An institution to be governed

This is an important article on the transformation of George Washington from commuter school in the 1980s to its present status as one of the most expensive residential research universities. A similar strategy is being followed in Philadelphia by both Drexel and Temple, with each rapidly developing their campus and positioning themselves as residential alternatives to Penn.

This article also brought to mind a thought exercise a friend of mine in State College has: “When you think and talk about Penn State, do you view it more as a corporation to be managed or an institution to be governed?”

It’s a useful mental exercise. Where you come down on the question will guide your prescriptions.

At most colleges and universities the “corporation to be managed” mentality seems to rule to day. The “business” of learning is secondary to what’s in the best interest of the corporate brand and its maintenance. Then there are a lot of colleges and universities where a hybrid approach exists. Yale is an example of this, where “Yale, Inc.” largely exists to steward the corporate functions as a means to allow the academic leadership the resources and space to function. Small liberal arts colleges are examples where the “institutions to be governed” approach dominates.

I think it’s ideal to refine corporate management to the extent possible. But what’s often left out of that picture is that the corporation exists for the sake of its educational mission. If I were a trustee or regent, my mantra would be something like: a responsibility governed institution that respects the value of the humanities, the application of practical scientific knowledge, and the intangibles of personal relationships and intellectual inquiry.

I think that model delivers the best personal and social value.

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