Something to Talk About

Tim Goral's picture
Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Conversation is the coin of the realm in American higher education.

Shared governance rests upon reasonable, open and transparent communication. Internal and external constituencies -- including parents, alumni, donors, political leaders, and the media -- embrace the motivations and actions that shape education, often more so depending upon who delivers the message.

Curiously, conversation can also be a waste of energy and time; indeed, it can become more of an exercise in process than a good faith effort to communicate intent or solicit opinion. It's the problem with talk for the sake of talking.

This problem is exacerbated by the need for all parties seeking transparency to communicate. Good communication that takes time is admirable. Continuous communication that takes too much time is regrettable. Efforts to communicate broadly and continuously are often confused and lost in the incessant, process-driven chatter.

What's more distressing is that efforts to communicate a position seldom differentiate the audience. The result can be varied and sometimes dramatic as internal conversations spill out beyond the university gates with implications, whether good or bad, not entirely understood by the campus community.

In the broader community, college and university officials must learn better how to communicate to audiences that are different from and react differently to the message that they deliver.

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