Higher Ed in a Can

At some point last week I was speaking with my boss about the number of last minute requests he must get and the short time frame to get them done. I had a similar request and it threw me a bit because we are still working on our data management processes. He said that I was used to higher education and this is the way in which everyone else operates.

I like time to prepare. There are a couple theories I have about this. One is that I’m an introvert. I like to write down talking points and data to back up what I say. I’m actually very comfortable speaking in front of small groups and large groups alike, and even though I’ll likely never refer to my notes, preparing them helps. Another reason is that I’m a perfectionist and I don’t like when people do not have the information to back up what they say.

But I think another reason is that I work in higher ed, and I’m used to things taking a long time. Higher ed is not an agile sector, at least in the ways that others are. Sure, we are trained to respond to student crises but when it comes to policy changes, setting priorities, or hiring, it takes forever.

My organizational theory course introduced me to “garbage can decision making.” It’s a leadership model that is characterized by organized anarchies in which preferences are not clear, technology is not clear, or participation is fluid. This results in problems, solutions, and those involved in the decision-making process going into a proverbial garbage can and the solution to a particular problem is largely up to chance.

This is an irrational way to solve problems and therefore it takes a great deal of time to get anything done. While this isn’t true for all of higher ed, this approach has impacted how others approach working with the sector. Sometimes I’m still surprised at the length of lead time required. But, we persevere and come prepared. We must resist the urge to rummage around in the garbage can. We must make decisions in a timely and rational manner. We need to be more agile, especially as our work increasingly comes under attack.







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