• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

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Northeast Regional OER Summit, Day Two

Strategy, financing and more.

 

May 24, 2019
 
 

The first day of the OER Summit was a keynote and a long series of short presentations. The second day was a pair of longer working sessions. TB’s host had to vacate, so I could only attend the first session before picking him up for what someone at the conference called “the ride back South.”  I don’t usually think of New Jersey as South, but it’s all relative.

The morning session was useful, though.  Jillian Maynard, from the University of Hartford, and Jeremy Anderson, from Bay Path University, led a session on developing a strategic plan for OER on your home campus. I went to that one having previously selected a different one -- born to be wild, that’s me -- because upon closer reading, I made the connection to a law that NJ recently passed requiring public colleges to develop plans for OER (or “inclusive access”) within a year.  Since I need to do that anyway, a workshop devoted specifically to that seemed relevant.

Sessions like those require a delicate balance of prescriptiveness -- here’s how you structure a plan -- and candor.  The candor was particularly relevant during the SWOT analysis, when each of us had to identify the various challenges we face on our campuses.  I won’t betray any confidences here, but some common challenges included “culture(s) of inertia,” lack of funding, thin staffing, lack of funding, overstretched Institutional Research offices, lack of funding, isolation, and lack of funding.  I was struck that the challenges were mostly the same across institutional types and state lines. My own table included a Brookdale colleague, someone from a university in Alberta, Canada, and two people from private universities in the US; almost every issue one of us identified was common to all.  

It’s always fascinating to sit in on discussions in which relatively few senior administrators are present.  We get talked about like exotic animals. “How do you get your provost to care about this, let alone endorse it?”  Um…

I tried to be helpful, suggesting that sometimes a college or university foundation can provide financial support for OER stipends.  We do that at Brookdale. It appeals to certain donors who grasp quickly that this is really “seed money,” and that once OER is developed, the savings to students compound over time.  (There’s some need for curation, but the basic point stands.) Drawing on foundation support means not drawing -- or at least, not as much -- on the chronically strained operating budget.  Provosts who may be chary of spending out of a desiccated operating budget may be much more open to spending “free” money.

As usual with working sessions, though, the major value came in the informal conversations while we were supposed to be doing other things.  Based on some of the dilemmas people faced, I get the impression that we need a few more exotic animals to show up at these things, if only to serve as translators.  OER should be a no-brainer for any provost concerned about retention and graduation rates; the key is presenting it in a way that makes that clear. Some of that involves tying the initiative to the institution’s strategic plan, or mission, but some of it is more basic than that.  

On the way out, I was able to touch base with Nicole Allen on the question of “inclusive access” and the NJ law.  She shares my suspicion of the long-term effects of acceding to concentrated market power. There’s clearly much more work to be done here; signing on with a low teaser rate doesn’t always work out well over time.  Stay tuned.

My thanks to the organizers of the conference.  I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought there would be more faculty and more course-based work, as opposed to so many librarians and so much strategy work.  But the librarians were great, the strategy work was great, and the interstitial conversations gave me hope. And some extended windshield time with my teenage son who’s about to leave for college was a nifty bonus.
 

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