On Blogs and Blogging

When I began this new blog a few weeks ago I did not expect it to become a forum for debate among faculty, staff, students and alumni of Alliant. My intention was to offer occasional commentaries from the perspective of a small, non-profit, tuition-driven institution. This is a perspective that is not often represented in discussions about higher education. But with the responses that my early blogs have generated I feel that I have no choice but to make a few comments in reply. There are lessons to be drawn not only about the particular issues raised in these responses, but also about how this forum inhibits, rather than promotes, thoughtful discussion.

Alliant is in the midst of a reorganization of our administrative services through a combination of investments in improved information technology and a review of many policies and procedures. This has involved redefining a large number of jobs in the university and identifying the right people to fill those jobs. Most of the newly designed positions are being filled by incumbent Alliant employees. The total number of full-time employees will be slightly smaller than before, but compared to the downsizing that many organizations go through, ours is modest in scale. We are doing it for two reasons: First, to improve campus services for students and faculty, and second, to increase efficiency and reduce costs. We are committed to holding the rate of tuition growth down as low as possible but this can only be done by also holding down costs.

I realize that changes like this are disruptive both to the organization and, in some cases, to peoples' lives. Major changes affecting employees and students (our "customers") are never undertaken lightly, but they are necessary for any organization. People sometimes assume that colleges and universities are immune from the forces that affect other kinds of organizations, but this is not the case. We feel the effects of changes in the economy, we are subject to changes in our competitive environment, we face increasing regulations and demands for public accountability, and we must work to stay abreast of new technologies and new ways of doing business. We are also accountable to multiple constituencies. As some of the comments on my blog reveal, there is a range of opinions within the university about what priorities we should attend to first. The reality is that we try to achieve the best balance possible among a broad range of competing interests, all of which are important.

Universities thrive on the public exchange of ideas, and this extends even to discussions about how we manage our own affairs. I welcome such discussions, but frankly forums such as this blog are not conducive to meaningful dialogue. Angry and sometimes false allegations from anonymous commenters are difficult to respond to. I'm reminded of that great Mark Twain quip: "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is getting its shoes on." So, for example, it is disappointing to see false claims being made about my compensation in some of the comments attached to my blog. Anyone who cared to check their facts before making such claims could do so using publicly available information. Unfortunately, in this and in many other areas, the Internet gives equal weight to facts and rumors, and it is difficult for many readers to tell the difference.

Alliant has a strong track record of preparing students for successful professional careers in psychology, education, management, forensics and law, and in helping undergraduates prepare for jobs or further study. We recruit students both nationally and internationally; we are among the leaders nationally in making doctoral level education available to students from underrepresented minorities. Our faculty and students regularly receive recognition and honors from their professional and academic colleagues. These accomplishments are due to a dedicated group of faculty, staff, deans and administrators who are committed to our mission and who work hard on its behalf. I am grateful to them, as are, I believe the majority of our students and alumni.

I welcome comments and questions directed to my email: gcox@alliant.edu.