, green papers and white papers, beautifully designed strategic plan websites and glossy brochures ­– the returns on investment are often ambiguous, marginal or incremental, and rarely transformative. Continue reading

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Bring on the growing pains

The book, as the representation of a significant body of thought, of research or of practice, still holds a place of honour in our society and in the field of student services. And so it was with great glee that many of us heralded the arrival of what is arguably the first ever book on the practice of student services in Canada. Achieving Student Success: Effective student services in Canadian higher education, edited by Donna Hardy-Cox and Carney Strange, was years in the making and an easy choice for my selection for the 2010 Open Book session at CACUSS 2010.

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Nerds unite: how the forces of anti-intellectualism are ruining the university

More Money than Brains: Why schools suck, college is crap & idiots think they’re right
By Laura Penny

Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you’re a nerd. Or at least have nerd-like tendencies. You work in higher education and you like reading books. Or at least reading other people’s pithy summaries of books so you can sound well-read.

And chances are you’ve experienced moments of doubt – subtle self-deprecating voices that ask you whether what you do really has any value? If you advise, teach or coach students in a university setting, you work in the service of intellectual advancement, which, these days, is pitted against the powerful force of pragmatism, and losing. Continue reading


Post-secondary in peril: why higher ed in Ontario is stuck in the past

Book Jacket: Academic TransformationAcademic Transformation: The forces reshaping higher education in Ontario

Ian D. Clark, Greg Moran, Michael L. Skolnik, David Trick

For the past six years, my beloved institution has been working toward enhancing the undergraduate student experience as its primary objective under the academic planning framework. A couple of weeks ago, I asked a room of about 40 relatively engaged students (residence dons) what they thought the top priority for the University has been. “Increasing graduate enrolment?” Nope. Though that is a newly established objective. “International student recruitment?” A priority, yes. But not the top one. “Research excellence?”  It took about ten tries. Continue reading

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Working horizontally in a vertical culture

Organizing Higher Education for Collaboration (jacket) Organizing Higher Education for Collaboration:
A guide for campus leaders
Adrianna L. Kezar & Jaime Lester
Published by Jossey-Bass: A Wiley Imprint. 2009.

If you are interested in improving student learning and engagement on your campus, then you have probably deduced that collaboration is, at least to some degree, the key to success. It inspires innovation, leads to better service, motivates staff, and can even decrease costs. So if collaboration is such a compelling solution to our woes, why, then, is it so difficult to achieve? Adrianna Kezar and Jaime Lester provide some of the answers by studying, in great depth, the organizational culture of institutions that demonstrate a high level of collaboration.

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Sneak peak at Open Book VI

CACUSS reads panelist

The annual CACUSS conference is only a week away and my fellow panelists and I are frantically reading away in preparation for sixth annual installment of the Open Book session. Our complete list of recommended (or not!) recent student affairs titles will be available at the session (Wednesday, June 17, 11 am) but in case you need a bit more enticing to come see us — or you want to read ahead and contribute your own thoughts — here are a few of the books we’re reading: Continue reading

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Towards a shared understanding of “assessment”

Assessment Reconsidered: Institutional Effectiveness for Student Success
By Richard P. Keeling, Andrew F. wall, Ric Underhile, Gwendolyn J. Dungy
Published by the International Center for Student Success and Institutional Accountability

Reviewed by Deanne Fisher, University of Toronto

This pithy little publication follows up where the influential Learning Reconsidered and Learning Reconsidered II left off — that is, now that we understand learning, how do we assess how and where it happens? The authors are careful to establish that Assessment Reconsidered is not a how-to manual. So, for those of you who are sold on the importance of assessment and looking for the step-by-step guide to implementing your plan, this book will not meet your needs. However, if you are looking for a thorough, yet succinct, explanation of the fundamentals of assessment in higher education that you can share with colleagues, faculty, and upper levels of your administration, Assessment Reconsidered is ideal. Continue reading

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2 Books about student experiences and expectations

Promoting Reasonable Expectations

Aligning Student and Institutional Views of the College Experience

By Miller, T., Bender, B., Schuh, J., et al.

Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA 2005

– reviewed by David Newman, University of Alberta

In higher education, a growing focus on the quality of the student experience is clearly evident in our institutions. It has been built more strongly into our institutional vision statements in recent years and is often used for purposes of recruitment, alumni support, and community support. However, what happens when the promises contained in such vision statements cannot be realized? How can we determine what types of promises are meaningful to our students? How do institutions balance the potentially contradictory needs that exist between students, external communities, and the institutions themselves? Continue reading

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Two engaging critiques of the state of higher education

These two books were reviewed last year (CACUSS 2007) but, I think, warrant re-posting here.

Ivory Tower Blues
A university system in crisis
By James E. Côté and Anton L. Allahar
University of Toronto Press, Toronto, Buffalo, London: 2007

Our Underachieving Colleges
A candid look at how much students learn and why they should be learning more
By Derek Bok
Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ: 2006

– reviewed by Deanne Fisher, University of Toronto

These books — one Canadian, one American — offer student affairs practitioners a big picture view of what’s happening in undergraduate education broadly.

James Côté and Anton Allahar, two faculty members in the Department of Sociology at the University of Western Ontario, have been garnering a fair amount of attention for their scathing critique of Canada’s university system. Ivory Tower Blues is based largely on the authors’ 25-plus years (each) of teaching experience during which they say they have witnessed “hopes shattered with increasing frequency, in the daily grind of the university system and in the harsh reality of the job market afterwards.” Continue reading

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