Filter & Sort
Welcome to the first issue of The Sandbox, from Inside Higher Ed.
What It Is
Computer scientists use that term to describe a tightly controlled place to try things out, to run programs that will not harm the operating system, to play.
We’re creating a sandbox to share honest ideas about what’s really going on in higher ed. We aim to bring together people who don’t always get to interact (and goof off) with peers and give readers a chance to hear from former and current leaders without bland management bromides and annoying humblebrags. It’s not an impossible mission, though it may seem improbable.
We’re hoping you’ll spend a few minutes with this newsletter on Saturday mornings and become part of a community that provides open and honest feedback on how to solve actual problems from those who’ve had their butts in the hot seat. We’ll gather a diverse group of decision makers to reflect on their experiences—both positive and not so great—and offer guidance, reflection, and smart-ass remarks on how ridiculous things can sometimes get.
Who We Want to Reach
The "you" we're explicitly addressing is college and university presidents and chancellors. We're talking to and with those who’ve, um, enjoyed those roles in the past or hold them now, and those who seek to ascend (ideally motivated by mission rather than careerism). Just as important, though, is that we are also here to serve people who have a stake in the success of their leaders. We want cabinet members, trustees, chiefs of staff, communications advisors, and even deeply invested faculty members to hear about the slog of doing the presidential job.
How We’ll Do It
First, we pledge to do no harm.
We’ll be channeling current and former leaders about strategies and ideas that worked for them and situations where they failed. We’ll provide a space for presidents to talk to each other candidly and let readers overhear those conversations. And we’ll weigh in with our opinions as long-time observers and participants in higher ed, fully aware that it’s easy to critique from the cheap seats having never been a president.
We’ll abide by the Chatham House Rule. Everything quoted will come from real people (whose names only we know) and nothing will be attributed except in cases where we’re quoting from information that’s already public.
We’re committed to anonymizing because it’s not about individuals; it’s about how to best serve in this vast, changing-faster-than-the-earth’s-climate world. We don’t want to foster competition or take anyone down. We also don’t want to provide a platform for reputation rehab or tooting institutional horns (unless it’s someone else’s institution).
The Editorial “We”
This is a joint project between me—a recovering university press acquisitions editor, admissions officer, author, former columnist for The Chronicle of Higher Education, and current professor of creative writing—and Inside Higher Ed co-founder Doug Lederman. If you talk to me, you’re also talking to Doug, but he won’t be wearing his decades-old battle-torn journalist’s hat. No news tips, no leaks, no spilled tea.
We’re here to listen and channel war stories, advice, and inside baseball talk. That means we need to hear from you directly. Email me at [email protected] or Doug at [email protected] if you want to play in our sandbox.
Why This Isn’t Your Father’s Higher Ed Journalism
One consultant often says, “I’m not interested in admiring the problem.” We’re not going to waste your time telling you all the things that are wrong in higher ed. You know what they are, and so does anyone who hasn’t buried their head in the quickly heating sand. Make no mistake—this newsletter is not the Inside Higher Ed you’re accustomed to. Sometimes it will be silly. Sometimes it will piss you off. Hopefully, it will make you feel less alone knowing that others struggle with a lot of the same issues.
Like many sites, Inside Higher Ed no longer allows anonymous online hating. I mean, commenting. As the great T-Swizzle sings, this is why we can't have nice things. We do, however, want to hear and circulate what you think and encourage good and civil discourse.. When you write to us, we'll need to know your (real) name and position, though we won't include it. We're trying to avoid sinking in the social media swamp.
It's About Doing the Job
Sure, we understand that higher ed is a vast ecosystem with various niches. But people often say they went to a conference that wasn’t useful because the guidance came from someone from a different kind of institution. That response seems a failure of imagination. I want to say Oh, right, President Poopy Pants. Your institution is a special and unique snowflake. There’s wisdom and inspiration in many sources, and plenty of similar trials in doing what Admiral Bill McRaven once again called the most challenging job in the nation. We’re looking to tackle issues that cut across the spectrum.
Gatherings of college presidents are valuable for sharing experiences and empathy, learning about best practices, understanding data presented. We often host those, and our hope is to do more with those who join us in The Sandbox. It’s hard to replicate that in a newsletter format, especially without the lunches, dinners, or the bar. But we're going to try.
Our hope is that through this playful yet serious-as-a-no-confidence-vote format we may, like the Brady Bunch, somehow form a family of leaders, past leaders, and wannabe leaders, where everyone feels called on to help solve the hard problems of higher ed.
Higher ed leaders, we want to hear from you.