Colleges team up to protect themselves

It’s a familiar story, by now.  A campus faces declining enrollment and reductions in state support.  What’s different is its strategic response: to expand collaboration with nearby peers in order to survive.

Vermont State Colleges That’s what’s happening with Vermont’s public colleges.  There are five campuses in the Vermont State Colleges system: Castleton State College, Community College of Vermont, Johnson State College, Lyndon State College, and Vermont Technical College.  The state has seen its K-12 population dwindle for years (“[e]nrollment in the VSC system… has dropped from 13,494 in the fall of 2010 to 12,305 in the fall of 2014″), and Montpelier hasn’t been interesting in maintaining or expanding its support.  So now they’re partnering up to, well, survive.

This team-up seems to be in early, brainstorming days so far.  You can read some interesting ideas in the article, like more closely linking the community college to the bachelor’s-granting colleges, and learning from more tightly knit state systems, like those in Pennsylvania and California.

One of the biggest obstacles to inter-institutional collaboration in higher education is that these campuses see themselves primarily as competitors with each other.  At best they can become frenemies.  So I was struck by this observation:

“You could have all five of the colleges continue to compete at a certain level, but I’m not convinced that all of them would continue to be sustainable for the next decade,” [Lyndon State College President Joe] Bertolino said.

Competition could destroy the competitors.  Quite a thing for an institution’s leader to assert in public.

But such are our times, when queen sacrifices are in play on many tables, states look to cut even more, and we reach for technological solutions that might not pan out.  It’s good to see Vermont exploring another strategy.

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Giving a great presentation: what to do afterwards

Nearly all advice about public speaking addresses preparation and the talk itself.  Which makes sense.  But what should a speaker do afterwards, when the questions and answers are done and the applause has faded?  I find this to be a very important phase, rich with opportunity.

(This is a followup to my earlier post about fine presentations.  There will be more.)

In general, I like to continue my audience and event engagement after my presentation.  For one thing, it’s polite, a way of returning the attention they’ve paid me.  For another, I can learn more about the event, the population, how people respond to my work, and more about the topics.  If you’re a professional speaker, following up is a good way to win new gigs, as well as to aim for a return engagement with that organization.

How to do this?

Change your focus immediately. After speaking to hundreds or thousands of people, you need to pay attention to individual humans.  This takes a bit of mental adjustment, and it needs to be done right away.  Be sure you give your attention to the first person who approaches you, zeroing in on them as you would during any respectful conversation.

This means taking some deep breaths and remembering not to project your voice now.

Watch the time. Most of your audience will have other places to be, so don’t make them wait.  Ask them how much time they have, if they want to talk.  If there’s a presenter coming up after you, get your gear packed up, including leftover handouts, and be ready to exit.  Yes, this means multitasking while you engage with people.  Make light of it, if you like.

Business cards. Take as many as you can.  Jot down on their card important details, such as what the card-giver is interested in.  Then reach out to each person by email when you return home.

NERCOMP 3d printing workshop audience listening to Ian Roy

Give out your own cards.  I know this is counterintuitive for some people, but hang on. A growing number of people argue that business cards are an obsolete relic in the paperless, digital age, and there’s some truth to that.  Yet there remains a substantial chunk of the population who rely on business cards, and who might not check you out on the web after the talk, or use their phone to capture your contact information.  Additionally, an interesting business card can prod an audience member’s memory, reminding them of your work and the importance of following up with you. (Should we discuss how to make a fine business card?)

Social media (1). As soon as you can, review what people said about your talk on all likely venues.  This means Twitter above all, but also Google+, the blogosphere, Facebook, and photos on Flickr and Instagram.  Be sure to check for the event’s hashtag, if it has one. Check for any comments or other content aimed at your social media handle and your name. Continue reading

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One future for research libraries

Chinese Academy of SciencesOn May 12 the head of the National Science Library at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xiaolin Zhang, gave a major speech to the THETA conference in Australia.  In the talk director Zhang laid out a vision for the future of the academic library, and it’s one that both challenged and excited many of us, both within and beyond the library world.

In this post I’ll begin by summarizing my notes of the talk, enhanced by Twitter discussions.  Then I’ll add some of my reflections.

The gist: Xiaolin Zhang envisions transitioning the academic library from a collection-holding and access institution to becoming a research and development knowledge service provider.

Director Zhang  began by surveying the digital landscape, emphasizing the ride of ebooks, digital journals, and machine reading.  The CAS decided to embrace the digital-first approach, and canceled all print subscriptions for Chinese-language journals.   Anything they don’t own they obtain through consortial relationships (I think that’s inter-library loan).

This approach works well for a growing proportion of the CAS constituency, which Xiaolin referred to as “Generation Open” or “Generation Digital”.** This group benefits from – indeed, expects – a transition from print to open access.  For them, and for our presenter, “only ejournals are real journals. Only smartbooks are real books… Print-based communication is a mistake, based on historical practicality.”  It’s not just consumers, but also funders who prefer open access.

Research is changing as a result of these developments.  Machines are increasingly the first readers of content.  Machines also enter the production side of research; Xiaolin told us to “expect computer-assisted knowledge production.”*  That means research support must change, as the enterprise now has new needs: services that identify structures, trends, gaps, and abnormalities across scholarship.  In turn this leads to a new normal of research: interdisciplinarity, translational, collaborative, strategic.

Then director Zhang  took things further, based on recent work with Thompson-Reuters in analyzing scholars and identifying their most significant papers.  This work also included mapping R+D developments and funding opportunities.  As a result CAS published analyses of scientific competition in different fields, maps of science structures, which led them to explore technology transfer analysis. Here is where Xiaolin saw a first glimpse of the new research library.

Xiaolin Zhang and Bryan

Xiaolin Zhang is on the left. I’m on the right, representing hair.

How do today’s libraries fit into this emerging world?  With decreasing aptitude, it seems. Chinese faculty now see the library’s main role as that of a buyer and archive maintainer.  Yet libraries have outsourced collections, either deliberately or by the rise of the web.  Libraries now hold on to a diminishing part of scholarly knowledge.  Moreover, irector Zhang observed that his library’s foot traffic has been declining – and he helped make it happen, bu making an aggressive shift to the digital world.  Which led him to ask a dangerous question: are libraries losing the right to be research libraries? Continue reading

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Sacrificing the queen at Kentucky State University

Kentucky State University logoAnother American university announced plans to cut faculty.  This time it’s Kentucky State University that’s playing the queen sacrifice tactic:

[President Raymond Burse] announced plans Friday calling for the elimination of 31 additional campus positions, including 17 faculty and 14-15 staff jobs.

KSU suffered cuts last year, too:

deep cuts to staff and faculty come after a round of restructuring last academic year that eliminated nearly all adjunct professors and dozens of administrators. Five college deans were removed and replaced with one who will oversee all college departments and faculty chairs. A number of other university employees quit and have not been replaced.

No word on which academic departments will be hit.

It’s not only faculty and staff that will be hurt:

The 2015-16 balanced budget for the university also includes a 10 percent reduction to student scholarships and no raises for remaining employees.

The budget also calls for a 5 percent tuition increase for students, which officials say will generate more revenue for the struggling school.

The rationale for the sacrifice is all too familiar: “The cuts hope to help the school’s $7 million debt, and it will likely take several years to dent.”  Typically, enrollment was low, as of May.

Meanwhile, Kentucky State has also made some high-profile hires relevant to this topic during this same month, including a new business vice president and a budget director.  Also germane: last month State decided on a 5% tuition increase.

A year ago State fired… one fourth of its students for unpaid bills.  Also that year, and to his credit, president Burse cut his own salary to boost salaries of lowest paid staff.

Mounting debt and problematic enrollment leading to staff and faculty cuts: campuses keep turning to the queen sacrifice.  This isn’t a good time for most of American higher education.

(link via Stephen Landry on Twitter; logo via Wikipedia)


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3d printing and education: a workshop report

NERCOMP 2014Yesterday I and two others hosted a NERCOMP workshop on 3d printing for higher education.  The large audience participated very actively, creating fun conversations and a lot of information-sharing about an emergent field.  In this post I’ll sum up the day, based on our materials, my notes,  and Twitter discussions.  It’s a bit long, given the sheer amount of information covered.  It’s also a snapshot of where 3d printing stands in mid-2015.

We began the day with introductions, discovering a wide variety of academic institutions, from community colleges to research universities, high schools and liberal arts colleges. When it came to individual roles and interests, we learned that many people worked in campus IT-related fields: academic computing, desktop or lab support, A/V services. There were also some with library connections, several faculty, and at least one administrator. Every campus represented was interested in 3d printing (obviously), but had actually engaged with the technology in wildly varying levels. Several institutions reported considering purchasing their first or second machine, while others described full-campus deployment under way (U Mass Amherst spoke of 48 devices).

Faculty interest was all over the map, including the sciences and the humanities.  At several campuses faculty members drove 3d printing work, while others saw the IT department nudge machines towards professors.  Several participants noted signs of silo behavior emerging – a sure sign of a technology heading to maturity.

Nearly every participant expressed a desire to learn from presenters.  They learned that they also had much to learn from (and teach) each other.

NERCOMP 3d audience listening to Ian Roy

I then took the floor to introduce the technology and its academic uses.  My presentation aimed for a big-picture view, skimming technical details, making sure everyone was on the same page. I emphasized the rapidly developing nature of 3d printing, sketched out its emergent curricular and pedagogical forms, then offered strategic questions and considerations for implementation. Here are the slides: Continue reading

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My business after two years

Two years ago this week I announced the launch of my consulting company.  Since I promised to be transparent about this work, here’s an update and reflection on how BAC has gone so far.  It’s a follow-up to last year’s business post, which means this is now an annual thing.

What’s been happening since June 2014?

I promise, no business-speak.

the BAC bear logo

Overall, it’s been a great success.  We’ve expanded our range and number of clients, made a noise in increasingly anxious discussions of higher ed’s fate, and more than paid our bills.  All metrics are rising (in a good way).


What does work look like?  There haven’t been many surprises this second year.  The first year saw an awful lot of learning (see here), and now much of that is routine.  Which is a fine thing.

Speaking engagements constitute more than half of my work.  In any given month I travel to campuses, libraries, or convention centers one to five times.  There are surprisingly few videoconferences; I hope to grow that.

There have been more international opportunities.  2015 has seen (so far) work in Britain, Australia, and Malta.  Excellent.

Non-speaking consulting is quite varied.  I’ve written reports, done analyses, led workshops on spec.  Meeting facilitation is increasingly in demand.

Research takes up one half of my time, roughly, on average. Continue reading

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Wisconsin shifts, expands attack on public higher education

This week the state government of Wisconsin has adjusted its attack on public higher education.  The legislature’s budget committee voted on an important measure which seriously cuts funding, while also sapping tenure.

Key points include:

Drastically cutting funding. The Joint Committee on Finance cut a cut, “reducing” governor Walker’s proposed $300 million slash to a mere $250 million.  According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the new proposal “if it stands would be tied for the largest cut in System history and would mark the fifth time in the last six budget cycles that the universities took a significant funding cut.”

In other words,  the queen sacrifice move is very much in play.

Tenure: the committee removed tenure from state law.  But the systems’ Board of Regents can bring it back. However, note this: “The board, whose members are appointed by Walker, could also fire any staff or tenured faculty member” (emphasis added)

And “putting tenure in Regents policy carries less weight, especially symbolically, than having the ironclad protection of state law, said Noel Radomski, director of UW-Madison’s Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education.”

University of Wisconsin Superior, Old Main building

Governance: a shift towards central administration.

The committee also voted to make changes to shared governance provisions, taking power away from faculty, students and staff to have a voice in campus decisions and giving more authority to campus chancellors and the UW System Board of Regents.

Continue reading

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