THE Scholarly Web

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

January 10, 2013

"By now most of us have made our New Year's resolutions, and whether they are traditional or new-age, most have to do not only with improvement but also reform: we want to change, and change for the better," writes Jane Robbins on her Sounding Board blog (, hosted by Inside Higher Ed.

"A focus on the good means that there is often a moral, and always a values, component to New Year's resolutions. They are, like all things in the realm of ethics, behavioral at heart, and challenge us to act according to what we say, and believe, we value."

But while New Year's resolutions are usually associated with individuals (and Professor Robbins assures us that she has her own list), it is good practice for organisations and institutions such as universities, which she says can have "shockingly unexamined lives", to have them as well.

"I don't mean a strategic goal, or an objective pressured or paid for by some public or constituent," she continues. "I mean a true taking stock and doing the hard work of facing what we know is not so great about our behavior." She says this should include thinking about things that "we know are, somehow, wrong, and wrong because of our own actions or inactions, and often our lack of courage".

Professor Robbins, who is a senior lecturer in innovation, entrepreneurship and institutional leadership at the University of Arizona, has a few suggestions for higher education institutions' resolutions. "Some apply particularly for research universities ... others to higher education institutions of all kinds," she says.

The first is simple. "We resolve to spend more time looking inward examining our culture and clarifying as organizations what we stand for and what kind of place we want to be - and what we are not and do not want to be. We resolve to communicate, and defend, that to others. We will regain our independence and our voice."

This, she argues, will encourage institutions to "lead rather than administer or politic".

Another suggested resolution reads: "We resolve to break the cycle of repeatedly asking for (and making veiled threats about) the need for more money for research (or whatever), and instead examine and restructure our institutions and systems to produce value for society and the institution as a whole, and to regain trust."

She also calls for institutions to "stop making Faustian bargains in the search for truth, and create a lived and shared culture of ethical conduct and transparency", allowing them to look beyond their own needs and wants to "the larger interests of scientific progress, which will bring superior performance and support".

Finally, an old chestnut resurfaces. "We resolve to place a greater value on teaching and learning, and to restore its centrality to our mission consistent with its crying need, and its contribution to our revenues and reputation."

Professor Robbins concludes by conceding that her university resolutions are "just a wish list of sorts", but adds that if more universities took them seriously, we might look forward to a brighter future.

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