Sunday, November 26, 2006

Transparency and community

Photo by Andrew Councill for The New York Times

The New York Times recently published an interesting article by Diana Jean Schemo about college presidents who blog. The articles lead was about Patricia A. McGuire, the president of Trinity University in Washington, D.C., who's pictured above. Seems Dr. McGuire has taken to blogging, running contrary to some pundits' counsel.

Veterans of campus public relations disasters warn that presidents blog at their peril; "an insane thing to do" is how Raymond Cotton, a lawyer who advises universities and their presidents in contract negotiations, describes it. But these presidents say blogs make their campuses seem cool and open a direct line, more or less, to students, alumni and the public.

"When I first started learning about blogs, I said, 'Well, here I like to discourse on issues of the day, connect with the campus community,'" recalled Dr. McGuire, who said she wrote all her own entries. "Here’s a way I can talk a couple of times a week to everybody."

And so she does: about Representative Nancy Pelosi, class of 1962, who will be the first female speaker of the House; about election results; about breaking ground for a memorial to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; and about lesbian alumnae and the Roman Catholic Church, sensitive ground for a Catholic undergraduate college serving mostly minority and low-income women.
Insane or not, I believe blogging can very much be the right thing to do. For one thing, it gives the leader a chance to lead, to paint the vision, to provide guidance and direction, to help propel the learning community in the right direction.

Sure, blogging has its pitfalls, but I believe the possibilities for good far outweigh any chance of stumbling.

While Ms. Schemo notes that the presidents she spoke with think "blogs make their campuses seem cool and open a direct line, more or less, to students, alumni and the public," I'd go a step or two farther. Blogs are about transparency; blogs are about leadership. Blogs are about transparency in leadership.

I'd also say that Dr. McGuire shows how to do it.

Some would say that even Dr. McGuire's blog isn't truely a blog, but more of a PR outlet; one mid-west blogger goes so far as to say that posting only once or twice a week doesn't make a blog. Well, if that's the case, right now, you're not reading a blog.

I've only found one head of an independent school who blogs: Malcolm Gauld at Hyde Schools. My only complaint with Malcom's blog is that it doesn't have an RSS feed. ;-)

Are there other schools that promote blogs from senior leaders? While plenty of schools have letters posted on their school websites or chapel sermons or other opportunities of communication, only blogs provide a way to generate two-way communication and can help build community.

Your thoughts?


Anonymous said...

Why is it that so many college professors and administrators have stuff all over their office?

Peter Stinson said...

I'm not sure why they have stuff all over their office. Perhaps they have messy offices because they're more effective. Saw the following in the December/January issue of Fast Company:

Forget what everyone from your first boss to your mother taught you. The authors of A Perfect Mess are here to say that "moderately disorganized people, institutions, and systems frequently turn out to be more efficient, more resilient, more creative, and in general more effective than highly organized ones." Even better, they have proof--in this compelling and comical tour of humanity's guilt-ridden love affair with accidents, messes, and randomness.

Available after the new year.