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It seems like every couple of three years I’m writing a post in this space declaring that I’ve found what I’m going to do from that time forward, possibly for the rest of my working life.

No longer an adjunct, now I’m full-time visiting!

Having been rejected from a tenure-track job at my home institution, I’m (sort of) quitting!

I’m writing books about teaching writing now!

Psych! I’m joining a market research firm run by old friends/colleagues!

Nope, turns out the pull of working on the problems of teaching and learning is too strong!

Also, why not write a book about how to fix public higher education as a whole in the process?

I feel a little sheepish looking back at the progression, thinking about the mix of excitement and uncertainty that accompanied each of these changes, along with the relative certainty I had that I would follow this new trajectory for an extended period of time, only to once again shift gears within a few years.

For sure, part of it is that I like new challenges. One of the reasons I like writing so much is that each time around, no matter how familiar the task may seem, the end result is going to surprise me. That I seek to inject this spirit into my broader working life makes sense.

At the same time, it feels weird to be fifty-two years old and have such a hard time describing to people what it is I do beyond “write stuff, and then go talk about it sometimes, and also help other people who want to write stuff.” 

It’s a wonderful hodgepodge the vast majority of the time, but it’s a hodgepodge.

I’ve longed for a way to bring these activities under a more cohesive umbrella, where the array of experiences and varieties of knowledge I’ve gathered over the years can be brought to bear in a more focused and purposeful way, where I can work on challenges that are meaningful to me, and dare I say it, where I think I can do some good.

All of this is a long preamble to what I came here for, which is to announce the establishment of Eyler Warner & Associates.

Readers may recognize Eyler as Joshua Eyler, Director of Faculty Development at the University of Mississippi, and author of How Humans Learn: The Science and Stories Behind Effective College Teaching.The most important thing to know right now is that if Eyler Warner & Associates fails to gain sufficient altitude, this whole thing was Josh’s idea.

I kid, but it’s true. Josh emailed me with this wild idea that a couple of people who seemed to care a lot about teaching and learning could help institutions tackle projects they want to complete, but sometimes have a hard time getting to the finish line.

Josh has spent his career inside of universities working on large scale initiatives, including the Quality Enhancement Plan at his home institution, the University of Mississippi. Having experienced these challenges from the inside, he’s seen the obstacles that prevent schools from achieving the changes they expressly desire. 

As has become even more apparent in the age of Covid, faculty and staff are increasingly stretched to the limit with their regular duties. Initiatives such as grading reform, changing teaching evaluation systems, Gen Ed reform, and others are nudged forward as time allows, but seeing them to completion takes more effort and time than everyone would wish. Because of staff turnover, administrative shifts, and other disruptions, ideas of great promise risk dying on the vine.

We want to help institutions shorten time it takes to bring these changes to fruition by taking over some of the tasks that they’d otherwise have to do themselves, and completing them in a timely and cost-effective manner. 

Talking to Josh about the challenges he’d witnessed in his career, I realized that my background in qualitative and quantitative research and strategic consulting had given me the skills to work from the outside with a group of internal stakeholders in order to answer important questions that allow an initiative to move forward. 

It seemed like this combined with Josh’s experience and knowledge of internal institutional operations could make for an interesting and productive mix. 

The constellation of other higher ed thinkers and scholars that we’ve intersected with over the courses of our careers will provide the base of our “associates,” the folks we can call in with specific expertise matched to institutional need.

When we’ve described our plans to people currently working in higher ed, we hear again and again that there is a need for this kind of help, that there are so many projects they look at with longing, imagining what it would be like if those projects came to fruition.

We want to help that happen. We want to do it in a way that understands and respects the unique missions and identities of individual institutions. We want to be the catalyst that allows those working in the institution to collaborate on solutions that will enhance the lives and work of all institutional stakeholders.

While we know there is a need, we don’t know if there is a “market” for these kinds of services. Is there a space for a more focused approach in a world dominated by either big consultant groups or (increasingly) big data, algorithmic analysis? Will institutions be willing to pay for what we’re offering, two people with some expertise, and a network of additional experts?

In talking about this over a series of months, we realized the only way to find out would be to take the plunge. 

Look out below!

I’ve spent a lot of time in this space being “critical” (in the evaluative sense) of the system of higher education as it functions in the United States. My criticism comes from a deep well of belief in the mission of these institutions, and a frustration at the things that prevent institutions from delivering on their missions. I will continue to write about these issues in this space for as long as IHE will have me.

But I’m also beyond excited at the thought of working with Josh to put my time where my mouth is at the individual institution level, and do some things that will have tangible, lasting impacts on the lives of people.

If anyone wants to know more about what we can do for your institution, please get in touch.

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