Published on 2015/04/08

House of Cards and Continuing Ed: Gaining Campus-Wide Support for Innovation

The EvoLLLution | House of Cards and Continuing Ed: Gaining Campus-Wide Support for Innovation
Building support for new initiatives across the institution requires continuing education leaders to access their inner politicians.

In a recent episode of Netflix’s hit series, House of Cards, First Lady Claire Underwood passionately argues with a Russian dissident about the nature of political power and political leadership. Whether she wins the argument, we don’t really know, but she elevates compromise, collaboration and deal-making as honorable tactics in pursuit of worthy goals and lowers more principled tactics even in pursuit of the same goals.

The episode was compelling and I thought, “There’s a lesson in there about the nature of CE leadership, too!”

CE leadership is often faced with the daunting task of building support across the campus for its more innovative features, including acceleration, prior learning assessment, learner-centeredness, online programming and new faculty models. We all want to rush to the barricades to defend and advance what we know works with our student audience, but this may be a mistake. It may better serve this audience to take Claire’s advice.

CE leaders should exercise political leadership across the campus. The following four practical tactics of outreach to build support for innovation flow from the exercise of this political function of CE leadership:

1. Create a CULTURE of respect and civility

Assume the good intentions of all involved. Assume, as well, that no single campus constituency possesses the whole truth. The culture necessary to build support for CE innovation can be achieved through social and structural means, including:

  • Fostering social engagements between CE and traditional faculties and administrators. Invite traditional faculty to receptions and CE faculty developments. Invite them to CE faculty meetings.
  • Fostering transparency in CE innovation. Share syllabi. Share course schedules
  • Leading by your own example of the spirit of this culture in action.

2. Create permanent STRUCTURES animated by the spirit of this culture

Form liaison committees aimed at the exchange of innovation and genuine conflict resolution between CE and main campus. As is usually true, populating this type of committee with the right people is essential.

3. LEVERAGE innovation already in place by the main campus

Years ago, I found myself addressing a group of traditional faculty at a New England four-year, private university. The question of acceleration came up, and as I floundered in explaining how a 20-contact-hour course could be worth the same number of credits as a 42-contact-hour course, a hand shot up: “We’re already doing that!”

The university was already accelerating summer session courses and had been doing so for 30 years! I gratefully seized upon the fact and brought the group along with me in a way that would have been impossible without it. Look for these opportunities to leverage what’s already being done into fuller support for your CE innovations.

4. Let the campus know what works, in terms of accepted outcomes ASSESSMENT

It’s important to promulgate CE innovative successes across the campus. On the other hand, also let people know what didn’t work. Assessments related to innovation can be difficult to develop by their nature. How well is your adult outreach working? How well are you containing costs? Are your CE students learning what you say they are learning? Disseminating successes and failures takes courage and faith. This loops back to the cultural component discussed above. Be sure to frame successes and failures in terms of institutional and learning outcomes assessments.


There are different ways to implement these tactics. The how, what, why, and who of the above vary by institution. Yet, the categories stand, I think, as markers on the path to fuller support by the main campus for CE innovation. I dare prioritize them in the following way:


Whatever your prioritization looks like as a CE leader, you should prepare yourself to be a politician in one of the most difficult tasks facing you: building support across the campus for CE innovations.

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