The serial crises that affect higher education in America carry with them an accompanying enthusiasm for big thinking. Big thinking involves the expansion of good ideas into major movements, transformations, inflection points, and other moments of significance. Big ideas serve many purposes. They offer hooks for conferences, papers, and symposia sponsored by associations and foundations, each seeking a position on the leading edge of revolutionary change.
John V. Lombardi
Most Recent Articles
May 8, 2009
The unusually large reductions in state appropriations to higher education in many states and the impact of the current record setting economic decline on other sources of university funding has pushed institutional responses into high visibility. We usually interpret America’s never ending economic crisis in higher education as instances of unique phenomena, each one requiring new dramatic response. We react with surprise, alarm, and exceptional rhetoric to the cyclical downturns in public funding or private support. We dramatize the dire consequences that reduced funding will cause.
March 25, 2009
A theme in budget reduction processes in some states is an enthusiasm for cannibalizing some institutions in the hopes of keeping others from suffering the effects of a state revenue reduction. This is of course a highly political issue, not easily resolved by rational discussions because the number and type of public universities and community colleges in a state reflects the accumulation over a long time of decisions by elected political representatives.
January 8, 2009
Our fable begins with the recognition that everyone is in favor of change, that magic word for all of higher education. Few things in college and university life capture such universal admiration as the prospect of change. If we become tired of such an ordinary word, we can prefix it with other magical words with high value like transformational and accountable. We know that the good change for universities involves more money to do the things that we want to do. Bad change involves less money. We know we usually do not like change that makes us work harder.
October 19, 2008
In the endless Sisyphean task of explaining university finances to many audiences, we often encounter considerable skepticism about our permanent need for more money. No university worth its diplomas will argue that it has enough money to do its job. Not even the richest among us.
August 10, 2008
Nothing is more central to the enterprise of intercollegiate athletics than the commitment to amateurism. Everyone, whether bitter critic of NCAA sports or ardent defender, acknowledges this requirement. College sports depends on the definition and defense of amateurism for its survival, but the tremendous popularity and financial requirements of the college sports enterprise threatens and has threatened this quality since the early 20th century.
July 14, 2008
Periodically, universities and their friends engage in a flurry of conversations about naming things on campus, usually triggered by a high profile naming that some find inappropriate, interesting, or otherwise noteworthy. Most of us have experience in these conversations, having engaged in them time-and-again, in different contexts over the years. We know we will touch on the ten standard naming rules: 1. Only name buildings for dead people, 2. Only use the names of admirable people, 3. Recognize substantial individual contributions,
July 2, 2008
The act of matching donor wishes to institutional needs through philanthropic gift agreements is something of an art. Donors usually have specific goals in mind for their gifts, and because colleges and universities have tremendous financial needs, the enthusiasm to consummate a donation can lead both parties to imagine that everyone has the same expectations. Unless the gift document is clear, however, we often find that the meaning of vague language and expectations in the gift agreement drifts over time.
May 27, 2008
A recent Inside HigherEd (May 27, 2008), and elsewhere in the media, reflects much excitement about the decision by various highly selective institutions to stop requiring the SAT or ACT for admission to their colleges or universities. This is surely an interesting phenomenon, but whether it is good news or not depends on your perspective.
April 29, 2008
One of the more interesting features of the current enthusiasm for discussing college costs and the elaborate mechanisms to discount tuition and fees for various classes of students at elite institutions is confusion about the process. Some approach this conversation as if it were about dramatic changes in the opportunities for poor but smart high school graduates to attend elite institutions, previously out of reach. Although this may end up as a result for some, the manipulations of the financial aid process are actually about how to buy student talent more competitively.