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Higher education systems and practices notoriously confuse, perplex and annoy all manner of constituents from time to time. Faculty, staff, students, parents and alumni alike complain about a lack of transparency. With exasperation, people often remark, “Can someone just explain it to me, please?” in response to seemingly illogical plans, decisions and policies. After over 30 years in higher education and the nonprofit sector, I’ve heard many questions across functional areas. A few include:

  • Why can’t we use the $15 million raised last year to fill the budget gap?
  • Why can’t you just tell the donor to endow a professorship and not build the athletic complex?
  • What do you mean, my department can’t have its own logo?
  • Why doesn’t this institution ever get my name right?
  • What really happens in the Board of Trustees meeting?
  • Where does all the tuition money go?
  • What exactly is a provost?

Usually, the questions are followed with speculative answers:

  • The administration doesn’t want my department to succeed.
  • The institution doesn’t care about people.

Or reactionary solutions:

  • Let’s sell the art collection to get money for scholarships.
  • Let’s cut the football team.

Or fodder for gossip and conspiracy theories:

  • The board is going to get rid of (fill in the blank).
  • The administration is hiding money.

In response, I offer the blog “Just Explain It to Me!”

Weekly posts will focus on a single question and succinctly provide an answer and information about particular systems and practices. I’ll also explore the absurdities of our beloved profession that we all know exist but can’t understand why.

While the blog posts offer explanations, they also may spur further conversations about whether the systems and practices are flawed. Sometimes the posts will focus on serious questions and other times outlandish ones. Still, they will always be based upon real-life scenarios (details changed for emphasis or creative license, and for the sake of confidentiality). Think of it as a cross between David Macaulay’s seminal The Way Things Work and Abigail Van Buren’s “Dear Abby” advice column, but for higher education.

The information provided in the blog posts draws upon my experience in higher education and nonprofit management as a board member, senior administrator, development professional and faculty member. The blog posts also take cues from my decades of experience explaining the importance of various concepts, techniques and objects to the public as a museum curator and director.

Behind the scenes, I’ll be consulting with current and former presidents, trustees, senior administrators, and other professionals to get to the bottom of why things are the way they are in higher education. There will be opportunities for readers to ask questions, too.

Kathy Johnson Bowles is a higher education columnist with essays in numerous national publications. She’s a former fellow with the American Council on Education and the National Endowment for the Arts. Bowles is currently the executive director of the Everhart Museum of Natural History, Science, and Art in Pennsylvania.

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