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A Responsibility to Speak Up

While skimming the columns of my Tweetdeck late last week, I saw a headline that caught my eye: “Do the Loudest ‘Expert’ Voices on Education Have the Least Expertise?” The link took me to a Chronicle of Higher Education thumbnail of some recent University of Illinois research that quantified expertise in education and correlated it with media citations. (You can read the full summary here.)
The bottom line findings from the research—people with the least expertise in education policy debates are often the most cited in media coverage of those debates—struck a chord with me.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve noticed a number of stories in the press that have cast a critical eye on individual institutions, courses of study or even entire segments of our industry. What has been missing from these pieces is what higher education leaders have to offer in droves—research, data, anecdotes and experiences garnered on the front lines of academia.
It’s disappointing when those covering our industry don’t include the expertise, context and nuance that higher education leaders can provide. But as conversations about what we do and how we do it are conducted in the public sphere, higher education leaders have an important role to play and we as communicators have an obligation to help them engage in the conversation in ways that are effective and efficient.
Building relationships with reporters, identifying experts who can cast common criticisms of higher education as misinformed opinions, and being proactive in sharing our positive stories are all ways in which communications teams can support leadership in their efforts to set the record straight.
Higher education is a vital force in the lives of our students and our nation. As such, we will—and should—be the focus of a great deal of attention and critique. But as with any conversation, this one will be more meaningful and more constructive if all who have expertise to offer join in.