A More Efficient University Business Model For The Win – Part 2:

Changing Higher Ed Podcast 195 with host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and guest Dr. Melik Khoury

Table of Contents

Changing Higher Podcast - A More Efficient University Business Model For The Win - Part 2 with host Dr. Drumm McNaughton and guest Dr. Melik Khoury President and CEO of Unity Environmental University
Changing Higher Ed Podcast | Drumm McNaughton | The Change Leader

20 February · Episode 195

A More Efficient University Business Model For The Win - Part 2

32 Min · By The Change Leader, Inc.

Part 2 of Unity's highly efficient university business model that's generated tremendous growth: it's a case study in revolutionary success.

 

Faced with an overwhelming number of complex issues, the higher education sector must urgently develop and adopt innovative business models to transform itself into a more accessible, affordable, and future-proof system. Dr. Melik Khoury, whose visionary approach and adaptation of the university business model has navigated his institution through tumultuous times and set a new standard for academic excellence and operational efficiency.

 

Dr. Drumm McNaughton welcomes Dr. Khoury back for part two of the series to share his insights on leading Unity Environmental University to unprecedented growth with a revolutionary and highly efficient university business model. With a background rich in guiding higher education institutions through periods of disruption, Dr. Khoury’s tenure at Unity is marked by a significant increase in enrollment, substantial budget growth, a halving of tuition fees, and significant debt reduction—all achieved amid the challenges posed by the pandemic.

 

Remember to visit part one which covers the leadership approach, an agile enterprise model, Sustainable Education Business Units (SEBUs), and the non-traditional org chart.

 

Modifying Traditional Higher Ed Models of Faculty Responsibilities

The traditional higher education model often adheres to a distribution of faculty workload as 40% teaching, 40% research, and 20% service. Previously, the average Unity faculty workload model involved teaching 21 credits, with an average class size of 20 students and an average credit hour of three. Approximately 75% of their time was dedicated to teaching.

 

The new model has shifted away from this rigid distribution to 80% teaching and 20%  for research or developing courses without the traditional negotiations related to course releases and stipends, aiming for a clearer and more straightforward allocation of responsibilities and allowing faculty to focus more on areas they are passionate about, which in turn better serves the institution’s needs.

 

This model provides flexibility; for instance, if a faculty member wishes to focus more on research and bring in soft money, adjustments can be made without the need to balance against the traditional expectations of teaching, research, and service equally.

 

The shift in organizational design and workload distribution is intended to align faculty roles more closely with their strengths and interests, enhancing job satisfaction and productivity.

…you get to choose which of these pathways are more important to you and you spend less time worried about, the politics, the meetings before the meetings, and the meetings after the meetings, because there is role, there is scope, and there is authority, and you know what yours is.


Khoury notes that 90% of individuals in academia, especially on residential campuses, lack certain skills that are necessary for adapting to new models of teaching and governance. This recognition underscores the need for professional development and training in transitioning to innovative governance and organizational structures.

 

Alignment of Majors with Disciplinary Strengths

Unity’s major shift in faculty mindset from prioritizing specific majors to embracing disciplines allows for the flexible addition and removal of programs, minimizing the sense of loss and enhancing adaptability to meet modern educational demands.

 

Decoupling faculty identity from specific majors, focuses on disciplines critical to the curriculum, enabling Unity to introduce relevant programs without disruption (and faculty friction) and directly tie education to career paths, resulting in programs that resonate with students’ passions and career objectives.

 

Such strategic alignment increases the attractiveness and competitiveness of the university’s offerings, ensuring that students are well-prepared for their future careers.

 

Challenges in Implementing Revolutionary Change 

Implementing broad-ranging changes is not without its challenges. Resistance from within the academic community, the inertia of traditional governance structures, and the complexities of financial model adjustments are significant hurdles. Overcoming these challenges requires a combination of strategic clarity, stakeholder engagement, and a commitment to the institution’s long-term vision.

 

Reflecting on Unity’s transformation, two main challenges stood out: First, the difficulty of aligning the institution with the practical steps necessary for change, revealing a stark contrast between the theoretical support for transformation and the actual readiness to implement it. Governance and operational models, deeply ingrained, proved resistant to change, necessitating innovation within a framework that inherently resisted disruption.

 

The initiative’s pioneering nature meant venturing into uncharted territory without external benchmarks, forcing reliance on internal conviction amid widespread skepticism. These challenges underscored the systemic issues within higher education’s financial and governance structures, highlighting the urgent need for reform to accommodate the sector’s necessary evolution.

 

Shifting Governance and Financial Models

Dr. Khoury shared an innovative approach to financial models that align with contemporary realities and opportunities for ensuring the long-term sustainability of higher education institutions.

 

The prevailing financial models in higher education need a more robust partnership between higher education institutions and government, corporations, and organizations. Khoury argues for a reevaluation of how higher education is funded, likening the ideal support to how the military is funded, suggesting that higher education should be considered a critical national resource deserving of direct funding to ensure the development of a career-ready, well-educated workforce.

 

Governance and financial models in higher education have not evolved swiftly enough to match technological and societal advancements which causes two highly significant issues:

  1. Impact on Value: The stagnation of these models, rather than a decrease in academic rigor or quality, jeopardizes the perceived value of higher education.

  2. Erosion of Trust: This lack of adaptation has resulted in diminished respect and trust from both government and corporate entities towards the higher education sector.

 

Three Key Takeaways for University Presidents and Boards:

  1. Review and Align Governance Documents: Presidents and boards should thoroughly examine their institution’s bylaws, charters, and operational documents to ensure they align with the university’s goals. The failure of colleges often stems not from a lack of ideas or vision but from governance documents making it impractical to implement changes. Aligning these documents with strategic goals is critical for enabling effective action.

  2. Focus on Primary Revenue Sources: Identify and understand the primary sources of revenue (students, donors, subsidies) and evaluate whether current operational practices and documents adequately support these sources. If there’s a misalignment, prioritizing adjustments to focus on these revenue streams is essential before implementing new ideas or strategic plans.

  3. Adapt Governance and Financial Models: The governance and financial models of higher education institutions must evolve to keep pace with technological and societal changes. This includes redefining governance structures to suit different types of schools, rethinking the training and hiring of leaders, allowing faculty to leverage their strengths effectively, and meeting students’ needs and expectations.

 

Final Thoughts

This episode shares straight talk about changes required to fix an outdated and struggling higher education system. It underscores the potential of visionary leadership and innovative strategies in transforming higher education institutions. Dr. Khoury’s success at Unity Environmental University serves as a compelling case study for higher education leaders aiming to foster growth, efficiency, and resilience in the face of industry-wide challenges, disruption, and widespread reputation in decline.

About Our Podcast Guest

Dr. Melik Peter Khoury is the 11th President and CEO of Unity Environmental University headquartered in New Gloucester, Maine. He holds a Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA), from the University of Phoenix, an MBA from the University of Maine Orono, and a Bachelor of Science in Business Management from the University of Maine at Fort Kent. During his time as President, he has led efforts to transform Unity Environmental University into a sustainable, student-centric institution of higher education by focusing on three core principles – affordability, accessibility, and flexibility. As a result, he has expanded its programs while growing its enrollment and national footprint exponentially.

 

About the Host

Dr. Drumm McNaughton, host of Changing Higher Ed® podcast is a consultant to higher education institutions in governance, accreditation, strategy and change, and mergers.

 

Transcript: Changing Higher Ed Podcast 195 

[00:31:05] Drumm McNaughton: Thank you, David. Today, we welcome back Dr. Melik Khoury, President of Unity Environmental University, for the conclusion of our two-part podcast. To briefly summarize, Dr. Khoury’s had a long career in higher education, but what truly distinguishes him are his unique skills that enable him to guide institutions through times of disruption.

[00:31:28] When he took over Unity, they had about 500 students and an operating budget of 14 million. Now Unity’s enrollment is over 7, 500. Its budget is 58 million. He’s cut tuition in half and cut their debt in half as well. And this growth all came during and post pandemic. We now return to the second half of our podcast.

[00:31:53] Mellick, welcome back to the show. We had a great conversation last week, and we’re going to finish it up today because you’re telling us about all sorts of different things that you’re doing at Unity that’s really resulted in tremendous changes to the quote traditional higher ed model. We were talking about the different roles of faculty.

[00:32:18] I want to pursue that a little bit more because it seems like you’ve got faculty doing a role that they’re best suited for rather than trying to make them do everything.

[00:32:32] Yes. Thank you for having me back. After last week, I’m glad that you want to continue the conversation. But yes, if you think about it, I think the idea that one human being needs to be perfect at every aspect of supporting a learner to their journey is a very entitled and privileged one. And a lot of times, governance structures get in the way of brilliant people doing good work. Really? Ha ha ha ha.

[00:33:03] Melik Khoury: I’m sure you have heard the stories where a young faculty member is told, don’t get too friendly with the administration because you know where the evaluation committee sits on that. And we are no longer, like I said, that 18th century model. All employees bring something important to the table in the 21st century.

[00:33:25] So looking at the faculty model, it was important to us to first say your peers will evaluate your teaching and scholarship, but your Dean will evaluate your employee worthiness, and your dean will be the one to help you navigate so that you are not working for two masters. And we want your time spent, depending on what kind of faculty member you are, on teaching with some secondary duties, research with some secondary duties, outreach with some secondary duties, learning, instructional design, advising, whatever it may be, and in order to do that, you get to choose which of these pathways are more important to you and you spend less time worried about, the politics, the meetings before the meetings, and the meetings after the meetings, because there is role, there is scope, and there is authority, and you know what yours is.

[00:34:28] If you are the English teacher, you are involved in what we need to do to teach in English. I’m not sure you’ll be sitting at the table when we decide what the budget of the institution is. And the idea of a democratic representation in lieu of expertise representation hurts us in academia when we are not sitting on a pile of money.

[00:34:52] Drumm McNaughton: Mm hmm.

[00:34:53] Melik Khoury: So our faculty fits into these different roles and they get to lean into what they love and we don’t have to worry about a democratic approach to decision making. The best idea wins, which is why we have an executive model, we don’t vote.

[00:35:09] But I will tell you that hasn’t been easy, because there is no frame of reference for academics. We had to invest a lot of time, energy, and money to train our Deans and to train our faculty and staff, how to work in an environment where you don’t spend your time politicking for the vote, but fighting for your idea.

[00:35:29] Drumm McNaughton: Big difference,

[00:35:31] Melik Khoury: Yes, sir.

[00:35:32] Drumm McNaughton: So you’ve got SMEs, you’ve got instructors, you’ve got Deans, you’ve got advisors, instructional designers, and curriculum assessors,

[00:35:43] Melik Khoury: And curriculum designers as well. Yes.

[00:35:44] Drumm McNaughton: and curriculum designers. And so the traditional higher ed model is 40 percent teaching, 40 percent research, 20 percent service. By using maybe in a non exact word, by categorizing your faculty in these particular roles, that shifts it away from that forty, forty, twenty to where they’re working on something they truly love and they’re still serving the institution

[00:36:15] Melik Khoury: Yes. The answer to your question is yes, but it’s also the currency with which faculty used workload is also an outdated notion. So, for us, kind of took that down to its lowest common denominator. So we said as an institution, the average faculty in the old workload model taught 21 credits. The average class size is 20. The average credit hour they teach is three. And to your point, 75 percent of their time was, used teaching.

So, when we brought that down to its lowest common denominator, I’m just going to pick a random number. I’m not doing the math here, it is a thousand credit hours. And so instead of the 40, 40, 40 or the 40, 20, 20, if you are hired to do primarily teaching and we want you to be 80 percent teaching.

If the currency is 1000 credit hours, your job is to teach and generate 800 credit hours and the other 200, we will use you for whether it’s research or building courses or whatever it may be. And by the way, that existed in the traditional model, but it was always negotiations, right? Course release and stipends and all of that, right? It became, like a bazaar.

So by making it just very clean. If a faculty member says that they want to do research and they want to bring in soft money, we can work on that, but then they don’t have to then also serve the other masters of what a faculty member does.

[00:37:48] My faculty at Unity do not advise. That part of the historical faculty is now a professional advisor who sits at the table with the Deans in order to ensure that the academic side of the house and the administrative side of the house in tandem when supporting a student in the classroom.

So, I’ve got a couple of faculty members right now who are purely curriculum innovation. And they teach enough to stay current, but most of their work is curriculum innovation.

I’ve got learning designers that the academy does not recognize as faculty members, just like they don’t recognize the professional advisors as faculty members, but who cares?  (I know I don’t) who are sitting at the table with the biologist, with the mathematician, with the curriculum designers, with the advisors and saying, whatever you are an expert at, I can help you create a pedagogical course, be it asynchronous or synchronous, like no other. That’s what we have built here.

[00:38:55] And because each of those groups has a Dean or a director or whatever it may be, these people are free to give their opinions and their directors make the decisions, there is a freedom in that and as a result, we’re able to move faster because I’m not worried about that and I trust my peer.

[00:39:14] Drumm McNaughton: When we were talking the other day you had mentioned about a biology teacher and an example about biology and how that goes into multiple different courses. I don’t remember the story but if you could recount that.

[00:39:31] Melik Khoury: My chief academic officer and I, I would say the biggest success that we have had at Unity, in mind shift of a worldview, is getting our faculty and subject matter experts to embrace their discipline over whatever major we have to offer. Because in order to be competitive in the modern world, you are going to have to add programs, remove programs, and if every one of those is tied to the identity of a faculty member, the sense of loss is great all the time.

So, by us saying a major is nothing more than an amalgamation of disciplines. And the decisions of what disciplines are in the core curriculum, what disciplines are in the major specific, and what disciplines are in the electives, our faculty member, for example, our biology faculty member or our math faculty member cares less if I have a biology major or I have a math major because the math as a construct within the fabric of our curriculum is a critical one. And so as a result, when we say we are adding an e commerce major, there is no e commerce faculty member who’s going to get bent out of shape because we know that’s a business course, an environmental course, a technology course, and the like.

So, we have identified around disciplines no majors, because majors come and go. And we’ve also realized that in specifically in the case of biology, we actually don’t have a biology major at Unity, even though most of our programs are offshoots of biology program, because we try to tie those disciplines to careers. So we have wildlife biologists, we have marine biologists with a focus on aquaculture. We have animal behavior. And when we did the market testing back then, trying to change the mind’s eye of, I’m a biology teacher and I need a biology major to remain relevant because I don’t want to be a second class faculty. I’m sure you’ve had those conversations.

Getting rid of that completely, we marketed them all. And what’s ironic is I remember our admissions person saying, these majors are not in the SIP codes. Nobody’s going to find you. you should sell criminal justice, not conservation law enforcement. Nobody knows what that is. You should sell biology, not the… and all of a sudden, the majors that made the least sense to the traditional marketing became what our students resonated with because they could tie it to a passion, they could tie it to a career.

And once that started to happen, after there was a bit of a brouhaha, you know, when you change from one world view to another there is disruption, our current faculty and staff couldn’t care less what majors we offer. As long as the core curriculum and the disciplines are well supported and the subject matter experts are qualified. And that’s why we’ve been able to adapt so fast.

[00:42:40] Drumm McNaughton: That makes so much sense. It reminds me of one of the earliest guests that i had on my podcast was a woman named Dr. Judy Kellstrom. She’s at the UC Davis biotechnology program. And she said the most success that they’ve had was bringing in faculty members from different disciplines because biotech is so complex one mind can’t do it all. You’re essentially doing the same thing when it comes to your majors and bringing in the experts that are necessary to teach what’s needed in the, in the marketplace.

[00:43:22] Melik Khoury: Agreed. And by having the Dean, or the academic vice president of the subsidiary be in charge of the curriculum. It has also changed the psychology of those meetings from, if I don’t show up, they can’t move. To, if I don’t give them good information, they can’t act. To, if I’m not there, they’re going to go ahead without me.

[00:43:43] That was a hard shift.

[00:43:45] Drumm McNaughton: Yes, it is.

[00:43:47] Melik Khoury: And we as an institution had to train the Deans how to work in an environment where you were going to take the Gandhi approach, first they laugh at you, then they mock you, then they join you. And you have to survive that.

[00:43:59] And a lot of people didn’t, because when they looked at their peers, no one did it that way. So, there was a freedom in look, the curriculum is set, I need you as the microbiologist to help me build the best microbiology class there is, but we’re going to give you a VR expert, if you want to do virtual reality in there, we’re going to give you a learning designer expert, you’re going to talk to the advisor. And in some ways there has been relief from the burden we have put on our faculty to be all things, hide behind a governance structure, not to expose any insecurity, that we’ve built a very, very different culture, and one that people enjoy working at, and not act like the Roman Senate.

[00:44:44] Mm hmm. Mm

[00:44:45] Drumm McNaughton: Let’s talk a little bit about some of the shifts that you’ve had to make in leadership and management. Obviously we’ve talked a lot about that based on structure, but you’re getting people to lead versus facilitate. Higher ed is all about consensus and, whereas you’ve got consensus you’re also having people use the RACI model. Responsible for doing, accountable for making sure it gets done properly, etc etc. You had to make some major switches in the way higher ed people work.

[00:45:22] Melik Khoury: Absolutely, and what I realized very, very quickly is that 90 percent of us in academia, especially those of us in residential campuses, have no skills in that area.

[00:45:34] Because even as leaders, what was our job? Facilitate the committee, ask for input, present an idea, and until everybody’s on board, right? So you had to, it was almost like a, like you’re voting on a pork barrel bill, right? You have to convince everyone to get the vote. And if you made a decision you didn’t like, that they would eviscerate your reputation behind the scenes and then you were worried about the next vote of no confidence or whatever kabuki theater the closed colleges are doing. I mean, believe me, my friend, I know how important it was back in the day for doctors to prescribe cigarettes for hypertension and leeches for certain ailments, but even that we have outgrown. Can we outgrow this?

[00:46:18] There are labor laws. There are ethical standards in business. Can we stop this idea of shaming our organization for every little thing and then wondering why public has started to use the concept of an academic exercise to mean very little is going to happen? So when you took that, you took people’s reputational considerations, you took people’s skill sets, brilliant Deans who have no, resilience for people to come after them when a decision isn’t made, to take the entitlement of: “What do you mean? If I don’t have a vote, I have no voice.”, Which is not true. Training people to work in that environment took two and a half years. I had some really good people leave for that reason.

[00:47:04] But now I’m having good people come in training, training, training, consistency. People ask me about our innovation. It’s not our innovation that’s gotten us this far. It’s our consistency. It’s our clarity. It’s refusing to use old governance models to solve new problems.

[00:47:27] Drumm McNaughton: One of my folks corrected me the other day. It wasn’t Einstein that said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I think Einstein, you know, that would be something he would say whether he did or not. It’s another story. But you’re going down that path. Higher ed probably does the absolute worst job in training people how to be leaders of any industry out there and what you’re doing is you’re putting people in jobs and saying be a leader

[00:47:59] Melik Khoury: Yes. And for them, leader means facilitator. Leader means being liked. Leader means going office to office and saying, “Hey, I would let you get away with it. But you know, the administration….” When I was going through this transition, Drumm, it was difficult, very difficult.

[00:48:15] One of the things that I used to use, that we used to frustrate, what I would call the social capital of good old boys is they would say “The Administration.”

[00:48:23] I would say, “Who?”

[00:48:25] “Well, you know, The Administration.”

[00:48:27] “Who? Tell me who in the administration said that.”

[00:48:33] “Well, you know, I don’t want to name names.”

[00:48:35] I said, “Are you The Administration?”

[00:48:37] “No, I’m a faculty member.”

[00:48:39] “But you’re in charge of faculty evaluation. Are you talking about me as the CAO or me as the president? Are you talking about the Dean? Who? “

[00:48:47] Because when we use these ambiguous words, are able to project a dark whistle doubt at younger faculty and staff and then claim innocence. And we don’t know why people don’t trust us.

So, when people use words like “be part of the community,” I would say “define community,” but pushing the envelope to use language that cannot be misinterpreted was one of the hardest part of the transition because the sense of other has allowed us in academia never to actually have to adapt. And when the worst thing that could happen to you is going back to the faculty, who cares. When now the future of having an educated society is at stake, is it time we grew up from whether it’s the metaphors of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, or the metaphor of The Crucible, or the metaphor of focus?

These traditions are making us look bad as we kick the can down the road instead of addressing the fact that 43 million Americans could not get a degree when they started. The loan that is absolutely, uncontrollable. Resilience in the workplace is an all-time low. Being an economic competitor because, this idea that you don’t have to be educated, because some folks find power in an ignorant society, is becoming prevalent. And we in academia are still talking about votes of no confidence because a program with two students got cut.

[00:50:26] No wonder nobody takes us seriously.

[00:50:30] Drumm McNaughton: It reminds me of a colleague of mine who came in to do a turnaround as a chief academic officer and the program had two students and nine faculty. And when this person said, we’re going to get rid of the program unless you can bring more students in, their response was, we need more faculty to bring in more students.

[00:50:53] It’s like, no, wrong answer.

[00:50:56] Melik Khoury: And, Drumm, I will also say this, it’s also become very easy to put the faculty box as the problem.

[00:51:04] Drumm McNaughton: Mm hmm. Oh, it’s not. It’s the leadership. It’s a leadership problem.

[00:51:08] Melik Khoury: Yes, and because, I mean, if you think about how we choose our leaders in academia. And if you look at our governance structure, I would say many of the faculty are well within their rights for the way that they behave, because that’s the way the rules are written.

[00:51:22] So either change it or live by it. And what I also don’t like, is if you were to look at my leadership team during the transition and now, most of them were residential faculty members who are now some of the best Deans. The president of my enterprise was a biology professor at the residential campus.

[00:51:44] Well, why is it that we in academia, the moment that she decided to take a leadership role, somehow she’s no longer a faculty member. So we have created this impossible situation that when a faculty member, our own, steps up to lead, we cull them from our community. It’s a zero-sum game, it doesn’t have to be. She is the best faculty member I know, and just because she’s serving in a leadership role does not make her any less of one.

[00:52:15] Drumm McNaughton: hmm. Exactly. the, the joke has always been when you move into administration, you automatically lose 20 points of IQ. And that’s not true. You see things from a different perspective, a perspective that’s a little higher on the pyramid, and you can see why decisions are being made, instead of there’s a decision that’s been made.

[00:52:36] Melik Khoury: Correct. We really need to get away from the blame game; faculty, staff, administrative politics. And I think the real problem is the model has not evolved. And the leadership constructs were never designed to be empowered to change the model. I mean, who would want to go through what I went through to get to the other side? Nobody. I used to be a little bit cheeky about those who compromised with the community and run away until I went through it and I didn’t run away and I came out on the other side and I realized, you know what, maybe they were smarter than me. Because the price that you have to pay to save a college might not be worth it.

[00:53:16] Drumm McNaughton: Mm hmm. Now, there’s articles out there in the Chronicle right now, why be a university president? It’s not worth it.

[00:53:23] Melik Khoury: But I will tell you why. Because if you get it right, if you change your governance model, if you stop making it about us and making it about the students, and basically having a decent society. If you can look at the presidency as a platform for change, not rhetoric, if you can have a vision and not only go by what people want, but what they need, you could be part of turning the tide. For us to be the smartest. most workforce ready, intelligent, cultural competent, critical thinking country in the world. Instead, I’m worried about the vote of no confidence and the board member who wants to know, “Did the football team win this year.”

[00:54:18] Drumm McNaughton: I’m sorry, I’m laughing because I know so many folks in that same thing. Before we wrap up here, what were the toughest lessons that you’ve learned through this whole

[00:54:29] Melik Khoury: I was speaking a different language than the people that I was trying to help. And so I thought, because we have been so good at saying, “I don’t like this and this is slow”, I thought I was going to be welcomed, because I was doing the very things that people complained about, that stopped them from serving students.

[00:54:50] I did not realize that that was rhetoric and nobody actually thought I would do them. That was a real tough lesson.

I also learned that even though smarter people than me, better people than me, more learned people than me, had these jobs before me, they were all asked to change using a governance structure and an operational model that was impossible for them to succeed it. And so what we were saying is change the world as long as nobody gets upset.

So for me, it was difficult to learn that, there was no path to success if I followed the rules. And I think the hardest lesson for me to learn is because what you’re doing is innovative, there are no peers, there are no benchmarks. There’s no one you can point to and say, they’re doing it too. So you have to be able to have an internal constitution to get to the other side and not fall halfway through and reinforce the narrative that all they have to do is troll you and we can reset the clock.

[00:55:54] Drumm McNaughton: It’s like a, something that you had mentioned to me before from Martin Luther King, “Challenging the status quo takes commitment, courage, imagination, and above all, dedication to learning. Today’s survival depends on our ability to stay awake, adjust to new ideas, remain vigilant, and to face the challenge of change.” Very wise man.

[00:56:19] Melik Khoury: So I’ll tell you for anybody out there who cares about higher education remaining the partner for government, and an independent partner, of government and corporations and organizations to provide a career ready workforce that is also well learned. Our problem isn’t only our financial model. Our problem is our governance model. And until Uncle Sam starts to treat higher education like they do the military and fund it, because imagine if I had to take out a loan to join the military, how strong will our military be right now?

[00:56:59] Drumm McNaughton: Good point. Good point.

[00:57:01] Melik Khoury: Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying education should be, you know, like, I’d love education to be free, but I think that we as a nation, need to have an expectation of what is the minimum requirements for an individual to be a productive member of society, and they should not have to pay for that. But until then, Unity will do its part to ensure that all of our graduates are environmentally competent and career ready and well learned at a price point that is less prohibitive than the alternative.

[00:57:33] Drumm McNaughton: Thank you, Malik. That’s very well said. As we wrap up, takeaways for your fellow presidents and boards.

[00:57:41] Melik Khoury: First thing I would do as a president on our board is I would look at my bylaws. I would look at my charter, I would look at my operational documents, and ask, “are they in alignment with our goals?” Because colleges don’t fail because of lack of ideas or vision. They lack because it’s impractical to implement based on governance documents.

[00:58:06] So look at them. First, who is your audience? When I say who is your audience, where is your revenue coming from? Is it from students? Is it from donors? Is it from subsidies? Once you figure that out, evaluate your documents and see, are you paying enough attention to your primary revenue source? And if you’re not, change that before you start trying to act on ideas and visions and strategic plans that your legal documents does not allow you to enact at the pace you need.

[00:58:43] Drumm McNaughton: Anything else?

[00:58:44] Melik Khoury: Um, you know, when I was in college my favorite professor of all time was an English teacher. She forced me to take advanced English, honors English back then. And, I thought she didn’t like me, but she kept telling me to take her classes. She’s probably one of the few faculty members I remember clearly, but she said something to me, that actually, has stayed with me till today.

[00:59:07] She says, the problem with us in academia is when we fail. It takes a generation to realize our failure and that stuck with me and, you know, looking back in the years, she’s right. Because right now the value of higher education isn’t at risk because the rigor is down or the research is bad or the faculty are less than. It’s because the governance model and the financial model did not change fast enough with the technological, uh, changes and societal changes. We did not know how to handle it. We poisoned our own well. Now they are people in government and corporation, and they remember us telling them how bad it is, and now we are wondering why they don’t respect us.

[00:59:54] We need to change that. We need to redefine governance to fit the different types of schools. We need to rethink how we train and hire our leaders. We need to let our faculty do what they do best. And we need to meet the students where they are.

[01:00:11] Drumm McNaughton: Absolutely. Well, Malik, this has been wonderful. It’s always great to connect with you. You have such great ideas and you challenge my thinking as well as everybody else’s. What’s next for you? What’s next for Unity?

[01:00:25] Melik Khoury: I think right now, you know, Unity is looking at where is the AI and virtual reality going to play a role in being an educational partner for us and our students. We are really looking to embrace that quite heavily. We are trying to redefine “what does it mean to be in person.” And we believe that the future of higher education is really partnering with major organizations to bridge the gap between learning and work. So my team and I, are trying to figure out how that is possible in a truly meaningful and substantial way, not just in a checking off the box success that we did.

[01:01:10] Drumm McNaughton: Very good. Well, I look forward to hearing more about this journey in the next year or two. You’re doing some amazing things up there and I wish you all the best.

[01:01:21] Melik Khoury: Thank you, sir. Thank you for having me on your show twice.

[01:01:24] Drumm McNaughton: It’s been my pleasure and we’re going to do it another time in about a year.

[01:01:28] Melik Khoury: Thank you, sir.

[01:01:29] Drumm McNaughton: Thank you. Thanks for listening, and a special thank you to today’s guest, Dr. Melik Khoury, President of Unity Environmental University, and for his sharing how Unity has more than doubled their enrollment through excellent marketing research and transforming the higher education business model.

[01:01:49] Please join us next week when we welcome Paul Weiss, President of Oasis Institute, to the program. Paul became Oasis’s president in 2017, and he joins us to talk about how they are partnering with higher ed institutions on aging research, community involvement, and mentoring, all things that help drive institutions donor giving.

[01:02:12] Thanks for listening, see you next week.

 

 

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