All around the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice may have been the most important holiday, for that was the day that the Sun began to come back. For people and institutions with goals and ambitions, it can be a time to take stock and make plans. That became the Roman view, for the month immediately after the Solstice (Ianuarius) was the month of the door (ianua) to the next year - even if the Roman new year began in March (!). On the first day of January - the Kalendae Ianuariae (and yes, this is where the word "calendar" came from) - newly elected officials were inaugurated.
This may be a good time to take stock of USF and think about where we want to go and how to get there - both individually and collectively. In this issue we look ahead.
The University of South Florida is a Doctoral University with Highest Research Activity (according to the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Learning), USF met Florida's criteria for pre-eminence - even after one of the goalposts was moved - and USF is one of the most veteran-friendly institutions in the country.
USF got a lot of laurels this year, but at the November 14 meeting of the USF Board of Trustees, the board heard that parents and students outside of Florida don't know where USF is located. And in Florida, USF lacks brand recognition. As this effort involved a leading marketing firm, the presentation quickly turned to logos (see also The Oracle's account).
There may be something deeper going on here. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently described How Rich Universities Get Richer ... and leave everyone else behind: the leading 60 universities get the most money and graduate the most privileged youngsters who become the wealthiest alumni who give the biggest donations so that their alma maters have the most resources to become even more leading. A similar feedback loop associated with academic recognition is Robert Merton's Matthew Effect, in which prominent people receive disproportionate or even inappropriate credit for work (the name comes from the Parable of the Bags of Gold in the Gospel of St. Matthew, which concludes with, "For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.") Such credit can include funding decisions, and some observers claim that the Matthew Effect affects institutions. For example, a study of science funding in Canada found that grant applicants from smaller institutions get disproportionately less money (but see the reponse by the president of Higher Education Strategy Associates).
Whatever the mechanism, faculty at smaller institutions get less external funding. And it is not hard to imagine the Matthew Effect affecting decisions made not only by funding agencies, but also by newspapers and the media, community leaders and politicians, parents and students.
So how does USF deal with the Matthew Effect? Marketing may have its place, but one needs a better mousetrap to market. So, who needs a better mousetrap? It seems that Tampa Bay does. And not just Tampa Bay.
- The Tampa Bay Partnership's 2018 Regional Competitiveness Report states that "... the quality and quantity of talent available in the market ... mark the region's greatest challenge." The report went on to advise that "If the region wants higher-wage, higher-skilled jobs, it will need a strategy to develop, retain and attract the educated workforce that these jobs demand ..." (For a rundown, see Robert Trigaux's synopsis.) Alas, at the moment, Florida as a whole may be headed in the wrong direction, warns the president of the Florida Research Consortium - although he is too tactful to put it that way.
- Silicon Valley, Chapel Hill, and Massachusetts Route 128 are all beneficiaries of their universities: many graduating students look for jobs in the vicinity of their alma mater. So when the Tampa Bay Partnership calls for an educated workforce, that call is directed at Tampa Bay's academies, beginning with USF. And USF can help with the social and economic mobility of local students. About a year ago, Insider Higher Ed reported on a study that concluded that while rich kids were the ones who got into selective institutions, some institutions were good at getting poor kids to a good start. Subsequently, a group called the Collegiate Leaders in Increasing Mobility held a conference to figure out how that handful of colleges were succeeding, and how others could generate similar results.
In fact, the combination of economic malaise - and despite the rising stock market, that's how many people feel - together with the perception that universities are not accessible to ordinary folk, is creating a dangerous situation. "The standard model is elitist," the president of Arizona State University told The Washington Post. "The system is creating social disruption ... It is creating this dynamic where people are not connected ...," and parents think, "Oh, my kid can never get into one of those great universities." He added, "There is fear and angst about the future. People are looking around and saying to universities, 'What are you doing for me? You guys at the universities are building robots that are going to replace my job.'" He suggested that this angst is partly driving the current anti-Academia sentiment. "If we donít learn how to communicate better and work with the community, there are going to be pitchforks and tar-and-feather buckets waiting outside the gates for us."
UFF Biweekly Readers may recall that many years ago, community boosters from Tampa Bay to Orlando were talking about an I-4 High Tech Corridor, complete with a New Florida Initiative to strengthen the university system. That was in the aftermath of the 2008 crash, and since then that political landscape has grown rather bleak. If we are going to make any progress towards our goals, we are going to have to revive a Can Do spirit - and spread it among the Tampa Bay.