The UK University-Territory Relationship in a Post-Brexit World

This entry is also available via Inside Higher Ed in a format more amenable for sharing or printing.


Post-EU Referendum turmoil in the UK (and the EU) continues, for all sorts of reasons, but soon more serious and sustained assessment of the post-Brexit landscape for UK universities will occur. This blog entry is an exercise in thinking future-forward, brainstorming-fashion (so all caveats apply!), about one possible risk-reducing option.

In such a context here is the question to consider: is an Oxbridge-Lille (a joint Cambridge-Oxford university) or equivalent (e.g., Imperial College-Lille; Birmingham-Nottingham-Warwick-Lille) campus in the Eurostar hub city of Lille an institutional-organizational level option to reduce risk and ensure stable access to EU nationals (including staff and students), creative UK staff with EU citizenship dreams (for themselves, and their children should they have any), EU research monies, EU-funded research infrastructures, and relevant EU policy-making fora and bodies? Or might the Euro-UK equivalent of Singapore’s Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE), in a similar location, be a creative post-Brexit option? Or might an equivalent of Cornell Tech NYC be worth creating in European higher education and research space?

In other words, is it time for the UK university-territory relationship to be reconsidered, or at least debated, vs simply waiting and seeing what might emerge over the next 2-4 years via the ‘leadership’ of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, et al?


The implications of ‘Brexit’ for UK universities are many, hence their leaderships’ unified argument and vigorous engagement in the pre-EU Referendum campaign. We heard, for example, about the over-dependence of UK universities upon EU students and staff, and the critical role of EU research monies (especially via Horizon 2020 and the European Research Council) in supporting one of the most research-active higher education systems in the world.

A glance at any of the backgrounders below makes a patently obvious point – the UK is deeply integrated into the European Union, the European Research Area (ERA) and the European Higher Education Research Area (EHEA), both formally and informally:

For example 46,230 postgraduate students and 78,435 undergraduates originating from the European Union (excluding the UK) studied in the UK in 2014-15 according to WonkHE, making up 5.5% of the total student population. This is a significant and relatively stable stream of non-UK students at the undergraduate level, as is evident in this figure from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA):


Further to the human mobility theme, “in 2012–13, 27,147 EU students came to study or work (train/teach) in the UK with an Erasmus grant” while non-UK EU staff now make up 15% of the UK’s academic workforce (see ‘The European Union’s contribution to UK higher education‘). On the research side, “UK national public investment into science is complemented by an additional 10% of funds (and rising from the EU)” with EU monies the “second largest single funding source” in 3 out of the 4 Research Excellence Framework (REF) panels according to Scientists for EU (November 2015):


Needless to say, UK university-based researchers also participate in numerous research consortia coordinated out of continental European universities, as well as exercise leadership at multiple scales in the EU-supported research and teaching policies, programs and projects.
As noted in many of these documents, the indirect impacts of human mobility to the UK, and EU research support, are plentiful too. For example Iain Wright, chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee and Labour MP for Hartlepool, recently wrote that EU research support “generates more than 19,000 jobs across the UK and contributes more than £1bn in additional value added to our country’s economy.” And the geographically-specific impacts are significant for key UK cities received spillover effects via concentrated flows of these monies (2007-2015):


Given that service exports (including education) generate localized expenditures (e.g., housing, food, entertainment) expenditures related to students from non-UK EU countries in the UK was estimated to “generate £3.7 billion for the UK economy and support over 34,000 British jobs.” All in all, the UK is an overall beneficiary when it comes to EU-related research money and EU-sourced or supported student and staff mobility. And this does not even begin to factor in the positive intellectual impacts of enhanced cooperation between UK and other EU universities, a phenomenon discussed in some detail by the Royal Society in 2016, and very much evident to US-based collaborations like myself.

Brexit, Transition Politics, & Risk

It is no exaggeration to state that the Leave win in the EU Referendum was a shock to most stakeholders associated with the higher education community in the UK, in other EU nations, and in regional associations (e.g., the European Students’ Union; the European University Association; League of European Research Universities). In short order, major expressions of discontent and concern were expressed in the UK by university associations, individual university leaders, the higher education media (especially Times Higher Education), and individual staff and students. Concerns emerged about the potential loss of research monies (a prediction apparently being brought to life already due to the marginalization of UK researchers from project proposal consortia), the ability of UK universities to guarantee right of residency for the many EU staff they depend upon; difficulties in student recruitment,  access to or possible relocation of EU research infrastructures (broadly defined), and the unleashing of xenophobia that has made many non-UK European researchers and students feel discriminated against and unwelcome. On the last point, part of the issue is that non-UK EU nationals are being effectively being told, via coded language, that they are bargaining chips in what will be multi-year UK-EU negotiations about the human mobility and the free movement of workers.

More broadly, Science and Technology Committee chair Nicola Blackwood told Science Minister Jo Johnson this week: ‘I think this [Brexit] will be make or break for our knowledge economy.’ More specifically, Blackwood said:

Can I … plead with you to make the case within Government, not only that issues such as continued access to Horizon 2020 [a funding scheme] are maintained and collaboration [is maintained] and the right kind of immigration system that benefits our science and higher education sectors are in place, but also that the science and innovation community is at the heart of the exit negotiations, as you’ve been saying is important, because I think this will be make or break for our knowledge economy going forward.

Blackwood raises an important issue, for in a multi-year period of tumultuous change coming up, all subject to political machinations, just how important of a priority will universities be in the big picture? This is a point Martin McQuillan also raised just prior to the referendum vote when he stated:

The chaos created in the intervening years by the gravitational pull of the right wing of the Conservative Party and their UKIP allies will be the legacy of the Cameron and Osborne governments. It is unlikely to be an environment in which our universities will flourish.

The governmental context shifted today, too, for UK “universities are on the move to the Department for Education” from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) which is itself being refashioned into the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (where research matters will be managed in the future). As Mark Leach of WonkHE put it:

Breaking up the family like this will be unpopular with vice chancellors who will now need to lobby two departments on overlapping issues. It also separates universities from the department with responsibility for infrastructure, growth and industry and takes HE policy further away from the industrial policy ‘action’ at home, and limits universities to some of the exposure to Britain’s international trade links that BIS used to pursue.

On the Future of UK universities in a Post-Brexit World

What will be the future of UK universities in a post-Brexit world? Will they all (or the vast majority of them) wait and see what emerges from the negotiations, focusing their lobbying efforts on strategic units, politicians, and officials? Perhaps. There is plenty of uncertainty to factor in, though, as Nick Hillman (Director, The Higher Education Policy Institute) put it in a 5 July 2016 speech to the University of Nottingham’s executive board:

No one knows what is going to happen for certain, so we can argue and act in favour of the future we desire. We can, to coin a phrase, take back control of the argument… We are only now coming to think about all the questions and not all the possible answers are obvious.”

In this section, I’d like to suggest that UK universities take seriously the words of Jo Johnson (Minister of State for Universities and Science) on 13 July 2016 when he stated:

Brexit does not mean that we are becoming insular and inward-looking in any way, but, on the contrary, we are going to be more outward-looking, more open and more globally minded than ever before.

but in a manner that builds upon global regionalisms (including the development of the ERA & the EHEA) that have helped enable the creation of a more resilient and outward-looking higher UK educational and research system over the last decade plus.

Could an ‘outward-looking’ UK university deal with Brexit-related risk, take advantage of progress in developing the EHEA and the ERA, and contribute to refashioning its future structure and identity by creating a new and deeply embedded campus in a nearby (commuting time-wise) Eurostar station city like Lille, France, safely in EU-space? Commercial presence in the EU, to use GATS parlance, would enable a multi-campus model to emerge like the one visualized in the bottom of the figure below.

Version 2: Import Model | Export Model | Academic Joint Venture Model | Partnership, Alliance, & Consortia Model | and Foreign Campus Model

Models for the Globalization of Higher Education

Source: based on Hawawini, G. (2011) The Internationalization of Higher Education Institutions: A Critical Review and a Radical Proposal (November 2011).

In such a model, students and faculty regularly travel between campuses; indeed programs tend to be designed such that components are held in multiple locations. The nodal location also enables the university to leverage these flows. This model is not one associated the creation of offices or small outreach campuses where teaching occurs, with minimal basic research; rather, these campuses broadly replicate the terms and conditions of faculty and staff in the main (origin) campus. Indeed the replication of such employment conditions is required in some contexts (e.g., Singapore) where state largesse, subject to contractual agreements, facilitates the new campus development process.

Imagine, for example, a Lille- or Amsterdam- based version of Cornell Tech in New York City, currently being constructed in New York City and primarily associated with Cornell University and Technion in Israel (photo below courtesy of Cornell Tech):
Campus View from West Loop Road

Campus View from West Loop Road. The Bloomberg Center, Residential Building, The Bridge (listed from left to right) – Credit Kilograph, Weiss Manfredi, and Handel Architects

In a process that began in 2010 (see my Unsettling the University-Territory Relationship via Applied Sciences NYC) a long-term experiment in reconfiguring the university-territory relationship was launched. This initiative is noteworthy from a post-Brexit perspective because it is generative of the formation of deep partnerships between universities from different countries, but in a new & strategically valuable setting. In so doing, partner universities have no choice but to forge deep and relatively trusting relations, thereby going beyond traditional international partnerships that are all too often associated with ghost Memorandum of Understandings (MOUs) with little follow-up.
In the case of Cornell Tech, the creation of a partnership node can be opened up, at will, to new partners, while also serving as a prospective site of engagement between Cornell and Technion’s existing partners in the US, Israel, and abroad. This is, indeed, the value of drawing in research-active universities like Technion and Cornell.

Other models also exist, including the Euro-UK equivalent of Singapore’s Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE), an option several of us from US universities (including UW-Madison, MIT, Georgia Tech, Texas A&M, Carnegie Mellon) recently discussed at a workshop on International University Research Ventures: Implications for US Economic Competitiveness and National Security. Most international research university ventures are STEM-related, though given what’s happening in Europe and the broader region, a case could certainly be made for an innovative UK-EU-Other campus that focuses on global challenges/problems including terrorism, climate change, financialization, refugee crises, risk/uncertainty, and the like. In short, an Oxbridge-Lille (or equivalent) campus is in the realm of the possible, potentially leading to educational innovation within the UK and EU irrespective of what Boris and Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (David Davis) are able to pull off over the next 2-6 years.

In Conclusion

I was in Copenhagen the week before the EU Referendum vote was held participating in a UNIKE conference regarding University Futures. This event, as well as the EU-funded project it is an outcome of, is an excellent of what UK university engagement in EU research and professional development programming can engender. The network structure of the project brought together UK, continental European, and European Higher Education Area-scale faculty, (post)graduate students , postdocs, and staff to explore various dimensions of universities and the knowledge-based economy. The network also extended into Asia and North America. Compared to many North American events focused on similar topics, this was a relatively cosmopolitan gathering; a sign of how 21st century regionalisms are indeed open regionalisms; they are not closed and inward looking, but instead use the phenomenon of global regionalism to build up capacity of constituent parts to engage globally.

As Anne Corbett recently stated in University World News:

It is not going to be an easy time for higher education. Nothing can be the same. But as the UK higher education world reflects on how it is to continue on the post-Brexit path, it is surely time to take a deep breath and return to fight with renewed energy for the values of European cooperation, as well as the money that has come into the sector from the EU.

In this entry I am arguing UK universities might want to rethink their territorial relationship(s) and consider options for becoming more deeply embedded in EU-space in preparation for a post-Brexit non-EU world. And in doing so UK universities might help stabilize and hopefully further not only their own institutional-organizational development futures, but also contribute to the development of the Europe educational and research space they are unquestionably dependent upon.

There are, no doubt, dozens of challenges (many legal) for why the ideas put forward above might be enormously difficult if not impossible to operationalize, though they’re posed here in the context of recognition that, as Nick Hillman put it last week, “not all the possible answers are obvious.”

Kris Olds (with thanks for input on this topic from numerous colleagues in Belgium, the UK & the USA)









UBC Future Forward

This entry is also available in Insider Higher Ed.


As I outlined back on 9 August 2015 in Inside Higher Ed, the unexpected leadership transition at the University of British Columbia (UBC) in summer 2015 had all the ingredients to become a major crisis. And a ‘barn-burner’ of a crisis has certainly emerged, sad to say. As a concerned alum, I do hope my alma mater can move forward. From my perspective, nearly seven months later (amid a possible vote of non-confidence in the Board of Governors and an ongoing presidential search) it’s worth flagging two key problems, and then three correctional action suggestions.

On Problems

UBCWest3First, if mistakes were made in the handling of the processes in which Professor Gupta was hired, institutionally supported in his first year in the job, and/or resigned, they need to be analyzed and openly communicated. No institution nor key leader is perfect – that’s life. World-class universities sing their praises and own their mistakes. Moving on is more difficult if a consistently defensive posture is adopted by key stakeholders with power, and if important mistakes are not publicly owned. Fortunately, process factors are not typically entangled up in non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).

Second, UBC, including the Board of Governors, needs to publicly commit to becoming a more transparent organization as this seems to be a core theme of various conflicts. If and when the principle of enhanced transparency is committed to, detailed changes need to be devised and outlined in a systematic way. Discourse about transparency is not enough – a strategic plan with deliverables and deadlines is needed. For example, many boards of governors (or equivalent) live stream and then archive all regularly scheduled meetings. Live streaming and archiving important committee meetings is also possible. Err on the side of transparency. And in doing so, use transparency, as many of the world’s best universities do, as a mechanism to enhance engagement with key stakeholders within the organization. Why? Because engagement in a shared governance context improves information flows in all directions, as well as the quality of decisions and associated outcomes. Finally, if a major crisis were to emerge in the near future, take into account this higher education crisis expert’s view: “Our first line for every client is, “Tell the truth, tell it all, tell it first.“”

On Correctional Actions

I’ll preface my three correctional action suggestions with a statement that UBC is a very fortunate university – it’s a high quality and respected institution with relatively stable financial footings. And we’re also fortunate that a respected leader like president emeritus Martha Piper is acting as Interim President and Vice-Chancellor. This interim role is critically important to moving forward. Only experienced and broadly trusted interim presidents can play the unique university-wide role of helping to repair broken communications and creating psychic healing measures. This is a nebulous but vital role for any president to focus on, from start to finish, amid a governance/leadership crisis.

In terms of correctional actions, it’s first worth noting that many universities and higher education systems are revisiting their governance structures. A formal independent governance review is worth considering. And at a minimum, it’s worth commissioning one or more independent studies of UBC’s governance in comparative perspective, with attention to higher education structures and systems, variations in autonomy and transparency, and the changing context for provincial/higher education relationships. A condition of ‘legacy governance’ exists right now in that our governance systems and procedures reflect earlier eras of revenue streams, very different political and technological contexts, and now dated understandings of the roles of universities in the development of economy and society. Students, in particular, are underrepresented in governance systems vis a vis their majority (in many contexts) role in providing the revenue streams that sustain universities. It’s also worth noting that crises in several of UBC’s peer universities have been associated with a lack of awareness, at the governing board level, regarding how shared governance works, including what roles various formal and informal governance bodies play, as well as how these governance systems interconnect. Conversely, many faculty, staff and students associated with many shared governance bodies do not understand what roles boards of governors (or equivalent) are required to play. In short, an open and transparent examination of governance structures and practices could help, if done well, enhance levels of knowledge while reducing mistrust and erroneous assumptions.

Second, and as noted here, unexpected leadership transitions generate enormous attention to the cultural, economic, and political forces reshaping universities, as well as associated lines of power that bring these forces to life. A crisis is a wonderful teaching and learning moment. But do this in a systematic way! For example, launch a UBC Futures seminar series; provide modest funding to spur on some unique courses and workshops on related issues in the 2016-17 academic year; work with the BC Open Textbook Project or UBC Press to develop a ‘living’ open text on the tumultuous times UBC has been going through so everyone can learn, down the line, what went well, and what did not; enable ethnographic research by social scientists in key governance bodies; etc. There is so much more that could be done to turn all the intellectual power at UBC in on itself so as to learn in a systematic vs. haphazard way. In short, grasp the moment and identity rigorous and intellectually stimulating mechanisms (though not associated with decision-making) to generate sustained and valuable learning-oriented experiences.

Third, take the medium-term view regarding the ongoing presidential search and shape the search process to rebuild community. Some universities can hire in one year after an unexpected leadership transition, while others take 2-3 years of ‘bridging’ leadership. The University of Wisconsin-Madison, for example, dealt with an unexpected leadership crisis in 2011 by bringing back David Ward, our former chancellor (president equivalent) and president emeritus of the American Council of Education (which has 1,700+ member institutions). Interim Chancellor Ward did a wonderful job from 2011-2013 in what he wittily defined as his “Chancellor Encore” role. Ward helped to repair broken communications, including via framing and bringing to life psychic healing measures (e.g., new modes of vertical and lateral communications in and outside of UW-Madison). His sturdy two-year leadership bridge led to the successful 2013 hiring of our current chancellor (Rebecca Blank, President Obama’s acting secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce).

As Martha Piper aptly put it in her statement about UBC’s Centennial celebrations:

Looking forward, our future is unwritten. What we learn, discover, and contribute together will depend on the strength of our connections – to all of our communities, local and global.

On this note, it’s critically important to ensure that the presidential search process helps build connections in the UBC community, while creating a positive pathway to move forward. If presidential search process troubles and tensions exist, recognize them openly and do something about them. For example, put the presidential search process on pause for one week (or even a long weekend), coordinate a facilitated off-campus retreat with an objective and independent governance/leadership expert, and dig in to honestly explore causes and realistic solutions on a face-to-face basis. Evidence elsewhere points to the fact that all university presidential searches distill and condense what is working well with respect to governance, what’s functioning in an adequate manner, and what is problematic. Presidential searches are lenses into the heart of the governance of the university, inevitably exposing both buried and surface tensions, and uneven power geometries. In short, there are opportunities and risks associated with all presidential searches. Given this it’s important to always take the medium-term view. UBC is a wonderful university, and it will have many options: take time to make the right presidential search process choices, and in so doing strengthen the entire community (alum included!).

Kris Olds

Photos courtesy of @TrishJewison, Eye in the Sky Traffic Reporter for @GlobalBC and @AM730Traffic.


Global Networks Amplify Local Controversies

This entry is also available at Inside Higher Ed.


What are the implications for universities and their governing boards/trustees/councils of becoming increasingly embedded in global networks?

There are many implications, including the ability to be interconnected with flows of knowledgeable people (aka human capital), ideas, money, technologies, and so on. These global networks also ensure that international collaborative research and co-authorship occurs, a phenomenon explored on a number of levels in these fascinating reports:

Pause for a moment, too, and explore this fascinating visualization by Olivier H. Beauchesne of indexable co-authorship between 2005-2009:


What political boundaries, if any, do you notice in this empirically-based visualization of collaborative activity?

It’s no surprise if you read the reports flagged above that governments and funding councils across the worlds are enamored with facilitating more international collaborative research. Why? It is perceived to enhance the quality of the knowledge produced, the ability to address key global challenges, and that collaborative output (e.g., articles, reports, books) can generate relatively higher interest and impacts.

When I examine the above graphic, I think of all of my colleagues at the universities I’ve been educated and have worked at – the University of British Columbia, the University of Bristol, the National University of Singapore, Sciences Po (albeit just for one year), and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. At all of these universities I was (and am, in the case of UW-Madison) surrounded by colleagues who collaborate with colleagues in other universities, national and regional (e.g., European) research councils, firms, government agencies, international organizations, etc., all of which are scattered across the planet. Of course there is variation in researchers’ individual collaborative geographies, but there is evidence of a progressive deepening and extension of global networks, and this is backed up by bibliometric research on the basis of Thomson Reuters and Elsevier data.

From a broader perspective, it’s worth noting that these globalizing networks are structurally supported by the operation of segmented academic labour markets that are increasingly supra-national in nature, the digitalization of research infrastructures (think of research databases, publication platforms, the Global Research Council, ORCID, etc.), university internationalization strategies, global production networks (value chains), open access online higher education media, etc.

Now when things go well, universities benefit, as do the economies and societies (both territorialized) they are most closely associated with. Think, for example, of the myriad of ways the local, regional and indeed national economy benefited when one UW-Madison faculty member established the largest medical records company (Epic Systems) in the world, with offices in Verona WI, the Netherlands, and Singapore. When things go well, universities see increased attention from the higher ed media, and the business/economy-focused media (given the critically important role of universities in constructing vibrant knowledge-based economies). Said universities see higher positioning in world university rankings, increased flows of international fee-paying students, more diversity and competition in the make up of job applicant pools, more spin-off companies with genuinely global perspectives, greater competitiveness in extramural funding competitions, and so on.

As with many phenomenon, the existence of vibrant global networks that run through universities is a double-edged sword. They have the capacity to, if things go poorly, propel near instantaneous and surprisingly durable echoes and reverberations that span out across global space. Information flows, like water – it can’t be suppressed. Epistemic communities care little for the complex causes of major budget cuts, the detailed factors underlying poor leadership, nor the diverse causes of governance ineptitude. These global epistemic communities, supported by mediatized services (e.g., via Twitter, Facebook, email), pay negligible if nil attention to detailed rationale and nuances of controversial policy shifts (e.g., about tenure and layoff provisions). These increasingly global epistemic communities treasure, above all, freedom of thought to produce innovative forms of knowledge in the search for truth, clear and evident autonomy from the interventive impulses of the state, church, society, and governance systems that are proactively supportive vs repressive/micro-management in inclination.

Unfortunately, while higher education, as well as the associated knowledge economy, is going global, higher education politics with respect to budgets and university governance (at the board/council/trustee level) is at risk of regressing, of becoming more local, regional, hyper-politicized, and ideological. Think, for example, about the messy local/provincial politics shaping key aspects of the University of British Columbia‘s ongoing leadership/governance crisis, or an evident regional agenda to mess about (a ‘solution in search of a problem’?) with one of the foundational principles of academic freedom – tenure – that has built the University of Wisconsin (System), over a century plus, into what it is.

Going global brings with it amazing opportunities. Going global is a necessary developmental agenda for universities that seek to excel and build resilience in the 21st century. Going global is an integral part of supporting of regional knowledge-based economic development strategies, something I learned much about via colleagues on an OECD mission. But, hand in hand with going global is a global eye on the local.

Are those governing universities, and provincial/state higher education systems, as aware as they should be about the global networks that play a fundamental role in sustaining the vibrancy, effectiveness, and stature of their universities? If not, they should be, for local controversies and tensions are also simultaneously global in nature – they reverberate, at the speed of light, through global networks.

Kris Olds

Academic Freedom, Tenure & the U.S. Higher Education System

This entry is available via Inside Higher Ed as well.


2015 is surely one of the most momentous years in a long time regarding debates about tenure, academic freedom, the Wisconsin Idea, budget cuts, etc. Yesterday’s balanced article (‘Tenure or Bust‘) by Colleen Flaherty, in Inside Higher Ed, is but the latest of a series of nuanced pieces Ms. Flaherty has produced this year about the unfolding of higher education debates in this Midwest U.S. state of 5.75 million people.

While I’m immersed in the tumult as a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I can’t help standing back and trying to look at the big picture. Studying, living, working, and visiting a range of other countries, including universities in Canada, England, China, Hong Kong, Singapore and France, as well as being based in the U.S. since 2001, often engenders a drive to compare. And when comparing and reflecting upon what this wonderful university and the state/national higher education system (systems, in reality) has to offer, I increasingly think too much is taken for granted, or assumed. This is a relatively risk-oriented society, and I’m struck by how many people (including many of of the people leaving comments below ‘Tenure or Bust‘) assume the system is ‘broken,’ resiliency can be counted upon, and mechanisms to turn the system on a dime exist, if searched for long enough. They also ignore path dependency, and prior developmental trajectories and agendas, the ones that have led us to where we are now, a nation that has some of the strongest and most dynamic universities in the world. Problems and weaknesses exist, of course, but people in Wisconsin and the U.S. more broadly don’t seem to know just how many other countries are desperate to create just the types of universities that exist here.

And what are some of the deep (core) principles and conditions that have led to the creation of so many world-class universities and higher education systems (at the state-scale) in Wisconsin and the U.S. more broadly? This question brings me to the words of Hanna Holborn Gray, the esteemed president of the University of Chicago from 1978 to 1993. In conference panel comments reprinted in the Summer 2009 issue of Social Research, Hanna Holborn Gray deemed universities to be a very important and special institution:

…the only institution in our world, that is, as it were, commissioned to always take a longer-term look. The only institution in our world that is commissioned, so to speak, to concentrate on the mission of discovery and learning, and the transmission of learning, on the elaboration and interpretation and debate over important ideas, over what is most important in the cultural world.

Emeritus President Holborn Gray then begged the question: “What is it that makes that profession or vocation possible? And what is it that makes the institution in which it is carried on a genuine institution?”

Her question was actually answered 115 years earlier to this day (18 December 1900), by the founding president of the University of Chicago, William Rainey Harper, in his ‘36th Quarterly Statement of the President of the University’:

When for any reason, in a university on private foundation or in a university supported by public money, the administration of the institution or the instruction in any one of its departments is changed from an influence from without; when an effort is made to dislodge an officer or a professor because the political sentiment or the religious sentiment of the majority has undergone a change, at that moment the institution has ceased to be a university, and it cannot again take its place in the rank of universities so long as their continues to exist any appreciable extent of coercion. Neither an individual, nor the state, nor the church has the right to interfere with the search for truth, or with its promulgation when found. Individuals, or the state, or the church may found schools for propagating certain kinds of special instruction, but such schools are not universities, and may not be so denominated.

Genuine ‘universities’ like the University of Chicago and those that make up the University of Wisconsin System are associated with conditions of autonomy, and are spaces that respect and uphold academic freedom. And from the faculty perspective, academic freedom is significantly realized via the mechanism of tenure, which enables faculty to focus upon things like “establishing revolutionary theories about economics” (one of Milton Friedman’s many contributions in Chicago), the sustained basic research that underlies the creation of the iPhone (that the University of Wisconsin-Madison contributed to), challenging research questions related to democratization, authoritarianism, sexuality or violence, complex global challenges such as climate change, and so on. And in so doing, these faculty members (in association with staff & students) play a major role in creating the conditions that have helped us facilitate the formation of one of the world’s first university-linked technology transfer units (WARF) in 1925, through to generating research activity and spin-off firms that has made the Madison city-region one of the US’s most advanced industrial bases (according to the Brookings Institution in 2015) — a now common process of geographical concentration that the World Bank and others (e.g., David Warsh) note is inevitable, but defacto functions as ‘engines’ for regional and national economies.

I have no doubt the vast majority of the University of Chicago’s current faculty would make the same argument I am above: after all, that great university’s leadership has been doing so since it was founded 125 years ago in 1890. Visionary leaders like William Rainey Harper and Hanna Holborn Gray were aware that the long and challenging road to build one of the most dynamic and powerful higher education systems in the world depended upon more than platitudes about ‘academic freedom’ – academic freedom actually had (and has) to be realized each and every day.

Kris Olds

Reflections on Tenure in Canada vs Wisconsin

This entry is available at Inside Higher Ed as well.


In the context of some intense debates about tenure in the University of Wisconsin System, and at UW-Madison, I’ve been acquiring some interesting information and views about tenure and related governance matters in Canada vs Wisconsin. Reflections and data have been kindly provided by Canadian leaders representing faculty and university administrative bodies, both nationally and in select universities.

Why focus on this issue in comparative perspective? First, leading Canadian universities (UBC, Toronto, Waterloo, McGill) have been poaching faculty from UW and could increasingly do so if proposed changes to tenure do not match existing standards/AAUP guidelines. Second, looking at different systems in a comparative way helps you realize what is working well here in WI, but also what might need to be changed, especially if higher education governance becomes more politicized in Wisconsin (as it has been in states like North Carolina).

In the end, it is similar and different in Canadian peer universities vs what we experience in WI. I think the biggest difference is it is more unionized in Canada (for ~80% of the faculty base) and the details re. tenure and layoffs are embedded in collective agreements. This said, some faculty associations at peers – the University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, McMaster University, and McGill University – though not officially certified as labour unions, nevertheless have negotiated collective agreements with standard grievance and arbitration procedures. Also, in Canada, the majority of part-time faculty are unionized and staff are unionized. It just goes to show you don’t necessarily need regulations re. tenure embedded in the state statutes (or equivalent) to guarantee strong tenure and shared governance, but, this said, there are other key differences (see below) so how it is all configured matters, a lot…

In the end, no tenured faculty in Canadian universities (including 100% of our peers, the ones poaching our faculty) lose tenure except for engaging in serious forms of unethical behavior (i.e. ‘due cause’). Exigency-related rules do apply but it has not happened, to date, for all sorts of reasons. And if exigency-related layoffs of tenured faculty were to be proposed, it happens at a broader university-scale and the guidelines typically state that a task-force is to be appointed with diverse membership and/or it can only happen in specified ways.

The other big (and important) difference is program-related changes are run through Canadian university senates and the senate is typically made up of senior administrators and elected faculty (the majority), staff, students, etc. See these senate membership lineups, for example:

The UW Board of Regents equivalent in Canadian universities does not need to sign off on program-related changes like the Board of Regents does here. So decisions on closure or redundancy are senate decisions (i.e. the locus of engagement and control is intra-institutional in nature). And in unionized environments, redundancy procedure, after senate has declared program closure, etc., are governed by collective agreement processes. In general the UW Board of Regents here in WI has not been too involved in the fine-grained details of program-related decisions or the funding of centers – they approve what has come up via shared governance pathways. But they could, in the future, become far more active and micro-management in orientation.

On a related note, boards of trustees or equivalent in Canada are university-specific and are more diverse and relatively autonomous from government involvement. You basically have government funded but privately (not-for-profit) autonomous universities. This keeps things less capital P political. The proposed New Badger Partnership (2011) Board of Trustees:

UW-Madison governed by 21-member Board of Trustees, including 11 members appointed by the Governor, with no Senate confirmation. Remaining 10 members represent UW-Madison constituencies (faculty, staff, classified staff, alumni, WARF). All remaining UW campuses governed by the current Board of Regents.

would have brought us half way to to this level of board autonomy vs the current system, though this proposed approach to governance should have also been applied to the UW System more generally and not just UW-Madison.

Thus, what you see is a relatively more autonomous/less politicized university and higher ed governance system in Canada; one where the norms of tenure and academic freedom are sometimes constructed via agreements but often are just part of institutional-organizational culture. The faculty trust the system more, I would say, than they do here now in what could become, if we don’t watch out, a hyper-politicized context. And they do so partly because of the unionized context, the codified agreements, and the fact the premier (governor equivalent) and the ruling party (or parties) tend to be much more hands-off. Increasingly, in Canada, governments through sector-wide bargaining or recalibrating funding formula, or setting tuition fee parameters, are exercising more hands on approaches. Budgets are, of course, political, but they’re just budgets for the most part and they don’t embed policy matters re tenure into budgetary processes in Canada like it has been happening here. It’s a more deliberative context: not perfect, this said, just more deliberative in structure.

The short-term take-away: don’t have unclear terms and procedures in a context where the potential exists for an increasingly more politicized and micro-management-oriented Board of Regents. Maintain tenure standards at UW-Madison and other universities in the UW System that match, in spirit and meaning, what they were before policy changes were injected into the Spring 2015 Wisconsin state budget. Faculty should not lose tenure except for ‘due cause’, as per AAUP guidelines. If program closure occurs after careful consideration by university-specific governance bodies, tenured faculty should have the right to shift to the unit of their choice, or become a professor of the school or college they are affiliated with. It is a clear and straightforward definition of tenure, and academic freedom, that helped make the US university system so well known, globally, for the production of innovative forms of knowledge. Unclear terms and procedures re. tenure has serious potential to destabilize the foundation of the entire system. And Canadian universities, not to mention hundreds of other US universities, will be salivating if this occurs.

The medium-term take-away: think about the potential role of faculty senates in future debates/steps. And think about tenure and shared governance in the context of the overall governance of the UW System (incl. what has been happening, and what should be happening). In my mind we have a legacy-based governance system that does not reflect the new realities of fiscal (tuition as a majority funding stream), economic (a globalizing knowledge economy), academic, and societal contexts. An unraveling of tenure in the next year will be a proxy indicator the entire UW System governance structure needs to be rethought.

We are, arguably, at risk of seeing the convergence of a legacy-based governance system with a more forceful and explicit political agenda – and this is not beneficial for a world-class university, and a world-class multi-campus state university system, in the 21st century.  Anchor tenure, tightly.

Kris Olds

Innovative and Engaging Communications in and Beyond the Academy

Editor’s note: this guest entry has been kindly developed by Gisèle Yasmeen, Ph.D., Senior Fellow, Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia, Canada. Dr. Yasmeen raises a series of important issues in the build-up to a call for a “structured dialogue” on the nature and role of knowledge in society.


Innovative and Engaging Communications in and Beyond the Academy

Gisèle Yasmeen, University of British Columbia

Research and scholarship is primarily about asking and answering questions as well as conserving and constantly reinterpreting fragile and easily forgotten knowledge. When I started graduate studies more than 25 years ago, there was no talk of the world wide web, no blogs, no Twitterverse, Facebook, and so on. I grew up in an era of card catalogues, photocopying, typewriters and hand-written letters with supervisors and collaborators. My first experience with computers was with a mainframe “Amdahl” where you had to learn complex codes to do simple word-processing! I am convinced that the dramatic communications revolution we are experiencing is and will continue to transform research, teaching and academe beyond anything we are familiar with now in the next twenty years. So, how might we succinctly envision these changes and start to prepare for the scholarly world of the possible future? Or as I was asked recently by a university Vice-President of Research, “what are the implications of digital media for post-secondary institutions?”

Many of us are still getting our heads around these questions – myself included – and follow with great interest the work of those like John Willinsky, Leslie Chan, and John Wilbanks. The purpose of this article is, therefore, to reflect on the actual and potential role of ICTs in research, teaching and scholarly communication, and to humbly offer in the conclusion my own suggestion that the time has come for a new “knowledge commission.” Hence, the intended audience is those who are new to the file and others who may be wondering, where could we take it from here?

Research: the importance of ICTs for asking and answering questions

New media tools in general – and high performance computing in particular – enable us to mine vast quantities of data (numeric, text, images, sound) at lightening speed compared to the past, which enables not only research questions to be answered but new research questions to be asked, which could not be asked before. This exciting approach to (re)discovery is at the forefront of a variety of (inter/multi/trans)disciplines ranging from bio-informatics and social statistics to the digital humanities. Examples of ICTs, “big data” and other emerging technologies leading to research breakthroughs in the natural and health sciences are well known. Most of us are familiar with the Higgs boson or “God-particle” confirmed through the CERN Hadron collider and revolutionary work on human genomics through the “barcode of life” dataset. What is perhaps less known is the growing use and study of emerging technologies in the social sciences and humanities. For example, advanced imaging technologies allowed literary scholars funded by the National Endowment of the Humanities to read and analyse an illegible and deteriorated copy of explorer David Livingstone’s diary, as reported by the New York Times. The study and use of emerging technologies, such as advanced ICTs is predicated on the development of appropriate tools for research and, as Clifford Lynch eloquently argued last year, the builders of those tools often do not get the respect they deserve as necessary “enablers” in the world of research compared to those who spend time using those tools.

In fact, the concept of what is a “discipline” is worth reflecting on in an era of joint faculty appointments between computer science and literature or philosophy and the growing number of innovative instructional programs that combine information technology, creative arts and business. What are the implications of this for institutional and program design? After all, as the English language Wikipedia entry on academic discipline, drawing from the Encyclpaedia Britannica reminds us, “The University of Paris in 1231 consisted of four faculties: Theology, Medicine, Canon Law and Arts”. We need to be vigilant about how we classify and institutionalise structures of knowledge, particularly in an era of rapidly evolving collaboration between knowledge communities. Karoline Postel-Vinay of Sciences Po, at a recent Asian studies conference in Paris, encouraged participants to challenge our currently established conceptualizations of disciplines and areas of research.

Digital media is also facilitating communication and collaboration between researchers in specialised fields in order to collectively advance and explore knowledge and is also enabling interaction with communities and experts beyond post-secondary institutions leading to the growth of “citizen science” and inter-sectoral modes of knowledge production (ie the co-creation of knowledge with “lay” collaborators). Hence, the issue of where legitimate knowledge lies and audience is an evolving one – or is it? Perhaps we need to begin by refuting the ivory tower myth. The walls of universities are and have always been porous for faculty and students. Virginia Woolf attended Oxford as one of the first women on campus and historical examples abound regarding restrictions on enrolment with respect to certain minorities either not accessing the hallowed halls of advanced education or being subject to quotas. Thankfully, this has changed for the better though barriers for many still remain, as many scholars argue. This is yet another reason to have a discussion on what is legitimate knowledge and how to structure our institutions around questions of its generation, conservation, transmission and value-addition – including reinterpretation.

Furthermore, students are the single-biggest “export of universities”. One of the fundamental purposes of higher education and research is to foster the development of the next generation as well as be challenged by the innovative ideas of youth. The Socratic dialogue continues to this day and is a necessary step in the growth and development of ideas on an individual and collective level. Young people graduate and go on to lead productive lives across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors as well as the academic world.

What we may be seeing accelerated via ICTs is an increasing blurring of boundaries with respect to knowledge intended for and/or accessed by academic audiences as well as those beyond. Data-intensive research is an area where we see sometimes very esoteric research questions being resourced and explored through digital means (e.g. medieval languages and literature) with user groups as well as commentators and “content providers” going well beyond academe. This might be compared to marketing a niche product to a global audience as well as sourcing suppliers through a global, often volunteer, network. The possibilities are endless.

However, with ICTs, as with all tools, there is always a “dark side”. There are concerns and critiques by longstanding observers of emerging and disruptive technologies, such as Heather Menzies, of the negative impacts of “real time” communications and the sometimes-associated lack of depth, reduced attention spans, and difficulty to maintain meaningful inter-subjectivity. It is said that 80-90% of human communication remains non-verbal, hence we need to be vigilant and attentive to the dynamics of learning, thought and social interaction through emerging multidisciplinary fields such as cognitive neuroscience. We need to see new media as one tool, for knowledge generation and sharing but, by no means, the only one.

A central challenge now confronting the scholarly community is how to assess the quality and impact of various types of content accessible to potentially millions of readers and commentators. This includes the conundrum of what to do with “user-generated” or self-published content. Furthermore, how do we conceptualize and classify who is a “peer” and their commentary on one’s work in various contexts given the accelerated blurring of boundaries between the academic, public, private and not-for-profit sectors? Who best plays the curatorial role of quality control in the information deluge? These are some of the fundamental and normative questions facing the world of research and scholarship, which the following section will attempt to unpack, at least in a preliminary way.

Knowledge sharing – maximising value from good quality knowledge

The previous section focused on “research”, commonly thought of as (re)discovery and analysis, but how does knowledge get documented, vetted, shared, commented-upon and preserved for present and future generations?   It goes without saying that teaching in its many, rapidly evolving forms – is primarily a form of knowledge transmission and, I would argue, two way exchange between generations. Others have written in great detail about the impact of ICTs on teaching, especially the growth of on-line learning, MOOCs, Khan Academy and the like so I will not go into detail about this topic here. Suffice it to say that ICTs are having a significant impact teaching in post-secondary institutions – some of which are having difficulty rising to the challenge. Rather, I’d like to focus on the impact of ICTs on scholarly publishing and debates on how to assess the quality published output, without expecting to resolve this complex conundrum.

Bibliometrics, impact factors and indices such as the H-Index are, on the one hand, gaining importance and, on the other, coming under greater scrutiny for sometimes excluding entire scholarly communities such as humanities scholars who typically write books and those with a policy orientation who often produce “grey literature” such as technical and policy-oriented reports. In addition, there have been scandals of peer review “rings” in journals trying to enhance their impact factor. There is a tautology built into the issue of impact factor, namely that a more accessible publication tends to have wider readership and citations. Public Library of Science, or PLOS, a not-for profit publisher of open access journals that accepts roughly 70% of its peer-reviewed manuscripts and has a relatively high impact factor since it’s journals are open access. Articles rejected by PLOS journals often get published elsewhere so a general discussion on the meaning of acceptance and rejection rates are probably needed. John Willinsky also noted in a recent interview that PLOS requirements to include open access data also forces researchers to think through the quality of the datasets used to support their publications. How, therefore, to meaningfully establish the quality and impact of a publication?

The growing “open” movement, which includes open access (OA) publishing, open source technologies and open data are revolutionizing the scholarly enterprise by being based on the premise that knowledge is a public good – particularly when it is publicly-funded – and that the outputs of research and related activities should be freely available, without charge, ideally on the internet. Part of rising to the “open” challenge is an infrastructural one but this is improving through the creation of OA platforms at the institutional level. The importance of open access to research results (journals and books) as well as raw datasets (numeric, text, images and sound) is hugely important to both the world of research and broader society and lead to greater readership and impact. One concrete example to note is when a number of Québec journals dramatically increased their readership within a few years when they went OA by joining the Ėrudit platform. Another example is the journal RNA Biology requiring several years ago that all its authors to submit their abstracts to Wikipedia. Another “open” phenomenon to mention is the growth of open peer review– strongest in the health world – where open access publishers are employing fully transparent processes in their review of articles. In other words, the identity of the reviewer is disclosed, as are his or her comments on the article being submitted, the author – and others for that matter – can respond and comment. We will likely be seeing more of this type of review and resulting publications.

Conclusion – Dialogue on the nature and role of knowledge in society

I recently published an article on scholarly and research infrastructure in the new 2nd edition of the International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioural Sciences, which begins to expand established knowledge boundaries to include an unprecedented number of contributions by non-Americans, women, non-anglophones, and minorities to get a more complete picture of contemporary scholarship. The next step would be to give more serious thought to the idea of “knowledge commissions”. Examples – some considered more successful than others – include the Indian Knowledge Commission as well as Canada’s Massey Commission in the 1950s, which ultimately led to the creation of national research funding infrastructure. Given advances in technology and associated virtual and intersectoral communities of interest, practice and purpose, are we at the point where we need to establish such knowledge commissions to review the place of knowledge in society and the institutions that support its creation, conservation and transmission/exchange? New media tools have enabled us to interact in real time on a regular basis with like-minded others around the world via exchange of knowledge and information in multiple directions. This helps researchers gather and curate precious information and often engages “fellow travellers” in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. New collective voices are emerging, which were not heard before. Yes, it’s time for a structured dialogue.

The author would like to acknowledge Chad Gaffield and Kris Olds for constructive comments on an earlier version of this article

The Impacts of Leadership Shakeups at Large Public Research Universities: Lessons for UBC

This entry is also available at Inside Higher Ed.


Further to my 9 August Inside Higher Ed post on unexpected leadership change at the University of British Columbia (UBC), I was recently asked by Lori Culbert of the Vancouver Sun to comment on the possible impacts of this type of change at a large public research university in North America. Her article — ‘UBC: A leadership shakeup can affect planning, funding and reputation’ — was just posted tonight. I’ll add it to the long list of articles, blog entries, etc., I’m compiling on a new Facebook page (UBC Futures) that is an archive of sorts of everything (regardless of perspective) written about what has become a full-blown crisis. UBC Futures is modeled on the BadgerFutures: Resources for Debates about UW-Madison’s Future Facebook page, which has been operating since 2011.

Inevitably my comments to the Vancouver Sun were edited down to fit the format of a newspaper story. Given this I’d like to flag, here, what I said to Ms. Culbert. I’m partly doing this as UBC’s leadership has been remarkably stable since the era I attended it back in the late 1970s and first half of the 1980s. I also worked at UBC from 1989-1992, and spent one year (1995-96) at UBC as a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow (in part of the Strangway era). All I recall is leadership stability, as do most of the subsequent Piper and then Toope era employees and students. In contrast, I’ve been through a senior leadership roller coaster ride at one UBC peer (the University of Wisconsin-Madison), and learned much about UBC’s other peers down here in the U.S. via engagement with colleagues (faculty and senior administrators), so I’m keen to outline my view of the possible impacts of unexpected leadership change in large public research universities. As I noted in my 9 August entry, “[M]ake no mistake, this type of unexpected leadership transition is hugely significant.” But in what ways?

As I told Ms. Culbert of the Vancouver Sun, the impact of unexpected and early senior leadership changes typically generate a mix of internal and external impacts, though these impacts will obviously vary from institution to institution.  But it’s very important to be open, honest, and realistic about the impacts.

IMG_0907First, internal resource impacts typically include: (a) the direct financial costs of an unexpected presidential search, typically equivalent to a full year of presidential salary; (b) the indirect financial costs of an unexpected presidential search (primarily the time allocated by a large number of faculty, staff, students and sometimes alum to the search process); (c) major yet diffuse institution-wide opportunity costs given widespread speculation, dialogue & debate about the causes of the leadership change as well as the implications of the change; (d) delays in fund raising and the implementation of major capital campaigns, typically led by the president (or equivalent); and (e) delays of high profile and often high impact strategic initiatives (e.g., funding of a new chemistry building or establishment of a new school).

Second, there are a variety of internal organizational and governance impacts, including: (a) delays of key senior leadership hiring (typically at the vice-provost/vice-president level) until the new president is in place; (b) the creation of 1-3 years of uncertainty about the role of the provost and the nature of the president-provost relationship, which in most in universities is strategically coordinated (including with respect when the provost hiring cycle takes place); (c) delays in the formation of key relationships with deans and other senior staff; (d) delays in strategic planning at the university-wide scale, typically on a 1-3 year scale; (e) subtle but important changes in the criteria used when assessing prospective replacement presidential candidates; and (f) discussion & debate about the quality of governance at the university, and in some cases concern and distrust regarding the power politics associated with decision making.

Finally, there are a variety of external impacts, including (a) a spike of curiosity and often concern about the nature and quality of governance, transparency and decision-making at the university, and (b) a delay in the formation of key relationships with important political leaders, leaders and key staff at major funding councils, and leaders of key foundations (mainly in the US). In the US unexpected leadership changes also raise concern within ratings agencies (e.g., Moody’s) for they have been paying increasing attention to the quality of governance and senior leadership teams when assessing universities.

These impacts will obviously vary from institution to institution so if you’re reading this at UBC please keep this key point in mind. And some disruptive impacts can shed light on long-running problems and weaknesses, or engender positive medium-term change. In UBC’s case, though, this unexpected presidential change is occurring on top of a number of other major leadership changes. More specifically, UBC now “has an acting President, an acting chair, an interim Provost, and an incoming, interim President.” There’s “also an interim VP External/Communication, and a VP Finance that has been on the job for less than 100 days.” And one related question remains to be answered: how thoroughly were the internal & external impacts of an unexpected university leadership change thought through, costed out & aligned at UBC?

Despite all of the above, large public research universities are remarkably resilient. When we went through several rough patches here at UW-Madison, faculty (including in the department I am now chair of) powered on, locomotive-like, doing what they have always done – excellent research, teaching/mentoring, and professional and public service. I know my colleagues down at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign are doing the same right now despite recently losing a president, a provost, being sanctioned by the AAUP, etc, etc. This is not to say unexpected leadership change is easy to cope with (see my points above!), but just that the sky cannot fall on a defacto city with 70-90,000 energetic students/staff/faculty. But unexpected leadership change has high direct costs, and the opportunity costs are many.

Good luck my dear alma mater.

Kris Olds