John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Learning to Be A Little Less American: Collaboration vs Competition

John N. Gardner
President

Recently I gave a talk at a convention in which I urged my patient and polite audience to try to be a little less American by reducing their culturally taught inclination and preference for competition—and instead, to practice more collaboration. In tight economic times, and in the new normal of scarcer resources, of all kinds, we simply don’t have the luxury of competing in all the ways we have done so historically on our campuses. I went on to offer some suggestions for engaging in collaboration and I offer them here:

Let me share some strategies for collaboration:

  1. Has to emerge from your basic values. You have to have a philosophy.

  2. Ideally, you should have a written philosophy statement. And you should share it
  3. And your unit needs both a mission and philosophy statement, in which value of collaboration is made explicit in the latter
  4. You need an advisory group of stakeholders. But you must convene them, solicit their advice and take it, act on it. Just having this group and using it is a form of collaboration.
  5. Need to assess impact of your work and share it publicly, particularly explaining what you did from what you learned and how other stakeholders helped increase your effectiveness. In this context you are reporting what it is that you did collaboratively that led to positive outcomes.
  6. Ask who else, what other unit/program has similiar needs, student populations served? How do we currently work together or not? How do we make similar or different use of institutional resources?
  7. What could we conceivably share, integrate?
  8. What efficiencies could we accomplish? Better to self initiate these than to have them imposed upon you!
  9. What am I doing that I don’t really need to be doing?
  10. What do I know that some other unit is probably doing better than I am and if I gave something up I could better concentrate on my core mission and improve my effectiveness at that?
  11. Do I really need all the resources I have? Are there some I could give back?
  12. Ask how can I help individual X or unit Y be more effective in their mission? Serve yourself by serving others.
  13. My own experience has taught me that a focus on critical student transitions during the college years are an ideal focus for partnerships: the entering transition (of which there may be at least three or more—the developmental student transition, the ESL student, then the matriculated student transition); then another kind of entering student—the transfer student; and the sophomore student, and the senior student. And what about the beginning graduate students? Note, a well kept secret: graduate student attrition is far higher than undergraduate student attrition and far more costly.
  14. Recognize and act on awareness, understanding that student learning and success is result of complex interplay of many variables including the: academic, social, physical, emotional, spiritual. Point is that you don’t get number one, academic success, by focusing solely on academics. Get it by focusing on all of these “dimensions”. All of them support and facilitate academic success. This is why have to educate the whole student and only way to do that is with collaborative partnerships.
  15. Practice the philosophy of one of my mentors: always make decisions as if you could live with consequences for rest of your career at that institution and in terms of what might be best for the institution’s greater good not necessarily the good of my unit.

Just think what difference it might have made if bankers and investment brokers who brought us the Great Recession had had the big picture of what was best for our country instead of just their corporate bottom lines and their bonuses.

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