System consolidation expert offers key considerations when moving toward merger
- Georgia has gone from having 35 public institutions of higher education to 26 since 2011, setting one of the most aggressive models for consolidation in the country. System Chancellor Steve Wrigley shared his five biggest takeaways from the process at a recent Dual Mission Education Summit, held on the campus of Utah Valley University last week.
- First, said Wrigley, when approaching mergers or any major action on campus, “state clarity of purpose ... folks will be unsettled, so we have to answer the ‘why’ question.” Just as important, he said, is allowing for as much local control as possible to allow individual campus leaders to work together to define the resulting institution as it relates to the needs of the community. However, he said, those leaders must be fully bought in before the transitions start.
- Wrigley said it’s also “very important to treat both missions the same equally,” putting the same emphasis on the culture and function of each institution.
Technical processes like merging HR and IT systems “are the easy thing compared to deciding on the name, colors and mascot” of the new institution, said Wrigley. Cultural attachments to such seemingly trite details can rile impassioned alumni and even current students and cause revolt and public discontent, he said. But the biggest thing to remember, said Wrigley, is “we have to resist the idea that every institution can be all things to all people — not every institution has to look the same,” he said.
”I do think we’ve got to be a lot more flexible and adaptable than we’ve been in public higher education” before, he said. And, despite a tendency to rely solely on data to make decisions, “this is a very human process,” said Wrigley, who admonished other leaders to be conscious of the fears and concerns of faculty and staff and work to build excitement on campus about imminent changes, rather than apprehension and dread.
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