Top 10 Posts from Higher Ed Professor’s Second Year

Higher Ed Professor is celebrating its second birthday! As is our tradition (or at least as we did last year), I want to share the top posts from this year. I found it helpful to see what posts received responses and seemed to connect most. For those of you who are new, I hope these will be helpful to you. If you’ve been here from the beginning, did you favorite make the list?

1. What is the typical teaching load for university faculty?

2.  Everyone should agree:  UNC faculty lost institutional control

3.  UAB Football:  Wrong decision for the wrong reasons

4.  Four qualities of a great research assistant

5.  How to respond to a revise and resubmit from an academic journal

6.  Understanding the negative implications of subcultures in higher education

7.  Recipe to destroy a great public higher education system

8.  What is tuition discounting and why do colleges do it?

9.  Why I declared war on be verbs

10.  The problem with honors colleges

Looking forward to an even better upcoming year!

Growth of institutional diversity during the colonial period

I am traveling in Europe with students from SMU’s higher education program. As an American history major from my undergraduate days and now as a scholar of higher education, I can’t help but think about the connections between our two higher education systems from that period. In today’s post, I want to share from my institutional diversity monograph on the growth of institutional diversity during the colonial period.

Oxford University Photo credit: Angel Xavier Viera-Vargas

At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, nine colleges served the American colonies, while England had only Oxford and Cambridge, despite the mother country’s much larger population.

The creation of denominational colleges served religious and political interests.

James Axtell (1974) contends that the colonists sought to create a school upon the hill to mirror their other lofty colonial ideals.

The 1600s and early 1700s saw colonial development largely along Protestant denominational lines.

With the notable exception of Rhode Island, the various denominations played a central role in the development of the colonies and their colleges.

The proliferation of Christian denominations created a substantial diversity even among the relatively small population.

While religious freedom is an oft-cited motivation for the colonists to move to America, limited tolerance even among other Protestant groups led to disputes among the colonies and ultimately expansion for higher education.

The breakdown of tolerance between the various Protestant denominations fostered the college growth movement, with each denomination seeking to found an institution (Herbst, 1976).

Several important notions from the founding of early colonial colleges, particularly in terms of faculty control, proved foundational in developing the internal dynamics that influence the level of institutional diversity.

The colonists chose not to adapt the British model of a self-perpetuating faculty, preferring instead the Scottish model of an external board of trustees to maintain accountability.

In an attempt to limit faculty control so dominant at Oxford and Cambridge, the colonial leaders developed a structure that not only allowed external involvement in campus affairs but also institutionalized this role.

As external stakeholders grew later in the development of American colleges and universities, the limits on faculty power and external boards provided an entry point for outside stimuli to influence internal activity.

While religion played a substantial role in the founding of early colonial colleges, even prior to the Revolutionary War, “the collegiate mission had already undergone a discernible shift away from religious orthodoxy toward secular learning and leadership” (Thelin, 2004, p. 28).

For example, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson suggested plans for higher education fundamentally different from proponents of the importance of religion in higher education would design.

Franklin’s plan for the academy that would become the University of Pennsylvania is particularly noteworthy for its support of a variety of academic pursuits that he contends are “most useful and most ornamental, regard being had to the several professions for which they are intended” (Franklin, 1958, p. 41).

The religious focus and favoritism towards the status quo among established Protestant denominations helped create an opening for institutions more broadly conceived.

Thomas Jefferson famously attempted to reform his alma mater, the College of William and Mary, to expand the college’s curricular offerings and transform the college generally. The reform attempts were “a struggle to shape an inherited institution into a form able to serve peculiarly American interests without destroying the institution’s capacity to transmit values important to the survival of the western heritage” ( Thomson, 1971, p. 188).

As with many reform efforts, Jefferson’s failed and he would not realize his ideals of a college embracing new fields of study until establishing the University of Virginia years later.

While falling short of modern ideals of religious tolerance, the colonial colleges nevertheless established a foundation of diversity and a concern for public service.

The significant contribution of colonial college graduates in shaping the American Revolution suggests the importance of the colleges in creating gentlemen-scholars.

The achievement of these institutions placed higher education in a prominent position in colonial society while institutional deficiencies created an opening for the expansion that occurs following the British surrender at Yorktown.

Higher education played a significant role in supporting larger societal goals since the earliest days of the first colleges.

As American identity expanded, leaders looked to colleges and universities to increasingly provide social and educational training for future generations.

It really is time to shut up about Harvard

Over the last several weeks, I’ve seen a story by FiveThirtyEight, the site started by stats guru Nate Silver, provocatively titled “Shut Up About Harvard” making the higher education social media rounds. I couldn’t agree more with the sentiments in the article. Namely, the article suggests the national media’s focus on elite higher education gives a distorted picture of the way most people experience higher education. In today’s post, I will share the key points from the story that I think those of us in higher education should consider because I do believe it really is time to shut up about Harvard.

Photo credit: Abi Skipp

The national media is obsessed with elite universities— especially private ones. 

How to measure writing progress

There can be few things more deflating than working hard watching what you eat only to find that you gained 2 pounds. Writing and dieting have much in common. As I work with faculty, I often find myself giving advice for writing similar to dieting advice. In today’s post, I will share tips on how to measure your writing progress. As with dieting and many other areas of life, what we measure is what we improve.

Photo credit: eflon

Interdisciplinary spaces on campus

For five decades, Building 20 stood on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The exterior of the building revealed its origins as a temporary structure built to accommodate post-World War II growth. Defined in an exhibit at the MIT Museum as a “plywood palace,” the wood-frame construction was nondescript and decidedly utilitarian. Despite its ramshackle appearance, the building came to embody the industrious spirit of the institution. MIT’s influential wartime radar project developed within its walls as well as the Institute’s first interdisciplinary projects. The Stata Center now stands on the former site of Building 20. The new construction, which includes over 720,000 square feet of space, “is meant to carry on Building 20’s innovative and serendipitous spirit” (Mitchell 2004). The building’s whimsical construction—including a design based solely on curves and angles—fosters creativity and interdisciplinary engagement for its occupants. As the Institute’s provost explained, “When you round the corner and see the Stata Center, you will know you’re at MIT.”

Building 20, MIT