The University Family Argument

Once upon a time, there was a loving family living in College Town, U.S.A. They gathered regularly to watch football, celebrate a homecoming, and to say goodbye to graduates of the family. They often dressed in their family colors with the name of their family on their clothes and sang the family song at the end of their sporting events.

Unfortunately, as is the case with all families, there were a few disagreements. One day, at a family reunion, the bickering revealed that each person was feeling devalued because their rest of the family did not their importance. They decided to give each member one minute to explain their perception. This is the conversation that ensued…

Momma Mission: I would like to think that everyone knows that the reason our family exists is because of our mission. Without our mission, we would have no guiding direction. Our mission describes the essential purpose of our family better than any other family document. We quote our mission at public gatherings of family members and print it in many of our family documents.

Granddad Gen Ed: No doubt our mission is an important statement – but that is all it is – a statement. It is written so generically that it can be used to advocate for just about anything. In fact, if y’all took the time to look, you would realize that our “unique” mission is almost identical to over 100 other families.

Our children’s learning is really what is most important in our family. If we can’t teach our children about critical thinking, communication, citizenship, etc., we clearly are not doing our jobs. Ultimately, we must prepare our children to be responsible citizens in this world.

Aspiring Oldest Child: Yes, these overarching outcomes are foundational to our family, but none of the adults in this room could tell you our learning outcomes and more importantly, we have no idea how to assess if our children can think critically. These statements are just more high-level platitudes for which no one holds us or our children accountable for learning.

Let’s focus on the here and now – when our family is telling others about our (strategic) plans we are telling them about the physical additions we are making to our house, the growth in the size of our family (students), and other measurable activities like allowance sizes (financial aid) that improve the attractiveness of our family and the attention our family receives.

Grandmomma Money: I hope you realize that everything you are talking about is impossible if we don’t have what is most essential to the survival of a family – revenue. Without our many sources of income, we would not exist. I know we hate to say it, but without our family’s wealth, this entire family collapses. If you disagree, just stop earning money, spend our savings (endowment), and increase our debt, and see what happens. 

Aunt Admissions: Grandmamma Money, you hit the nail on the head. Without money, the university ceases to exist. But who do you think pays the large majority of that money? Did you know that over 75% of our and most families’ annual income comes to us from our children (tuition payments)? Basically, if we can’t attract the right students to our family, we have no chance of making our budget and achieving our goals. If you disagree, let’s lower our number of children/students in our family and see if the rest of our family can make the income difference.

Sister Student Success: It is important to maintain our family size, but I think it is even more important to retain the kids already in our family! The recent national rankings (U.S. News) for families reveals that graduation rates from families is the most important factor. If you disagree, let’s just stop worrying about caring for and helping our children. They won’t be staying here very long. 

Family Banker/Budgeter: Thanks for mentioning this Sister. Y’all should know that one of the, if not the, main reason your kids are leaving the family is the housing, food, and our financial support factors. Making membership in our family affordable is the most important thing we can do to help. 

Family Counselor: Let’s all agree that our family must maintain our income, but we are not even permitted to exist as a family if our family is free from complaints from child protective services (university accreditors). Families under investigation are not eligible for many of the benefits that accompany being in good standing (access to federal financial aid). No kids are going to want to stay in a family that is under investigation. 

Overachiever: What really gets people’s attention is how our family is perceived  among other families each year (college rankings). Our family’s perception in the neighborhood is essential to maintain our reputation as a family of distinction. 

Athlete: I know you all don’t think I have a chance to win this argument, but our family’s athletic success generates significantly more attention than our once-a-year rankings. If we play football, the entire neighborhood comes out to watch. If you think athletics are not one of the most important aspects of our family, look at how much we spend in our budget on being competitive. If we stop playing sports, no one is going to pay attention to us any longer. 

Father Faculty: Of course we enjoy going to a family sporting event, but I am confident that I speak for all parents (faculty) when I say that without us, there would be no athletics, no students, no family. Parents (faculty) are ultimately responsible for raising the children and taking care of the family. In addition, parents must make up the majority of the family budget (faculty salaries). 

Research Relative: It is about time someone let the rest of the family know about the importance of parents. Specifically, I think parents’ most important role is their work outside the house (faculty scholarship). If your parents are not able to make significant contributions to their work among peers (scholarship), the family will not be sustained. 

Cousin Community: As the last person to speak, I want to bring all of you to your senses. When you ask our former family members what the most important thing in our family they will, without hesitation, tell us it is their sense of love and belonging they felt living here? Our family traditions, celebrations, and shared values are make make our family unforgettable.

Father Faculty: So what do we do now? We have heard from each member of the family and now we have to decide who is the most important member of our family.

Momma Mission: Evidently, everyone one of us thinks that we know the answer, but it sounds like we only know that aspect of the the family most impacts us. Maybe we should learn to be a little less self-focused and start to listen to each other so that we can better understand all the important parts of our family. 

Granddad Gen Ed: Let me tell you a short story which may solve our dilemma…

Once upon a time, there was once a man whose body parts could speak. They, too, were arguing about which part was most important. One by one, they each made their arguments for why the man would not survive if they were removed.  Their arguments were persuasive, and it soon became clear that without each of them the man would die. Each of the parts were indispensable: the heart, brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, skeleton, stomach, skin, pancreas, intestines. And so the man and his body parts came to realize that not one of them was more important than the other, but that all of them were essential to the man’s survival and success.Sister Student Success: What a great story! You are saying that each one of us is essential to our family’s success. If we lose our focus on any one of us, we are going to find it hard to go forward. We are going to just have to find a way to balance the many important elements in our family. 


  1. Momma Mission – Mission Statement
  2. Granddad Gen Ed – Core Curriculum/General Education 
  3. Aspiring Oldest Child – Institutional Strategic Plan
  4. Grandmamma Money – University Revenue Streams
  5. Aunt Admissions – University Admissions
  6. Sister Student Success – Student Success Division
  7. Family Banker – Financial Aid
  8. Family Counselor – Accreditation
  9. Overachiever – US News and other institutional rankings
  10. Father Faculty – The Faculty
  11. Research Relative – Research Productivity
  12. Athlete – College Sports
  13. Cousin Community – University Community/Culture

Reflection: So what do you think?

  1. Are all these key parts of a university equally important to you or are some more important than others?
  2. If you believe some of these factors are more important than others, do you think all the members of the university will agree with you?
  3. If you were the president of your college, and expected to support all these important components of a university, how would you prioritize your time?
  4. Which of these components do you understand the least and might you take some time to learn more about?
  5. The next time someone tells you what is most important at a university, what questions will you ask them to better explore their thoughts?


  1. Hi Jeff- thank you for the blog post, I enjoyed reading it! I agree that all the areas you mentioned have an important role to play in the life and health of a university. To answer your third question under the reader reflection section, if I was a university president, I would put a large portion of my time into identifying the key areas (like you did in your post), assessing how we’re doing in those key areas, and hiring talented people to manage those key areas. I wouldn’t be so concerned with prioritizing my time among those key areas as finding the right people who could focus all of their time into one of the key areas- the area they oversee and have expertise in.


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