To the editor:
For many good reasons, change in higher education should be gradual and evolutionary rather than rapid and radical. The current desire to pass one of Rider’s colleges off to others — a college that is not a university burden — is an example of rapid, radical change.
For one, students select and enter a university with the reasonable expectation that they will be able to pursue their programs through to graduation. Faculty and other staff join a university expecting to put down roots, enjoy colleagueship and pursue careers. These expectations cannot be overlooked or dealt with casually, partially.
Secondly, the commitment and involvement of university staff, including instructors, is essential if students are to be served well. These can evaporate with radical and unpopular change. Rider faculty morale right now is at an all-time low, based on a recent survey by Rider’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors.
Also, a gradual approach to change permits the process to be a collaborative one, enriched by different points of view and benefitting from the knowledge of important particulars not known by those promulgating the change. For example, if the current university strategy, which includes the transfer or sale of Westminster, was an outcome of SWOT analysis, which considers an organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, then it is entirely possible — and I say this professionally — to consider Westminster as a very significant university asset worth keeping.
Rider’s faculty members are a very bright bunch, at Rider for their careers and willing to help university administrators create a stronger and successful university — if asked. What is happening now, unfortunately, is akin to the go-it-alone strategy of Washington.
From my study of decision-making, I know it is possible for people to justify or rationalize any course of action, and to avoid or downplay the risks. When much has been invested, the tendency to justify a decision and downplay the risks is stronger, but the risks are there.
The transfer or sale of Westminster is risky, no matter what assurances have been offered. I wonder if the risks keep the university’s administrators awake at night. A for-profit can end an acquisition. There are many examples of mergers not working out, and we have the current example of Starbucks closing down Teavana, the tea specialist and a recent acquisition. Elevating the risks here are the cross-cultural nature of the potential transaction and an acquirer with no experience in running a university or deep understanding of the particulars of an institution devoted to music and the performing arts.
— Gerald D. Klein
Professor of organizational behavior and management emeritus