Friday, May 31, 2013

The Heart for Education vs The Business Mind : * The Business of Christian Education XLIX

The current trend in the higher education is to seek business person or entrepreneur to be president of the higher education institution.  This trend is compatible with the need for a skilful CEO that could manage the large amount of money a higher education institution deals with.  Even a small college with 2000 student enrollment would have to handle more than a hundred million dollars of budget.  Dealing with that large amount of money requires certain kind of skills and knowledge in order to balance the budget, not wasting any resources, and avoid miscalculation that would plunge the university into financial woes and debts.  To anticipate such concern, higher education institutions hire financially keen mind to head their universities or colleges.  While this trend could be understood the side effect is not a small matter however.

            People with business aptitude have been trained in such a way that their creativity, imagination, skills, and abilities are all geared toward crunching numbers and producing profits to decorate the portfolios.  Deficits in the annual report usually is not what the board want to see or hear.  Not only the president needs to create sustainability, but more importantly the president also needs to bring in income larger than the spending.  Such expectation is normal due to the security sense that needs to be in place.  If spending is larger than income, then sooner or later the institution would have to consider cutting budget.  And often one of the most distressing resolve is to cut jobs and thus layoff some employee.  In order to avoid that dreadful maneuver, institutions consider increasing income rather than cutting budget spending.  Consequently, they need people with fund raising top notch capacity to captain the ship.  This is logical and reasonable.  However, from the education stand point, this move creates an undesirable side effect that could potentially jeopardize the entire
educational goal of the higher education institution.  Since the highest authority rests with the captain, who in this case is more in tune with business practices, so the business mind drives the educational institution and thus affects the educational goals, intentionally or unintentionally.

            This trend is understandable to the extent that financial health supports mightily the overall health of the higher education institution.  If the college or university is plagued with financial woe and debt, then the institution is slumping in reaching its goals.  Similar to us taking medicine when we are sick, higher education institution sometimes must also take medicine in order to regain its health.  However, depending on the medicine, side effects of medicine is to be expected.  All of medicines now put on their label kind of warning sign to keep their consumers informed of the side effects of their drugs.  Many of the side effects listed by drug companies are very scary, such as the medicine might also cause cancer, etc.  Now, if in order to get healthy one must take a certain medicine with the risk of side effect that could cause cancer, what do we think goes on in the mind of the person who is considering taking such medicine?  I think that person would think a million times before taking such risk, would he/she not?  There is no point, for example, to get healed from rheumatism but after five years to be plagued with more serious health condition such as cancer.  Some people would opt to take the risk to get healthy now, but some would reasonably stay put and bear the rheumatism instead of facing potential cancer risk in the future.  To use the imagination of the word of medicine: to be financially healthy for higher education institution is important, but is it worth the future risk of educational cancer malady?

            I’m not suggesting that every solution for financial problems in the higher education bear the risk of educational failure in the future.  But, it is important to understand that giving the main power of higher education to the captain which skills and aptitude mostly trained in business practices would seriously risk future educational failure for the institution.  Why?  Some people might ask.  This is simply due to the fact that higher education is NOT a corporate business.  To bring in the imagination of corporate business, industrial model, into higher education will dangerously jeopardize the noble purpose of education.  Financial security remains a supporting cast in the higher education enterprise, and should never become the main cast.  It is extremely dangerous to place financial security as the main thing in higher education.  It would be like the problem of rewards in pedagogy.  In order to spark student motivation to learn, teachers often use rewards to help students to learn.  The idea is good and in practice it is working very well.  Students are motivated to learn because their learning is smoothed out by the rewards they receive in the end when they have learned the designated subjects.  However, things become uneducational when the aim of the students is the rewards, and in order to get the rewards learning becomes the means.  Originally the idea is for the students to aim at learning, to love learning, and to learn whatever the subjects are, through the means of rewards.  When the positions of rewards and learning are reversed, rewards no longer becomes means but it becomes the goal, and learning ceases to be the goal and thus becomes the means, pedagogy fails.  In the same way, when financial security ceases to be the supporting cast for higher education and starts becoming the main goal, higher education is jeopardized.  Because in placing finance at the center of higher education, the compromise is to sideline learning or other educational goals.  Higher education is then gradually transformed into a corporate business and no longer lives out its name as educational institution.  Learning and other educational goals cease to become the main point and are reduced to commodities.  Higher education becomes, admitted or not, yet another profit making elite corporate industry.  When it happens, education fails miserably.

            Some institutions intentionally design the power structure to have its main power on finance.  All programs, ideas, developments, would mean nothing without the Chief Financial Officer signs the proposal.  With this structure, even if the president of the college approves the proposal, if the CFO says no, his approval means nothing.  Things would be different if the president is the one bringing the income, for then the financial power rests with the president, and thus the CFO has no reason to refuse to sign.  Once the switch is done, higher education would never be the same anymore.  The transformation is gradual, very slow, but once it is changed, it is very hard to return.  To complicate the matter, the fact that financial matter is tangible makes it more appealing as the main assessment item for institutional success.  The business mind understands numbers better than the intangible goals of education, such as learning.  It is not a secret that learning is not easily assessed.  Standardized test doesn’t actually assess learning, even though many people assume that it is.  Learning and academic performance are two different things.  Academic performance at the time of test and academic performance that would stay the same regardless of the time are two different things.  How then standardized test is to be understood as assessing learning?  Educational goals are intangible, and the business mind never likes such thing.  The business mind wants the tangible.  And so, the business mind looks at what it can compute and understand, financial.

            The heart of education however thinks differently.  The education heart loves education.  Even though the goals are intangible, but it never ceases to educate.  The passion for education remains, even though challenges surmount.  Just like parents continuously educate their children even though they can never measure their educational effectiveness or success, the education heart continuously educate.  For deep down we all know the learning is lifelong.  It never ceases.  Learning can’t be limited by the test, the time, the failures, the struggle.  The education heart knows this, and thus it cares, carefully teaches, creatively designs new methods, imaginatively dreams of better models, and hoping, always hoping, for learning to occur, for positive development.  If you know how farmers take care of their flock, you will understand the heart of education.  Let’s take for example a fish farmer.  Fish farmer takes care of his fish carefully.  He breeds his fish with passion.  When his fish is sick, he seeks ways to cure them.  He counts his fish, and when he can’t find one, he would search for it to make sure that the one that is lost is found.  He continuously thinks what’s best for his fish.  He provides the best aquarium or pond with the best aquatic environment he can create.  Instead of placing fake plants, he uses real plants.  He researches day and night to find out the best environment for his fish.  He knows that real plants are healthier for the fish because real plants provide natural environment for the fish.  He searches for the best food for the fish.  It wouldn’t be easy for fish farmer to sell his fish, because of the emotional attachment.  The fish farmer wants the fish he sells to be treated by the buyer the same way he treats them.  In the pet store, fish is often neglected.  Their aquarium is not cleaned carefully.  In order to press the food cost, food is given minimally, or even below minimum.  Because in pet store, the concern is not the well being of the fish, but how much profit they can get.  In the same way, the education heart is sentimental about education.  It cares deeply and very passionate about education.  Education is not a commodity for the education heart.  Finance is a tool to support the achievement of its goals.  So the education heart carefully selects, designs, devises, crafts, and manages education for the sake of learning, growth, development to occur.  It will not compromise the ideal of education.  The business mind has a different priority, and so it often sacrifices the educational goals for the sake of keeping the balance of the book.

            In higher education, education should be at the heart and center, not financial security.  University president should be a person with the heart of education and not of the business mind.  As the president, the kind of training and the person within that has become will determine the direction of the higher education institution.  If the business mind is the dominant trait, then his/her leadership will clearly reflect his/her financial intuition and concern.  If the education heart is the dominant trait, then his/her leadership will clearly reflect his/her care and passion for education.  The current trend in higher education might solve the financial matter for now, but it must not continue, for the side effect is much more devastating than the current attained health condition.  Educational cancer will eventually destroy higher education and downgrade the name of education altogether, not to mention its function.  This trend must change.  Educators must again be the first choice for higher education presidents.  The education heart must triumph over the business mind in higher education.  Then and only then future educational failure may be averted and higher education may once again function according to its name and reputation.

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