Kimberly Reyes came to the University of Michigan and the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education (CSHPE) as a master’s student in 2010, and has recently chosen to pursue her doctorate here as well, largely because of the experiences she had working as a research assistant at the National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good.
In a recent interview, Kim said that one reason she chose to continue her education at Michigan is the relationship that professors and students have in the School of Education’s CSHPE. “I loved the atmosphere here. Professors push you out of your comfort zone intellectually,” she explained. “I was also able to take classes with PhD students and saw how they work hard to think more deeply about the issues we are studying to really understand them.”
At the National Forum, Kim learned how much research informs policy and practice, or at least should, in the application of higher education and administration. She says that the “actionable research” that the National Forum does on higher education is, “hugely important, especially for marginal populations and undocumented students. I think that what we learn here and our focus on research can help students become better practitioners.”
One reason that Kim loves studying higher education issues so much is the impact that it can have on changing someone’s life, but she understands that it takes hard work for that kind of change to happen. “Coming from the Latino community, it is unacceptable to me that so many people in my own community are uneducated. While studying at Michigan, I’ve learned that aspects of higher education in this country are deeply flawed but also highly complex,” she says. “That is why research matters. It needs to be utilized, disseminated and made consumable to different positions within the field – policy makers, institutional presidents, admissions counselors, and financial aid officers.”
Kim and another recent CSHPE graduate and National Forum Legendary Musician, Omar Hussain, were recently part of a new National Forum research dissemination strategy, as they presented a report completed by the National Forum at the College Board’s Prepàrate conference on May 31 in Miami. The conference focused on educational issues affecting the Latino community by “bringing together professionals from higher education, secondary schools, middle schools and community-based organizations.”
Kim and Omar presented findings from the National Forum’s report, Reconciling Federal, State, and Institutional Policies Determining Educational Access for Undocumented Students:Implications for Professional Practice. To receive a complete digital copy of this report, sign up here.
Check back soon to hear our report on the conference!
On March 29-30, 2012, CSHPE professor Dr. Michael Bastedo presented at the Educational Policy Studies (EPS) Conference. The 9th annual EPS conference titled The Public Interest and the Future of Public Higher Education in the 21st Century, took place at the University of Wisconsin Madison. Based upon his previous research, Dr. Bastedo gave a presentation titled Revisiting Governing Board Activism in the Public University. I spoke with Dr. Bastedo a week after his return from the conference about his experience, his presentation, and how it related to his former work in the fields of higher education and governing board activism.
How did your presentation, Revisiting Governing Board Activism in the Public University, relate to your 2005 article on activist boards?
What I was doing here was discussing my work on activist boards, in correlation with my later work about the dynamics of trustee independence. During the last decade, people thought of governing boards and trustees as a very individualistic phenomenon. Many thought that these people were going to use their positions, as trustees, as a platform to discuss higher education more broadly. These cases, however, were not that helpful, considering that the individual trustees were not that influential. I wanted to delve deeper into the cognitive dynamics by which people start to become identified as activist trustees and what it means to be an activist trustee.
In 2009 you wrote about “moral seduction.” How does that concept relate to your recent presentation?
What I wanted to do was look at broader range of board of trustees, because the 2005 piece was an intensive case study of one governing board. I wanted to take a look at more institutions to see what this meant nationally. I observed and interviewed almost 60 college presidents about what the cognitive dynamics are like on their boards and they gave me lots of great examples of things that happened, which are included in my paper. Moral seduction was the idea I had to contrast the idea of an activist trustee, perceived to have the intention to act and cause possible disturbances or problems in an university. Moral seduction is the idea that people, over time, can convince themselves that the actions they are taking are in the best interest of the university, when they are really best for some external interest. It is a more subtle conception, a more normal human cognitive process that all of us engage in, which is why I wanted to describe it. I thought it was a more accurate representation of the source of issues on governing boards in American colleges.
What trends are you noticing in public university governing boards?
It has been somewhat of a quiet period board-wise. Some of the things that have been described as governing board activism, for example, have not been creeping up as much lately. I do think that there have been a couple of cases that have been concerns. There is an overall concern that governors, both Republican and Democrat, are using their appointments as more political than they have in the past. Governors see this position as a more political position, or a platform on which to express their views on higher education. I believe that governors, as a whole, tend to have more explicit and developed views on higher education than before when they felt they didn’t have much expertise. You see this in the presidential campaign as well. Candidates are speaking about higher education more than ever before! Higher education has truly become a domain for political conflict.
Are there ways we can guard against governing board activism in our public institutions?
Yes, there are things we can do, however, my argument is that policy interventions are not that effective. There are two main policy interventions that universities can implement. The first is merit selection, meaning there would be a non-partisan board that would select good candidates for trustee positions. However, if moral seduction is a normal cognitive process, you can’t select out people without a bias. Therefore, non-partisan boards are not a panacea to the problem. The second is the idea of open meetings. Transparency is most often linked to disclosure about the groups that trustees are related to. However, research on decision-making has shown that people are more likely to engage in that conflict of interest after disclosure, because it is cognitively viewed as an absolution. In other words, this disclosure could exacerbate the problem further. So, where are the solutions? I believe that practice-based solutions are the answer, meaning presidents need to engage in particular practices that will help trustees be better trustees. Presidents need to explicitly socialize new board members into what the mission and goals of the university. They need to expose trustees to areas of the university that they will be governing, because many trustees join boards not knowing much about higher education.
How does research on governing boards figure into your future plans?
Right now I am studying something slightly different in regards to governance. I am studying whether or not presidential charisma is related to organizational performance or to their compensation. This study actually developed from my previous work because we had a meeting, composed of both trustees and presidents, where we discussed if it was important for presidents to be charismatic. I found that board trustees, the people that select presidents, thought charisma was an important characteristic of a president. However, all the presidents said the opposite. They suggested that charisma was not a necessary trait and that you could train yourself to do most of the presidential roles. I found this empirical question to be extremely interesting and unique, and definitely something I wanted to explore further.
Over the past couple years, the National Forum has partnered with leaders of the Brightmoor community, a neighborhood in the northwest region of Detroit, to promote and establish a college access network for Brightmoor youth and adults. Assisting in this task is Raquel K. Welch-Johnson, an AmeriCorps member within the Mentor Michigan College Coaching Corps (MMCCC). AmeriCorps members work within institutions of higher education in order to create “college-going” cultures within their local communities. They train college students to be College Positive Volunteers, create community collaborations to raise awareness of postsecondary education, and implement college-focused activities within communities. I caught up with Raquel to hear all her own experience working with the Brightmoor community, as well as the National Forum. Below is a recap of what she had to say:
How are your connected to the National Forum?
I am a Mentor Michigan College Coaching Corps and AmeriCorps member. The National Forum supports my work for the Brightmoor Alliance, so I can continue to assist them in promoting a college access network.
How long have you been involved with National Forum?
I have worked with the National Forum since September, 2011.
What is your specific placement in the Brightmoor neighborhood?
My physical worksite is Detroit Community High School, where I work to encourage and create an environment that promotes postsecondary education.
What are the core competencies, skills, and principles that you realized you needed to acquire to be an effective worker for the Brightmoor Alliance?
I think a person in this position needs patience and diplomacy. Also, multi-tasking abilities are a must! My experience with non-profit work has been extremely beneficial, and I believe that I have the skills to assist the Brightmoor Alliance in its community endeavors.
What kind of influence do your social work background, culture, and Brightmoor community beliefs have on your motivation to assist the National Forum?
I firmly believe that continuous education through accessibility is key in urban settings. My previous volunteer activities working with youth have shown me that students have the desire to go to college, but do not know the process, the “way” to “get” to college. The National Forum’s work to remove all barriers for today’s youth to reach this goal is in alignment with my own personal beliefs.
What are the challenges of working with Brightmoor and the National Forum?
The challenges I face are maintaining my connection to the National Forum, while working daily at the site. I need to be able to meet the goals of the National Forum, Brightmoor Alliance, AmeriCorps and Mentor Michigan College Coaching Corps. It is a very tough spot!
What kind of effect do you think that the Brightmoor Alliance’s involvement with the National Forum has on improving the Brightmoor Community?
The National Forum can provide the Brightmoor Alliance with support and guidance through Brightmoor’s growing pains. It can provide Brightmoor with Master’s and Ph.D. students to assist with technical projects by providing statistical information that will enhance the marketability of the Brightmoor Alliance to its community partners and customers. In addition, the National Forum can make joint efforts on events to sustain its continued relationship with the Brightmoor Alliance.
Why do you think that receiving support from the National Forum is beneficial to the Brightmoor Alliance?
The National Forum provides the Brightmoor Alliance with more credibility, major support, and guidance as Brightmoor grows. It is beneficial to maintain joint efforts.
Throughout life we are all tasked with dilemmas regarding our reasoning for existence. Discovering your life’s purpose isn’t always easy, and getting some insight as to your purpose can certainly help you get some focus and clarity on your path. No matter what culture, race, religion, or gender, we all have had that one time where we ponder the following questions: “What is my life’s purpose?” “How do I know what it is when I find it?”
For most this may seem like a daunting task but for Raquel Welch Johnson that reflection served as her chance to find an opportunity for her to fulfill her life’s purpose. Ever since Raquel began volunteering and assisting underrepresented youth throughout the Metropolitan Detroit school system, she realized that her deed to society was to increase the number of underrepresented students that attended college. She understood that the students that she worked with had the desire to attend college but had little community support needed to successfully turn their dreams into reality. Then Raquel was afforded the opportunity to join the National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good. The National Forum aims to significantly increase awareness, understanding, commitment, and action relative to the public service role of higher education in the United States. Those aims clearly aligned with Raquel’s purpose and she joined the team as a College Coaching Corps (CCC) member in September of 2011. As a CCC member Raquel serves as an advocate, student recruiter, and program coordinator for the National Forum outreach partnerships; this position allows her to work for a Michigan College Access Network (MCAN) school in Detroit. Raquel is currently working at the Detroit Community High School.
Although Raquel is able to achieve her purpose in life through her CCC member position, she credits her experience in the nonprofit sector with being extremely beneficial in preparing her to be an effective worker for the Brightmoor Alliance. She truly is confident in her skills to assist the Brightmoor Alliance in their community endeavors and understands that this position requires her to be patient, tactful, and able to maintain numerous tasks at once. Raquel recognizes that it is her duty to recognize the social injustice and inequality woven so deeply within the fabric of our society and strive to promote social justice, as well as empowerment to oppressed and marginalized students. She is the voice for those students that have no opportunity to stand up for their greater good, through her position she will unite the Brightmoor community and provide their students with outlets for empowerment. Furthermore, with continued support and assistance from the National Forum Raquel hopes to continue to live out her purpose in life, while motivating and providing urban communities with an opportunity to initiate social change.