before the rise of silos: jimmy moreland and 1950 education.

I was reading the other day about the death of Jimmy Moreland. It came as no surprise, as he passed away nearly 60 years ago, but it showed me how much different higher education was in the bygone era. And perhaps, in some ways, better.

Moreland died young in 1950 after 15 years teaching, recruiting and advising at Oswego. Er, sorry, make that Jimmy. He asked everyone to call him Jimmy. He was a revered English professor, a chief recruiter, advisor for 300 to 400 freshmen, and even director of public relations. In his spare time, he advised the fledgling Hillel club and volunteered in the Oswego community.

Jimmy “taught his classes, not from a textbook, but rather from his great wealth of knowledge,” the student body president recalled. The president of the alumni association valued how Jimmy’s “informal talks in the co-op, in the halls, on the front steps or anywhere that a group of students would gather helped to mould the thinking and philosophy of students and teachers alike.” Jimmy “imparted a great love of learning, he imparted some of his own goodness, he imparted his own unbounded curiosity and optimism to his students as they learned with him in his classes,” said then-president Harvey Rice. “As freshman advisor through the years he, more than anyone else, helped youngsters to find their bearings away from home. His friendship won them, his understanding comforted them, his love sustained them.”

In short, Jimmy wore a lot of hats well, and he never looked at his watch and declared his day done, knowing any time he saw a student provided an opportunity to connect. He recruited students, advised them, taught them, excelling in all areas. There were no silos, cubicles or boundaries to what we would, and could, do to serve students.

In contrast, recent trends in higher education bend toward staffing many specialists, while spurning the benefits of being a generalist. When we develop a mentality we can only help students with x but not y, we see them less as humans than checkmarks on a report. Anyone who knows me would attest I’m one of the busier folks around, but I never mind helping one of my students with something that falls outside my so-called job description. Why? The Golden Rule. I appreciate all the people who helped me as a student, treated me as a person and not a category.

I can’t see Jimmy poring through the pages upon pages of policies, procedures and precedents we’ve foisted upon higher education governance. If he had a mission statement, it would likely simply read: Do the right thing. Maybe we’ve made this business a lot more difficult than it should be. You see how one man, one incredible man like Jimmy Moreland could follow his head and his heart and serve as educator, inspiration and friend to thousands of students, and you wonder.

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7 responses to “before the rise of silos: jimmy moreland and 1950 education.

  1. Inspiring, and not a little depressing. It’s hard to imagine today that a professor would also be the head of public relations, nevermind all the other hats Jimmy wore.

  2. insidetimshead

    LORI: I think the hoarding and separation of knowledge is one of the bigger negative trends in higher education, and this sort of shows how it doesn’t benefit our students.

  3. I remember a former band director on our campus — the campus’s first paid band director, hired in the early ’60s — who was also the university’s first director of “public information” as it was called in those days. In those days, the PR/communications/marketing function was a part-time job similar to the coaching duties of high school history teachers. (Was there ever a high school coach who was not a history or social studies teacher? At least it was that way in the ’70s.)

    The silos, once erected, are difficult if not impossible to demolish — at least not without some collateral damage. On our campus, we eliminated our four colleges/schools (and the deans, and administrative structures), moving some of the duties upward to vice provosts and some downward to department chairs. The intent was to foster more collaboration. Results have been mixed. The rapid change to our org chart was a huge shock to our academic culture. That’s just one example of silo-busting that I know of from personal experience.

    From a PR/marketing standpoint, is the pendulum swinging away from specialization and in favor of generalists? Technology has made it much easier to create and produce video, for example, but does that mean everybody should do it? Remember when desktop publishing first came of age and everyone was creating departmental newsletters with 17 fonts on a page — just because they could? There has to be a happy medium between the specialists and generalists among us.

  4. Andrew: That’s kinda why I’m leery of the trend toward hiring “directors of social media” or “interactive communications managers” in higher ed. I understand the impulse: there is so much you can do in this area and its so new to so many directors they may feel they need to hire a specialist. Plus, it’s tempting to think you just create a new position and offload all this social “stuff.” But I think that would just lead to others not learning to how to use tools well in the course of their day-to-day, and relying too heavily on the specialists.

  5. Lori – I think I agree with you. The creation of specialized staffing positions can lead to all sorts of issues. It’s been that way since the first “priesthood” was created (whenever that was). Those who are the experts are left to decide what’s best and what works, while the rest of us are beholden to their wisdom or teachings. Someone please stop me before I get metaphysical here.

  6. insidetimshead

    I love this discussion because it was on my mind when I wrote it. If we install directors of interactive or social media and just throw them in a cubicle, all we’ve done is put up another silo. Any such campuswide efforts really need to be attached to a communications-type (or possibly admissions) office plugged into what’s happening and what the college is trying to accomplish. Working our fan page has made me had to go and get a lot of info I never had before, but the pursuit of this information has helped me improve at my job and boosted our college’s overall ability to communicate, imho.

    I also agree that there should be a variety of people who know how to use social media on any given campus. I cringe to see those who want all online communication funneled through one person or office. If our music department wants a Facebook or Twitter presence, they better understand their audience than I do. Ditto our history department, transfer services, etc. There is a lot of knowledge out there, and I think it’s important to unleash that knowledge on a widespread, not narrow, basis.

  7. Pingback: Living in silos: Blindness, elephants and higher ed customer service. | InsideTimsHead

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