A hearty Harold Lounge welcome to our apparently incoming President, Donald J. Laackman!
I am sure that he will receive a warm welcome from faculty and staff, and very quickly learn why we are so deeply involved in and committed to the mission and projects of HWC. It’s a special place, and he’ll surely see why in short order, if he doesn’t already know it. As a Faculty Council Rep and faculty member, I’m comfortable speaking for all of us in saying that we look forward to working with him to do great things better and better. I am also sure that we will, all of us, have more to say to and about our outgoing Interim President, John Metoyer, in the coming days, and I promise you that there will be space for that here. For now, though, we’ll keep the focus on the person coming in.
So you’ll recognize him if you run into him on campus, I’ve posted Mr. Laackman’s picture here from his Linked In account–I couldn’t save the one from his Civic Consulting Alliance profile in a format that I could use on WordPress, but you can look and compare the two on your own.
So, who is this fellow? Well, as a place to start, you could do worse than his CCA profile, which tells us that he’s a U of C guy (A.B. in Politics, Economics, Rhetoric, and Law; Masters in Public Policy), who worked in the Insurance area of Accenture,* holding multiple, significant leadership positions, before transitioning into civic consulting in 2008 to head up Education and Workforce Development initiatives. He is still involved with Rockefeller’s Dream in Hyde Park as part of an advisory committee for the Dean of the College and another advisory committee for the Harris School of Public Policy (a committee that includes a former Board Chair of CCC–Ron Gidwitz! Ask a senior faculty member for stories about his tenure at the helm, and then work very hard not to make fallacious leaps of guilt-by-association logic.)
What is the Civic Consulting Alliance? It’s a 501(c)3, non-profit that was formed 21 years ago, according to its own info, and has a small staff, which gets “hired” by big government agencies to put together pro bono teams of “business experts, government leaders, and [CCA] staff” to develop solutions to problems that the government agencies lack “the capacity, time, [and] expertise” to take on themselves. They’ve worked on bus bunching at the CTA and police district paperwork processes. They’ve also worked on Reinvention–specifically they were involved in building “The Case for Change,” which is CCA describes as “a deep dive** into the metrics that tell the institution how they are doing today and establish where they want to head in order to deliver on student success.” Given that Mr. Laackman is the Principal Education person for CCA, I think it’s safe to infer that he was involved in and stamped the final approval on that project.
If that little factoid leaves you with a scrunch in your face, you might also consider this paper. It was written by the CCA people in 2007, a year before Mr. Laackman arrived in their employ, but it’s still up on their site, suggesting that it still holds some cachet in their thinking about community colleges and measurements of their success.
In the paper, described as a proposal of “a framework for analyzing the outcomes from community college programs as a starting point for a larger discussion on the optimal distribution of resources across the multiple missions of community colleges,” the authors write knowledgeably and accurately about the nature, challenges, and outcomes of community colleges. They conclude an introductory section by writing:
We are left to conclude that either community colleges are successful for less than one-quarter of the student population or else measures of success are needed for students who do not complete a degree or certificate.
Happily, and notably, unlike (at least in emphasis) “The Case for Change,” the authors suggest that the latter, and not the former, is the case. That’s a good thing. It’s not all cherries and sunshine, though:
We propose that…a key to developing appropriate outcome measures for community colleges, is to recognize that the vast majority of students attend community college with the goal of bettering their economic conditions—immediately or after attaining a four-year degree. Thus, measures of success should be focused on economic achievement, through earnings gains, or on academic achievement, through baccalaureate transfers. Currently, graduation rates tend to be the only systematic metric available; however, graduation rates fail as an appropriate metric for evaluating the multiple missions of community colleges if we accept that the chief goal of most students is economic advancement rather than graduation per se…
To fully evaluate the performance of community colleges, it is necessary to track the benefits that accrue to both completers and “noncompleters.” For metrics to be meaningful they must reflect not only success for students who wish to make a baccalaureate transfer but also success for students who terminate their studies in community college at a certain level (with or without a certificate or degree). Given this, we suggest shared metrics for remediation, developmental education, and work force training that will then also serve us in evaluating the baccalaureate transfer program. The goal is to measure success at both the individual level and the institutional level.
There’s some good stuff there–certainly we’d all agree that completion is a terrible measure of our effectiveness. That has been established in multiple forums and conversations. I’m not sure, though, that economic achievement is much better. Jobs and money are undeniably a motivation for our students to come to us, just as it is a motivation for students to go to, say, law school.
To consider economic achievement as a metric, though, and bring what MIGHT be a guiding assumption of our new president (and is certainly a guiding principle of our Chancellor) to light, at the risk of preaching to the choir as they say, imagine two law schools–one that turns out sharks for firms and a second whose students gain a powerful respect for the law and social justice. The first churn out lawyers who work on corporate mergers and lawsuits for multi-nationals (not that there’s anything wrong with that), while the second churns out defense attorneys and state prosecutors and people who want to run or work for those who are in public office. Compare their incomes. Which school was more effective?
Students who went to the second school may not have gotten what they originally came for, but, assuming that they are happy with their career choice, the school can hardly be said to have failed them. Companies and corporations are right to measure their progress, in large part, by their profits. But we should be cautious about measuring our success by our students “profits,” or at least by a narrowly defined understanding of how a student benefits from a Liberal Education. My point in this digression is not to suggest that jobs and money and employment readiness don’t matter. They do. My point is that the mission should determine the measures, and job readiness is but a part of our mission, whether incoming students know it or not; I think it’s only fair to state for the record that I, at least, and many of my colleagues will fight to keep the measures from defining our mission. Being honest is part of being welcoming, too, I think.
I think it’s interesting, and a little troubling, that a college whose raison d’etre and primary function is college credit gets a person with a primary background in insurance consulting to lead it, rather than an academic. I’m sure that similar cases in other places have worked out to the benefit of the institution, though, and there are plenty of examples of academics who have made terrible educational leaders, so I remain hopeful and eager to meet our new leader and hear about his approach, vision, and goals for our college.
My optimism, despite the hesitations identified above, is based on the fact that I know and like and deeply trust the people who served on the Presidential Search Committee. Assuming that Mr. Laackman was one of their recommended candidates, I am sure that he must have much to offer the school and the faculty and, most importantly, the students.
And, so, Mr. Incoming President, if you are reading this, I/we welcome you to our mission–“to provide accessible and affordable opportunities for academic advancement, career development, and personal enrichment.” We look forward to partnering with you to achieve all three of those ends, in efficient, effective, and accountable ways.
*You might recall that Accenture was the consulting arm of Arthur Andersen until a nasty split in 2000; Accenture’s reputation was tainted by guilt-by-association when the Enron scandal hit and Andersen imploded, but they were uninvolved and so able to survive the carnage.
**Maybe it’s just marketing of their own work, but what they call a deep dive looked more like a puddle splash to faculty. It’s too bad–as I said when I saw the original presentation–I think there really IS a great case to be made for improvements to what we collectively do, but the case they made was decidedly not great.