Innovating the University

I’m reading Christensen and Eyring’s The Innovative University right now. I’ve been reading it for a week. If you knew me, you would know that means it is incredibly dense. I read quickly and having taken a week to digest a book, and still to be reading it, means there is a lot there.

I’m almost to page 400, and still have some to go, but the take-away I’ve seen as most important so far is probably one I have already learned at other colleges:
Choose a single direction to go in.

A university may be innovative, but it can’t be innovative in multiple directions at the same time. Raising research standards for faculty and lowering student selectivity is a poor choice.

But most universities want to go up the Carnegie ladder. That’s the goal, the dream, the purpose.

Going up the Carnegie ladder, though, may mean leaving behind some essential DNA (as the authors put it). If, for instance, the university has been primarily a teaching university, and what people mention when they talk about it are their experiences with the different faculty, then moving to a scholarship-focused university is going to mean leaving behind the essential DNA.

I read recently a professor talking about the 40-hour work week. What does that look like?

At a teaching-focused university it means 12 hours of classes, 5-12 hours of office hours, with additional time on email outside of office hours to respond to student inquiries. Grading and preparing may take more than office hours, especially if students are being engaged during office hours. For a new professor, perhaps 5-12 hours more at home. For a more established professor, rarely teaching a new course and simply adding to the courses they already know, perhaps 2-6.

So, for a new professor, 36 hours for teaching, office hours, grading, and preparation.

Then there is service. A new professor has four hours left. Service, in terms of requirements of the department and college for meetings, often eat up much of that time. I think I’ve had almost two hours of meetings every other week this semester. Some weeks it was more.

And meetings aren’t my entire service load. I have a group I sponsor and a graduate student I mentor. Neither of these is egregious. This week I have spent eight hours on the group and two on the grad student. Throughout the rest of the semester I have spent about sixteen hours on the group, perhaps 20, and another six on the grad student. Thirty-six hours over a 16-week semester is a bit more than 2 hours a week.

I have service to the profession as well. That took two weekend days and a few hours, plus attending a conference for four days, after having spent about forty hours (in the spring) working. So, really, that’s not too bad either. Maybe 40 hours this semester, so a bit more than 2 hours a week again.

I’m also required service to the community. I do that in a non-standard way and I really need to standardize it. It takes about 30 minutes 5x a week.

Then there is scholarship. This blog may (or may not) count as scholarship. Usually I would hope so, but out of the last few weeks, maybe not.

I am revising my dissertation for publication. I hope to finish that in the next week.

I have a revise and resubmit for a review (yes, a review) that I need to do. But it requires some work (maybe 20 hours) and I haven’t got time for that just yet.

I also have two reviews that are overdue, which I committed to writing. I need to write them.

Oh, and I have three preps for next semester, two of them are brand new to me. One is using a new edition of a book.

So my holiday is chock-full of work that won’t get put into anyone’s consideration, since it’s not during the semester. But I’ve already spent sixty hours on the dissertation and read both the books for review… If I continue that for the next three weeks, I’ll be working 70 hours a week on scholarship during my “break.”

I also have a grant proposal to write.

And two papers for national conferences.

My focus during the semester is on my students, as it should be. And I work hard to add quality and practicality to the work we do in class.

I’m not sure that four weeks of 70-hour work weeks is going to help get me ready for next semester in terms of energy gains, but it’s what I need to do to keep up with the scholarship focus.

And I’m a single person, maybe more or less efficient than another. But I’m an example of what it means to try to keep two very different plates spinning on the same stick.

Multiple me by an entire university and it explains why I’ve seen the wheels come off the bus at other schools.

So one thing… one focus… What one thing should a university focus on? What one thing should a professor focus on?

I think the answer to that is: the thing they do best.

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