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Abstract

During my 12 years at the NationalCenter for Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions, I observed with increasing frustration the inability of administration and faculty leaders—union and governance—to fully grasp, analyze, and find pathways out of public higher education’s current existential crisis.

My many years of observing leaders of public higher education lead me to the inescapable conclusion that together the leaders share a culture that shorts strategic planning, thinking, and boldness and instead favors ad-hoc, incremental acceptance of the ever-changing, slimmed-down state of affairs. The rarified bubbles of presidential cabinets and union boards symbiotically promote policies that, even when mutually hostile, mostly address short-term local matters and crises while rarely improving the educational experience, literacy, and graduation rates, which are, of course, the primary reason for academe’s existence.

Not only are academic leaders not discussing big issues, there has also been inadequate attention to local or national cultures and structures in which such conversations can occur naturally. Old and worn conflict models govern academic culture between administration and faculty and within these groups.

America’s universities, colleges, and community colleges are populated by enormously talented professionals with cutting edge skills in every conceivable academic discipline and craft. These professionals advise governments, help heal civil conflicts, research global warming. In our faculties and staffs are world-renowned graphic artists and advertising specialists. Statisticians, demographers, and economists abound. A strong cohort of individuals is skilled in digital messaging, branding, and communication. What academe has not yet done is recruit these talented individuals to focus some of their efforts on new possibilities for public universities, with the goals of branding—yes branding—public higher education institutions and providing a keen narrative to counter the harmful effects those who already use such skills to devalue our institutions.