Is True Collaboration Present in Higher Education?

In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.            

-Charles Darwin

So what is collaboration?  I hear people throw the word around often.  I find it harder to talk about collaboration than to experience it.  I know it when I see it, and I have experienced it in many organizational settings (with the exception of higher education).  What I mean by collaboration is real sharing of ideas and working side by side. While I have experienced collaboration in corporate settings, I don’t think the idea has truly landed in higher education because most higher education folks are independent practitioners. The higher education environment promotes and rewards (inadvertently perhaps) “individualistic” accomplishment.  The very idea of the tenured faculty is focused on a person, and not the team that helped to make that individual who they are. Publication is sometimes collaborative, but there is always a single individual listed at the top as the “primary” author.  And let’s face it, there isn’t much cross-pollination across colleges of business and humanities in universities that I’ve encountered.  I’m sure there are exceptions…but they are just that – exceptions.  True collaboration requires that unlikely partners who may not be “equals” in status put down the “titles” to share ideas.  Sadly, true collaboration is not likely to happen in higher education because faculty, administrators and the lowly staff are rarely created equal.  So my question is, will institutions of higher learning survive much less prevail?


3 thoughts on “Is True Collaboration Present in Higher Education?

  1. Ginna Crowe February 27, 2013 / 7:00 pm

    Interesting thoughts and it makes me wonder if higher education, as we know it today,is a Robust-Yet-Fragile system (Zolli & Healy)? Lack of collaboration or in the opposite, the power of deeply diverse cognitive groups is a factor the authors believe which supports resilience… not having it would be to me a weakness that could make them very fragile.

    • griffib8 February 27, 2013 / 7:18 pm

      Yes -if the deeply diverse cognitive groups honor each other. My greatest concern for higher education is that they do not honor the power of deeply diverse cognitive groups…indeed that is part of the problem. In my brush with higher education, the faculty’s cognitive gifts were honored while the staff (and often administration) were not. But this was a cultural pattern that I also observed in healthcare. It related to the structure of the hierarchy in both cultures. Generally speaking, non-clinical folk’s voices were unfortunately, not honored as having valuable insights in the day to day running of things. So I see an interesting similarity (not what I would refer to as resilient) that is deeply rooted in “how we do things around here” (Boleman and Deal) reflective of the culture of these institutions/industries.

  2. Ginna Crowe February 27, 2013 / 7:27 pm

    Absolutley .. deep diversity is necesary for system survivial (Capra) but only healthy when we value the diversity. Some times I think hierarchy and competition is so entrenched in our mindset that we cannot make meaning without it. I believe that in order to receive the benefit of diversity we need (at a minimum) structures, processes, methods that support it i.e. dialogue vs only debate or discussion.

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