some of us are brave
Steve Gunderson is determined to stay positive as the leader of for-profit colleges’ primary trade group. It won’t be easy.
The former Republican Congressman from Wisconsin will need to use all the political persuasiveness he picked up during 16 years as a moderate dealmaker on Capitol Hill — and then some — to rise above the fray as the new president of the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities.
Just a month into the job, Gunderson has told the association’s members to resist the temptation to bash traditional higher education. That’s a difficult ask for some for-profits, who feel they’ve been unfairly targeted by lawmakers and the news media and have at times responded by citing shortcomings in other sectors, like low graduation rates at community colleges.
This is an interesting development for those of us who are interested in how organizations achieve legitimacy. The for-profit sector has spent a lot of money of late defending it’s political legitimacy in a series of congressional hearings and court cases. But, as I have argued, the real problem is the sector’s cognitive (or, social) legitimacy. Many not-for-profit schools also have negative graduation rates and high costs but they are not often called on the carpet before Congress because we’ve agreed, societally, that not-for-profit colleges are legitimate authorities. The same cannot be said for for-profits. Paradoxically, the more social legitimacy the sector accrues the less it would need to spend defending it’s political legitimacy. Not that I think that is a good or a bad thing. There are likely some good reasons why the sector hasn’t achieved full social legitimacy. Or, that’s what my dissertation research suggests (shameless plug!). But, from a purely objective stand-point this is a fascinating case for org theorists and/or assorted nerds interested in how money, power, and privilege converge to legitimize new systems.