Academia’s Publication Gap

What is the premier magazine of higher education today? Is it Change, which is published six times a year and “is intended to stimulate and inform reflective practitioners in colleges, universities, corporations, government, and elsewhere.” Or is it Liberal Education or Peer Review, two quarterlies from the AAC&U? “Liberal Education expresses the voices of educators, faculty, and administrators in colleges and universities nationwide who are working to enrich Peer Review - Summer 2007 liberal learning and undergraduate education.”  On the other hand, Peer Review “provides a quarterly briefing on emerging trends and key debates in undergraduate liberal education. Each issue is focused on a specific topic, provides comprehensive analysis, and highlights changing practice on diverse campuses.” Quarterlies lack the timeliness of more frequent publications and quarterlies devoted Libera Education - AAC&U - 2010to single topics narrow their audience.

Are there any other competitors?  I do not see any of the technology or financial-focused free monthlies as viable alternatives.  One might consider the weekly Chronicle of Higher Education and its supplement, but those have a different feel – more a Sunday New York Times Magazine or a house organ.

The relative paucity of a solid higher education magazine is telling. It highlights the fractured nature of our sector, or business, or enterprise – just as the lack of a common word to explain what we do in 3,000 plus institutions of higher education is telling. Higher education’s inability to develop and sustain a top-flight publication with relevance within and outside of the academy highlights one of our most telling faults: an inability to look out our collective endeavors as collective or systematic. Higher education, at least the baccalaureate degree, is an essential component to success in America and the world. Graduate education has become the ticket to the meritocracy and its relevance will continue to grow throughout the nation.  It is, in a word, critical to our nation’s current and future success. Higher education is where it is at. President Obama is not calling for a trip to Mars or the defeat of terrorism.  He wants every American to obtain a college degree.

One would think that with all this attention and importance higher education would have a magazine to match, looking at the big picture, wouldn’t you? We do not even have an adequate forum to discuss Obama’s call.

The gap between higher education publications and those in other realms is easily grasped through a comparison of Harvard Business Review and any of the academic magazines listed above. In HBR, the writing is stronger, the scope broader, and the confidence in taking the mid-term and long-term perspective – which is at the heart of this kind of writing and analysis – is extraordinarily evident. While each author’s voice is distinct, so, too, is an editorial presence that is lacking in higher education publications which tend to feel, all to often, as though they depend upon the kindness of strangers and faculty to offer content.

Put blunty, read HBR and Change in one sitting and the latter seems amateurish. No one who works outside of higher education will read Change or Liberal Education or Peer Review. Many curious and thoughtful professionals outside of business read HBR. I do, and am most certainly not a business person.  Nevertheless, I invariable find information or articles that may help me or my institution.

These publications need not exist on paper, either. HBR’s online presence, blogs and forum are robust and dynamic.HBR - October 2010

Why are higher education publications irrelevant to the broader public? It is the same reason that we have such a terrible time explaining the value of a liberal arts education. We consider it a good in itself, an endeavor whose worthiness is self-evident. And for those that question our assertions, we belittle their perspective or values. In the years since World War II when higher education slowly moved from opportunity to the few to opportunity for the many, academia has relied on the public’s willingness and faith, as well as the fact that increasingly the public is college-educated itself. Good will and faith, however, are uncertain reeds to support expensive endeavors in perilous times.

Research universities have cottoned on to the importance of relentless marketing, or at least are beginning to speak in concert to assert their relevance and value. The bulk of colleges and universities that remain have yet to establish the same internal networks. We delay doing so at our own risk. At risk of sounding like Lenin asking what is to be done, a common platform and realization that we have shared interests is an important step in creating that publication and platform.

We will know that higher education has turned a corner when publications about higher education – like this one – are relevant to people who do not work in higher education.

David Potash


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