Four Quandaries Facing Higher Ed Presidents – Part 1:

Changing Higher Ed podcast 209 with host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and guests F. Joseph Merlino and Deborah Pomeroy

Table of Contents

Changing Higher Ed 209 - Four Quandaries Facing Higher Ed Presidents - Transforming Teacher Preparation for the 21st Century with host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and guests F. Joseph Merlino and Deborah Pomeroy
Changing Higher Ed Podcast | Drumm McNaughton | The Change Leader

28 May · Episode 209

Four Quandaries Facing Higher Ed Presidents - Part 1

32 Min · By Dr. Drumm McNaughton

Experts discuss the four quandaries higher ed presidents must navigate to transform teacher preparation programs for the 21st century. Part 1 of a 2 part series.


Transforming Teacher Preparation for the 21st Century

This two-part series explores improving teacher preparation for the 21st century, the four quandaries facing higher education presidents, and strategies for addressing change management to facilitate successful transformation. 

In Part 1, Joseph Merlino and Deborah Pomeroy join Drumm McNaughton to share their insights as they identify and analyze the dilemmas impacting higher education institutions today. Through their research and experiences, including a project in Egypt focused on transforming teacher preparation programs, they shed light on the four quandaries that higher ed presidents and leaders must navigate to make transformational change in these areas.

Part 2 examines the strategies and approaches for tackling teacher preparation challenges and driving transformative change in higher education (and a fifth presidential quandary).


The Four Quandaries Higher Education Presidents Are Facing

Mission vs. Revenue

Higher education institutions face a fundamental tension between their historic mission of providing a transformative, liberal education and the increasing emphasis on job readiness. While students primarily attend universities to secure better employment opportunities, the role of universities extends beyond mere professional training. They aim to expand students’ horizons, foster personal growth, and promote understanding of diverse cultures. Balancing this broader mission with the need for financial sustainability presents a significant challenge for university leaders.

People often don’t appreciate the transformative nature of university education until they experience it firsthand. This transformative experience is what motivates donors to contribute back to their alma maters. However, the conflict lies in achieving this transformative mission while also meeting students’ expectations of job readiness. Some frame this as a conflict between job readiness and the public good, while others emphasize the importance of considering both the public and personal good of education.


Interdisciplinary Collaboration and Integration

The organizational structure of universities, characterized by disciplinary silos and hierarchical systems, often hinders interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation. Universities are typically organized by schools, departments, and subspecialties, with tenure and promotion practices, journal publications, and grant applications all focused on specific disciplines. However, solving complex problems and driving innovation often requires interdisciplinary collaboration that transcends the boundaries of individual disciplines.

Creating conditions that foster interdisciplinary collaboration within the existing university structures is a significant challenge. While some institutions have established research institutes or interdisciplinary spaces, overcoming the gravitational pull of disciplines remains a significant hurdle.

It’s important to go beyond discussing silos and consider the vertical and horizontal structures within disciplines. It’s not just about being siloed but also about how we think about the structures themselves and whether they encourage flat, collaborative interactions or reinforce hierarchical decision-making processes.

The solution may lie in a both/and approach rather than an either/or mentality. Tenure and promotion policies, for example, could be examined to determine whether they should solely rely on disciplinary peers for evaluation or also reward collaborative efforts.

Major funding agencies like the National Science Foundation (NSF)  and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are increasingly seeking innovative solutions that require cross-disciplinary collaborations. The director of NSF has specifically mentioned their focus on funding cross-disciplinary research grants rather than just those within particular silos.

Having a clear purpose or goal in mind is required for driving meaningful interdisciplinary work. Interdisciplinary collaboration, when focused on addressing specific challenges or themes, yields richer results than work confined within a single discipline. Drawing from diverse fields such as chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, and even the humanities can provide a more comprehensive approach to tackling complex issues.

The work in Egypt, for example, focused on preparing students to solve the country’s grand challenges, such as alternative energy, overpopulation, and pollution. By aligning the learning experiences of high school students and their future teachers with these real-world challenges, the education process took on a new level of meaning and relevance. This purpose-driven approach demonstrates the power of interdisciplinary collaboration in driving meaningful change.


Addressing College Access and Equity

As the demographics in K-12 education shift towards a majority-minority population, higher education institutions must confront the challenge of ensuring access and equity while maintaining academic excellence. The academic achievement of students, as reflected in state tests, varies significantly across different racial and ethnic groups. Asian students tend to score the highest, followed by white students, with Black and Hispanic students scoring lower. However, the most significant disparity is observed between economically disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students.

Higher education institutions face the dual challenge of addressing the academic preparedness of incoming students and ensuring their ability to afford education. Even with the availability of federal grants, the question of academic preparedness remains a pressing concern.

University leaders must grapple with the decision of whether to lower admission standards to attract more students, particularly in tuition-driven institutions. They must also consider how to effectively collaborate with feeder high schools to bridge the gap in academic readiness.

The dilemma arises when considering the potential trade-offs between maintaining academic standards and expanding access to higher education. While the most elite, nationally recognized universities have a large pool of applicants to draw from, other institutions must navigate this challenge more directly. Lowering admission standards to attract more students, especially for tuition-driven institutions, raises questions about the impact on educational quality and student success.


In-State vs. Out-of-State Students

Public universities often face a quandary when it comes to admitting in-state versus out-of-state students. Out-of-state students typically pay significantly higher tuition fees, providing a crucial revenue stream for institutions facing declining state funding. For example, the University of Colorado at Boulder, a state institution, has approximately 45 percent of its students coming from out of state. While the location and setting of the university play a role in attracting out-of-state students, the financial incentive is undeniable.

However, public universities are accountable to their respective states and are expected to serve the needs of in-state students. In-state students often benefit from tuition discounts, as their tax dollars help support public education. There is an implicit expectation that these students will remain in the state after graduation, contributing to the state’s economy and workforce. Admitting a higher proportion of out-of-state students can be seen as a diversion of resources away from serving the state’s residents.

The challenge lies in balancing the financial benefits of admitting out-of-state students with the responsibility to serve in-state students effectively. As state funding for higher education continues to decline, universities are increasingly reliant on tuition revenue to sustain their operations. However, prioritizing out-of-state students over in-state students can strain the relationship between the university and its state stakeholders.


Transforming Teacher Preparation Programs in Higher Education

To effectively navigate these quandaries and drive transformative change, higher education institutions must adopt a holistic, goal-oriented approach. The project in Egypt, which focused on transforming teacher preparation programs at five large institutions, provides valuable insights into this process. By applying their understanding of the challenges faced by universities, the experts were able to facilitate meaningful change.

A Goal-Oriented Approach

The first step in this approach is to clearly define the goal and consider the unique context and quandaries within which each institution operates. Understanding the specific challenges and constraints of each university is key to developing effective strategies for change. Additionally, recognizing that change happens across both formal and informal networks within the institution is essential for success.


Engaging Stakeholders at All Levels

Adopting a combination of top-down, middle-out, and bottom-up change strategies is key to ensuring the sustainability of transformative initiatives. Engaging stakeholders at all levels of the institution is critical for building support and momentum for change. This includes involving senior leadership, such as presidents and provosts, as well as deans, department heads, and faculty members.

Having an external facilitator, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development in the Egypt project, can provide a neutral perspective and lend credibility to the change process. External facilitators can help navigate the complexities of institutional dynamics and bring a fresh perspective to the table.

Identifying and engaging informal networks of leaders at various levels of the institution is just as important as working with formal networks. These informal networks, often referred to as “posses,” consist of individuals from similar disciplines or backgrounds who wield influence within their respective areas. Leveraging these informal change agents can be a powerful strategy for driving change from the middle-out and bottom-up.


Confronting Conceptions About Existing Practices

Transformative change often requires individuals and institutions to confront evidence that challenges their existing conceptions and practices. Convincing people to change is a difficult task, as it is not effective for an outside agent to simply tell someone that they need to change. Instead, change must come from a realization and a confrontation with evidence that conflicts with prior beliefs or assumptions about what is working.

For example, professors who believe in the effectiveness of lecturing may need to experience a situation where, despite delivering a brilliant lecture, students fail to learn effectively. Exposing educators to research and examples that challenge their long-held beliefs can be a powerful catalyst for change. By presenting evidence that contradicts their assumptions, educators are more likely to recognize the need for alternative teaching approaches.

The work in Egypt provides a compelling example of this process. By exposing educators to the exceptional work produced by high school students, which far exceeded their expectations, the experts were able to challenge preconceived notions about student capabilities and the potential for transformative learning experiences. Seeing firsthand the quality of work that students can produce when given the opportunity and support to tackle real-world challenges can be a powerful motivator for change.


Three Key Takeaways for Higher Education Presidents and Leadership

  1. Understand change theory and the process of change, recognizing that change must be driven by a meaningful purpose owned by all stakeholders.

  2. Ensure that the change aligns with the institution’s core identity, mission, and legacy.

  3. Navigate the challenges of establishing networks and building trust, whether appointed from within the institution or coming from the outside.

Wrapping Up Part One

In Part 1 of this series, we have explored the four primary quandaries that university presidents and higher education leaders must navigate: the tension between mission and revenue, the challenges of interdisciplinary collaboration and integration, the need to address college access and equity, and the balance between admitting in-state and out-of-state students. These quandaries represent complex challenges that require careful consideration and strategic approaches to drive transformative change in higher education.

Visit Part 2 of this series: Transformative Change Models in Higher Education where we dive into the strategies and approaches for driving transformative change in higher education institutions. 


About Our Podcast Guests

Joseph Merlino is the President of the 21st Century Partnership for STEM Education and the co-author of a new book, New Era-New Urgency: The Case for Repurposing Education. For 35 years, he has served as the principal investigator or director of many National Science Foundation, U.S. Department of Education, and U.S. Agency for International Development projects. He was a co-PI on a six-year project to study transformative STEM change in six higher education institutions. Based on this past research, he has been working in Egypt for the past 12 years, where he directs a $24M project to design five new undergraduate STEM teacher preparation programs involving 180 new courses in 5 universities. He oversaw the development of 21 new model Egyptian STEM high schools based on 11 Grand Challenges. He has a BA in Psychology from the University of Rochester and an MA in Education from Arcadia University.

Deborah Pomeroy, EdD, is an associate professor emeritus of science education at Arcadia University. After three years in scientific research, she shifted to a career in science education and taught high school science for 19 years in Fairbanks, AK. During that time, she received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching. Following her high school teaching career, she completed a doctorate at the Harvard Graduate School for Education. She then taught science education at Arcadia University for 14 years where she consulted for several school districts and directed multiple education reform projects K-16. Much of her work in higher education involved both helping facilitate the development of new curricula and facilitating and studying the impact of partnerships between professors and high school teachers. Later, in Egypt, she helped to lead a massive project to develop a new integrated STEM education curriculum funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.


About the Host

Dr. Drumm McNaughton is a higher education consultant specializing in governance, accreditation, strategic planning, change management, and mergers.


Transcript – Changing Higher Ed Podcast 209 Deborah Pomeroy & F. Joseph Merlino – Changing Teacher Preparation in Higher Ed

Introduction and Guest Backgrounds

Drumm McNaughton: Thank you, David. Our guests today are Dr. Deborah Pomeroy and F. Joseph Merlino. Deborah is an Associate Professor Emeritus of Science Education at Arcadia University. And much of her work in higher education involves both helping facilitate the development of new curricula and facilitating and studying the impact of partnerships between professors and high school teachers.

Joseph Merlino is a president of the 21st Century Partnership for STEM Education, co-author of a new book, “New Era, New Urgency, The Case for Repurposing Education”. For 35 years, he served as principal investigator and director for many National Science Foundation, U. S. Department of Education, and USAID development projects, including co PI on a six-year project to study transformative STEM change in six higher education institutions. Debra and Joseph work together in Egypt where they’ve redesigned a new integrated STEM education curricula funded by USAID that includes STEM teacher preparation programs.

And they join us today to talk about the lessons they’ve learned on how to affect organization change through adherence and addressing the five quandaries of higher ed. Presidents…. Deb, Joe, welcome to the program.

Joseph Merlino: Thanks for having us.

Deborah Pomeroy: Thank you. It’s great to be here.

Drumm McNaughton: I’m looking forward to our conversation. You guys are just amazing with some of the work that you’ve done, especially the in the research for higher ed and high school business models. Before we get into that stuff, I want to hear a little bit about your background. So, if one of you wouldn’t mind starting off.

Deborah Pomeroy: Sure.

Deborah’s Journey in Science Education

Deborah Pomeroy: I started off as a bench and field scientist for several years, and then I went into science teaching in Alaska for about 19 years. During that time, I got the Presidential Award in Excellence in Science Teaching, which sort of carried me into a very thoughtful stage of my practice. And I then moved into science teacher education.

During that time, I did some consulting in teaching and learning and curriculum, especially integrated curriculum development. And that sort of led me into working on some grants, especially where I started to meet, met Joe, and we started to work together in a nonprofit that we founded.

We were working with professors and high school teachers in transforming their pedagogy. And all of this culminated in an amazing project in Egypt, where we work to help the Ministry of Education there develop 21 model STEM schools with an integrated curriculum that ultimately required a major transformation in teacher education. And so, I’m going to let Joe continue the story because, it’s a good one.

Joseph’s Path in Education Reform

Joseph Merlino: Well, I started off at the University of Rochester where I started off as a chemical engineer and wound up tasting the subjects of politics and economics and psychology and, wound up going into education where I was a math teacher. And then got a job at a nonprofit, doing education reform in Philadelphia and for the last 35 years, I’ve been doing education reform at the secondary level and also in higher education. And I’m currently president of the 21st century partnership for STEM education, for about 17 years.

Our prize project is in Egypt. We’re working with five universities transforming their teacher preparation program involving 180 new courses that we developed with about 60 U. S. faculty and in five different programs. And they’re all doing the same courses in the same program, but along the road, we also studied U. S. universities, and that became a springboard for our ability to work in Egypt through the study of higher education in the U. S.

Drumm McNaughton: That’s, for the listeners who may be thinking, “Wait a minute, how is this going to apply to higher ed?”, hang on, we are going to get there very quickly. Because they have made a couple of statements here that are really amazing, changing teacher preparation in higher ed. These lessons are going to apply to how we structure our colleges and our universities today.

Challenges in Higher Education

Drumm McNaughton: Thank you for sharing those backgrounds, we all know the challenges in higher ed right now. There’s a demographic cliff that’s coming up, a reduction of the traditional students, the public perception is not good.

The president’s role is becoming increasingly complex, and it’s clearly reflected in president’s tenure, whereas 15 years ago was over 10 years, and now it’s down to five and dropping even more. You’ve even seen articles in the Chronicle coming out saying, why would anybody want to be a university president? Sometimes, on, on bad days, I would have to agree with them on that, but you did a paper on the quandaries that higher ed presidents are dealing with.

So let’s talk a little bit about that. It’s understanding who the constituencies are and understanding what they’ve got to figure out. And from that, we’ll be able to put it together to be able to show what you’ve done with, for instance, the University of Texas at El Paso, and how this work has really impacted them. So, if you would, please, start us off.

Joseph Merlino: Yeah. So, the, you mind, Debra?

Deborah Pomeroy: You’re, this is your part.

Joseph Merlino: Okay. So, the National Science Foundation awarded presidents and provosts a couple million dollars each, about 30 institutions, to integrate their NSF programs to lead that innovation. And we got selected to research about six of these universities that were undergoing changes, and we did site visits and a variety of document reviews and interviews with presidents and the provost and deans and some faculties, kind of a 360 review, in these institutions. And out of that came, we were trying to make sense of how each institution went about addressing their challenges. And there were common challenges across all of them, but there were also differences. So we came up with four, what we call, quandaries. These are common dilemmas, you might say, that these institutions we’re dealing with.

Drumm McNaughton: Okay. So, what were those quandaries and do we need to go in because every president and the boards are dealing with different state groups of stakeholders, as you call them, constituencies. You tell me, does it make sense to go through the quandaries or the constituencies?

Joseph Merlino: Well, so you’ve got constituencies, you know, of course you have your parents and your students. You also have your business and employers and your donors, and then you have the government regulators, whether it be at the state or at the federal level that have to do that. So, president has got to be mindful of those constituencies and demands, which are not necessarily all in the same direction in kind.

Drumm McNaughton: Really?

Joseph Merlino: Right. I’m

Drumm McNaughton: I mean, they pull in different directions. I never would have figured that.

Joseph Merlino: But each institution has a legacy to it, a reason why it existed in the beginning, and a history to it, and it’s situated in a context. But all of them deal with, in one way or another, what we call four quandaries.

The Four Quandaries of Higher Education

Joseph Merlino: So, the first quandary is “mission versus revenue”. What I mean by that is, you have, a disconnect between why students go to universities. According to the research, is to get a better job, for the most part.

But you also have against that is the historic mission of a university, which is to more than preparing people to get a job, otherwise they’d be a for profit institution or a technical place. But their role historically has been a social and personal one, in the sense that you want to, the liberal tradition of expanding people’s horizons, making them a better person, having them be able to understand other people and other cultures. It’s a broader mission than just a professional education.

Drumm McNaughton: It sounds to me like it’s a conflict between job readiness versus public good. Do I have that right?

Joseph Merlino: Yeah, I always say public and personal good. You know, people don’t like to be transformed until they are, because then you say, oh, this was a tremendous experience, which is why, right, people contribute back to the university because it had a profound effect on their lives.

So, if you’re just going to a training school, okay, it was a contractual, transactional relationship. I paid my money, I got something from it, but I don’t owe you anything more. But the whole idea is that the university is transformative. It should be. And that’s why donors contribute back to it. But that’s the conflict, is how you get that.

Drumm McNaughton: So, mission versus revenue.


Interdisciplinary Collaboration and Integration

Joseph Merlino: The second, one, has to do with, I’ll say heterarchies versus hierarchies.

 Universities are organized by disciplines, you’ve got your schools, and then you’ve got your departments, and then within the departments you have subspecialties. and your tenure and promotion practices are all based upon your peers in your discipline, and your journal publications are, reviewed by that and your grant applications are all disciplinary focused.

But at the same time, against that, are that if you want to solve problems or innovate, it requires interdisciplinary collaboration that no one discipline can solve, solar energy or the climate crisis. And it requires collaboration, not only cross interdisciplinary, but also collaboration. But the structures of universities, it’s a challenge for the structure of universities to create those kinds of conditions that allows that to happen.

Some universities have established research institutes. Others have established buildings of interdisciplinary connections, but by and large, it’s fighting the gravitational pull of the disciplines. And of course, students don’t experience, or it’s not often did they experience, the kind of transdisciplinary experiences that we’ve been able to do in Egypt,

Drumm McNaughton: Mm-Hmm. Yeah. A great example I think of this is a guest that I had on one of my earlier podcasts, Judith Kjelstrom, who is the director in emerita of the UC Davis Biotech Program. And you’ve got such a complex discipline you have to bring in specialists from other disciplines to be able to make it work. I think this is what you’re talking about, is it not?

Deborah Pomeroy: If I could just jump in real quick. I think it’s really important that we go beyond the way we normally talk about, we’ve often talk about disciplines as being in silos, and I think this is actually one step beyond that. Because we’re talking about even within the silos. We’re talking about vertical versus flat, and so it’s not just that we’re siloed, although I think that is a very real constraint, but it’s about how we think about the structures themselves. And do we think about those in a hierarchical manner of having to go up or down the ladder of decision making and communication and so forth, or do we have the freedom and are we encouraged and supported in going just flat across?

So I think we have to deepen, the discussion beyond that silo discussion.

Joseph Merlino: And it’s not a I don’t see it as an either/ or, I see it as a both/ and. But how it plays out at the universities, for example, is your T& P policies. So do you just have your own disciplinary people judge whether or not you should be promoted? Or do you get any rewards for collaborative efforts?

NSF, NIH, a lot of other funders, are looking for this kind of innovative solution that requires these cross collaborations.

Drumm McNaughton: Oh, well, absolutely. And I had the director of NSF on the program a few months ago, and Ponch said that specifically. They are looking for cross discipline research grants, giving those rather than just in the particular silo. We’re also seeing colleges restructuring and building, like what a friend of mine went to years ago at University of Alabama, and I’m talking about many years ago, a very dear friend of mine, New College, which brought in interdisciplinary studies.

I think nowadays, what you’re talking about is even more critical, given the complexity of the world and the complexity of the solutions that need to be made. MmmHmm.

Joseph Merlino: Absolutely. And, by the way, one of the founders of our board was a former deputy director of the National Science Foundation. His name was Joe Bordogna, who preached integration for innovation a lot. But the other thing I would say is that integration, and interdisciplinary work is best done, and Deborah can talk about this more, when there’s a purpose to it, when there’s a goal in mind that provides the impetus for why you should be doing interdisciplinary work.

Deborah Pomeroy: Yeah. So what we’ve discovered is that the interdisciplinary work, just for itself, is certainly richer than work which is just done within any given discipline. There’s no question about that when we can draw from chemistry and biology and physics and mathematics and even the humanities, which we strongly believe in, to pull everything in around perhaps themes and so forth.

Our work in Egypt, we were able to focus that work around a purpose, which was basically preparing students to solve the grand challenges of Egypt, which are challenges that we would all recognize. Dealing with alternative energy and overpopulation and pollution and so forth and so on. So when the high school students and also the people who would become those high school student’s teachers, when they started to focus their learning around “what is it that I need, what are the concepts and skills and habits of mind that I need in order to be able to solve a part of this problem, one of these very large complex problems?” All of a sudden it takes on an entirely different meaning, the learning does. And something that’s really interesting that we didn’t mention earlier, and I really wanted to put in there, is that in university structures, I think historically, almost everybody would agree that education, the colleges and departments of education, are often overlooked in thinking about integration.

And one of the things that has been fun in our work is that we’ve been able to change professors and deans, and presidents mindsets as to the value of, of education departments in collaborations across those disciplines. So that’s something that I just would love to throw out there.

Drumm McNaughton: Let’s make sure we come back to that, because For those of us who have gone through and got an advanced degree and got into the classroom, we’re never taught how to teach.

Deborah Pomeroy: Right.

Drumm McNaughton: We’re taught a technical discipline, but, how do we teach: it becomes the sins of the father, sins of the sons and daughter. You know, the way we learn.

Let’s go back to the quandaries because I think you gave us a great example of the importance of the focus of purpose and mission. If you look at it from a change model, it’s just like John Kotter’s “First Step”. You have to establish an urgency. What is the urgency?

So Joseph, if you would.

Addressing College Access and Equity

Joseph Merlino: There’s two others that we saw, and, one has to do with college access, equity, versus excellence, academic excellence. So as you mentioned earlier, the demographics. If you look at the demographics in K to 12, right now we’re looking at a majority minority population. It changed over in 2020. And you look at the academic achievement of those students, in state tests. They break down as follows in math and science and in English. Asians score higher. White students are the next. Black and Hispanic students next. But the big difference is around poverty. Economically disadvantaged versus not economically disadvantaged. That’s the biggest difference. So you have the challenge of the academic preparedness of students coming into higher education. Not only their academic preparedness, but their means of paying for it. So even if there’s federal grants that can make it free, you still have the question of academic preparedness.

And as Kenneth Adelman, analyzed college readiness, it’s the academic intensity of high school that makes a difference whether or not you’re going to prepare and complete college. Because right now, as you know, the percentage of people that complete college in four years is not as high as it should be, and instead it’s six years metrics, but even that you have about a quarter not making it. the question is, do you lower your standards for admission? Now I’m not talking about the very elite universities, national universities, which have a large pool to draw from. I’m talking about basically everyone else. How do you handle that, particularly if you’re tuition driven? Do you lower your standards in order to attract more people? How do you deal with the relationship between your feeder high schools and the institution itself?

Drumm McNaughton: You guys have come up with some great solutions, and I’m going to ask the listeners to be patient on that because I think your solutions around this one are just amazing.

In-State vs. Out-of-State Students

Drumm McNaughton: So the last one of your quandaries, I believe is in state versus out of state students.

Joseph Merlino: Yeah, so we noticed, for example, one of our institutions we looked at was the University of Colorado at Boulder, which is a state institution, and we spent some time there, and actually we’re using them on the Egypt project. But about 45 percent of their students are out of state, and it’s a good place, and Boulder’s not a bad place to live in either,

Drumm McNaughton: No, it isn’t.

So, but what you’ve got is, a dilemma, because you’ve got a quandary, you’ve got a lot of, more money, from tuition if they’re out of state than if you’re in state. That’s true all over. And that’s particularly the case when you have the state giving less money to the universities, which has been dropping as a percentage. So an incentive to go where you can get double or triple. At the same time though, University of Colorado Boulder is not a private institution. They have to report to the state and that’s state regulation. So satisfying the state’s need for efficiency and for accountability from a state, and at the same time having to deal with less money from them and you’re out of state. So you don’t get any props for having out of state students. It’s challenging too, because when you have in state students, normally there’s a tuition discount for publics your tax dollars are going to help support the education. And there is at least an implicit expectation that the students will remain in the state and add to the state’s GDP, their skills, whatnot.

So it becomes an investment into these students. If you have to do it from a tuition perspective, you obviously want outside students. It’s almost as though the states, I’m going to get myself in trouble on this statement, it’s almost as if the states are failing the students and the institutions in there by not funding education to the degree that it should be.

Joseph Merlino: To that I would add, if they leave the state, they’re not benefiting the state. As you know, the land grant, Merrill Act of 1862, attempted to have the land grants benefit the states. That was the whole idea. And of course there’s interactions between these quadraries.

Drumm McNaughton: Really? You mean they’re not silos like all higher eds are? [laughter]

Joseph Merlino: No, So what we would say is that every institution has a solution, a temporary solution, to how to deal with these quandaries, which I call the policy amalgam. So if you are a reformer, you want to do something different at the institution, you have to consider, and what you don’t, is how does a president, if they want to institute something different, how does that upset the apple cart of how these quandaries are dealt with?

Transformative Change in Higher Education

Drumm McNaughton: So, what you’re talking about is basically a new model for higher education. Or at least parts of it,

Deborah Pomeroy: Yes. I think of these is like four continua, and you could sort of imagine a visual sense of like four strings that you hold in different directions. But. And each university is, finds itself somewhere on each of those four, but if, and if you take the nexus of where all four of those would cross, you know, then that gives you a sense of the, of that amount, that point, that amalgam that Joe’s talking about.

And so, anytime you have. Any kind of a change which is going to disrupt that balance, then you, thoughtfully have to consider and understand and attend to, to how that is going to affect the position along those other continua. And so that’s the model. It’s a matter of attending. To, to all of those different tensions.

Drumm McNaughton: I would look at it from a systems or a holistic perspective, or even a design thinking perspective of what are the outcomes that you’re wanting to make sure you get, and then how do you need to change the levers within the model to be able to get those outcomes. I don’t think people think like that.

I think it’s mostly this is where we are. This is where we want to go. So what do we need to do rather than, starting with your goal in mind.

Deborah Pomeroy: And that’s what we did in Egypt. Exactly that. We had a goal and then we had to figure out, what do we have to change? And as it turned out, it was almost everything.

Joseph Merlino: But by studying the, I’m sorry,

Drumm McNaughton: go ahead.

Joseph Merlino: no, but by studying first the universities and their quandaries, when we went to Egypt, we found that they have a different set of quandaries, but we were looking at the whole idea of a quandary as a way of trying to analyze how we should change the higher, the teacher preparation program in five very large institutions, each one of which is different.

Twice the size of an Arizona State University, for example,

Drumm McNaughton: That’s big.

Joseph Merlino: with a lot of, their students don’t pay tuition. It’s all government funded. So when we wrote the grant, for the projects, $25 million project, we had these quandaries in mind.

 So we started with the presidents and the Supreme Council of universities, and we had certain conditions, that we asked for in order to make these kinds of changes. And we did it from a system’s idea.

Deborah Pomeroy: so

Going on to the next piece of that, which is what led into our theory of action, and that is 1st of all, attending to what’s the goal. That’s the first part. Then what are the quandaries within which the universities are situated and positioned?

And then thinking about the fact that we do understand that change happens across networks. And both institutional networks, formal and informal. And then what became one of our major theories was the combination of top-down, middle-out, and bottom-up change, understanding that no change that’s worth anything, in terms of sustainability, is going to happen without all three of those.

working together in the same direction.

Drumm McNaughton: And that makes perfect sense, especially when I look at it from our perspective, and what we do with strategic planning and change management is a top-down approach, but then there’s the bottom-up, the stakeholders, as well as getting their input on what’s going on. But there’s also the external piece with that as well.

You have donors, and you have government entities, towns, etc. How do you bring all those together to make sure that you can attend to the goal, as you say?

Joseph Merlino: Yeah, so we found that it’s very helpful to have an external facilitator, I would say, or like an NSF. In the case of our Egypt project, we had the U.S. Agency for International Development, and that had a certain prestige to it that got everyone’s attention, and we were a neutral broker.

So, it became a way of facilitating change. In the case of our study of the universities, it was NSF initiating change by giving the provost and the president a million and a half dollars. That’s not a lot of money, but then again departments don’t have a lot of money, and you’re always vying for a piece of the budget.

But it was a stimulus to it. We also found that in the case of changing, we looked at six universities, The president and the provost had what I call a posse. These are people, an informal network of usually people from their same discipline and each university had a different kind of posse.

One was from the math department and another was from The, psychology department, like the president was a psychologist. Their provost came from that, et cetera. And that their informal change agents at the middle level, at the mesial level, departmental level, were also from that same posse group. And then you had some faculty.

So at each of these levels that, that we’re talking about, you had like minded people working at their respective levels. And so if you’re an outside person coming in to do a change process at a university, you have to identify, as you say, these informal networks of leaders in addition to the formal networks.

Drumm McNaughton: Yeah, Kotter would say you have to have a guiding coalition.

Joseph Merlino: Yes.

Drumm McNaughton: And that coalition doesn’t have to be all at the top. In fact, it shouldn’t be. It should be at multiple levels because You’re going to end up having to sell this change. It’s going to impact people’s lives, their livelihoods, everything.

Deborah Pomeroy: So, building on your idea of having to convince people to change, it’s really hard for somebody to tell somebody else you have to change

or to

Drumm McNaughton: Really? Really? [laughter]

Deborah Pomeroy: Yeah. exactly. Exactly. So, that gets into talking about a theory of change. And clearly, individuals and institutions have to be convinced of the need to change, but that is not going to happen by an outside agent saying you have to change, that change has to come from a realization, a confrontation with evidence that conflicts with their prior conceptions or their that conflicts with their conceptions of what is working, for instance, if a professor thinks that lecturing all day long is working, the only way they’re going to be convinced otherwise, is to actually experience a confrontation where they’ve done a brilliant job of lecturing, but the students haven’t learned a thing. And, Hesonis and Halun, and Eric Mazur have all done terrific work on looking at the impact of confronting their misconceptions that lecturing in physics did not have an impact on the student’s understanding of their misconceptions.

So, one of the things that we have done in our work in Egypt especially, Is, have our high school kids who are doing work, which is basically, so far beyond a person’s expectations of what high school students can do. And that’s part of that is we just took the lid off the expectations for them.

We just said, ” you can solve some of these problems, these grand challenges.” And you know what? They’ve started to do that, and these kids have won all sorts of international awards, and when we have these kids present their projects to professors and they present their projects to presidents and provosts and even chancellors of education, they all look at each other and say, my God, this work, is the quality of master’s students, but these are high school kids.

 So it’s not until they actually confronted the reality that there could be another way to learn. And that other way to learn would require just amazing transformations. then it started.

Drumm McNaughton: So what is that other way? We’re, you’ve dangled it out there saying this is great. So what is that other way?

And folks to hear the rest of this podcast, please tune in next week when we get the rest of the conclusion for what’s going on and the quandaries and the solutions to them. Until next week.



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