We are steadily adding subscribers for The Scan, our daily and weekly newsletter of trends affecting higher education. As new recipients join us, I thought it might be useful to explain why we started this newsletter and how we imagine it helping you.
My partners and I are voracious readers, but we also know what it’s like to be busy leaders who are inundated with information. Our first goal is to help university leaders, administrators and faculty cut through the clutter and identify key developments that may be relevant to your decision-making.
But our purpose is also deeper than just sharing information. In our strategic planning work for colleges and universities, we typically conduct an “environmental scan” to identify data sources and trends that can inform the institution’s strategic direction. The Scan is an ongoing source for this content, and we keep a one-year archive on our website as a tool for our own research and that of our clients.
I’ve done a lot of teaching on crisis communication, and was for many years the chief crisis communications officer at the University of Michigan. What I noticed is that almost nothing was truly surprising. The seeds and signs of impending crises were everywhere. Just one really horrendous institutional crisis can sap leadership energy and attention, derail priorities and damage reputation. We hope our newsletter will help you spot emerging trends and threats and, with a better ability to anticipate, be able to steer your institution clear of the most dangerous shoals.
In addition, colleagues across the country (and the world) have much to teach us. While the news media tend to focus their stories on scandal and problems, we are making an effort to identify and share best practices, interesting approaches, and new ways of tackling ongoing challenges. Stories about problems also create teachable moments, helping you to understand common pitfalls and potential solutions.
A fifth reason we publish The Scan is to observe what kinds of strategic decisions, programs, news announcements and stories are likely to get covered in the media. What topics are being accepted for published op-eds? What themes are of interest to journalists? How can you best position your institution for visibility and positive attention? We are also fascinated by the constant appearance of new information outlets and channels for commentary. Our newsletter serves as an inventory of those places that are accepting op-eds from university leaders and faculty.
My inbox is filled with stories about one-offs: faculty or students in trouble, student deaths and bomb threats, floods and fires, and other equivalents of institutional car crashes. We generally do not include individual stories like these unless they become part of a trend or rise to the level of significant and ongoing national media attention.
On the other hand, we welcome your submissions. Do you have an interesting approach or program? A leadership op-ed? A great marketing campaign? As you may have noticed, we regularly publish institutional stories and statements and we would be happy to consider yours. Obviously we can’t include everything we receive—if we don’t use it immediately, you may find we save it and include it later as part of a trend.
We would be delighted if this newsletter went to every college leader in the country. We encourage you to share it widely, and we welcome your ideas and feedback. We hope you find it as valuable to read as we do in putting it together.