What makes a university program effective (and great?)

Do we only require “talent, money and freedom” to make a university program effective?

Are the conditions for an effective program always met when it is able to recruit the best talent from across the world in the form of professors and students, secure funds to facilitate superb teaching and integrate research into education, and provide its community with the autonomy to inquire and teach a variety of perspectives?

Freedom and autonomy are essential, but help only if the culture of the program is outwardly focussed, which requires a commitment that eschews navel gazing in favour of engaging with the critical problems facing our world.

An effective program must be committed to excellence. It must unyieldingly adhere to high quality when talented professors are hired in multiple roles: as effective teachers and researchers, and as public scholars who engage with society. If excellence in all of these forms is ignored when academics are rewarded, tenured and promoted, this presages a slide into mediocrity.

A common understanding of excellence requires an engaged community. For this the effective program must be able to offer its community compelling reasons to meet. When they do, faculty, staff and students should be able to discuss their aspirations in vibrant community spaces, such as buildings, coffee shops, laboratories, libraries, and idea and maker spaces.

The effectiveness of a program cannot be measured simply through application numbers, research expenditures or fundraising. Rather, there is no truer judgment of a program than the character and ability of its graduates. To become effective, a program must consider how it contributes to the intellectual, professional, social and ethical development of its students.

All of this – excellence, freedom, character and ability – requires a culture of reflection.

That’s the foremost condition for building an effective program.

(Additional reading: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Universities and Colleges.)


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