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The University Body


Human bodies and higher education institutions are both open systems.  Using the human body as an analogy for a university body, the inter-relationships between various campus roles are analyzed.  Faculty, staff, and administration must work together interdependently for a school to be healthy and vital.  

The human body is a tremendously complex and versatile creation.  With training and practice, people can condition their bodies to lift heavy weights, jump great heights, or run extremely fast over a variety of distances.   Gymnasts can jump and twist their bodies in the air, ballerinas can balance and turn on their toes, and martial artists can spin and strike objects with tremendous force.  The body can also be trained to throw objects with great velocity and precision and to strike and accurately hit objects with bats, clubs, and racquets.  With purposeful training and conditioning, people can make their bodies do extraordinary things.

The powerhouse of the body is the heart and lungs.  Those organs and their related systems supply all of the parts of the body with the oxygen that is used to keep it moving.  The head coordinates the actions of the body by scanning the environment for information and sending signals to the arms and legs to move and react.  All parts of the body must function together in combination for it to perform.  A twisted joint, a pulled muscle, or an infection or illness in one part of a body can slow down or hurt the overall performance of the whole body.

Human bodies are open systems.  They import energy from the environment and use it to function and give off waste.   As systems, they are composed of subsystems and are parts of larger systems.  The elements of the systems are arranged in purposeful manners and work together interdependently to accomplish their purposes.  All subsystems of a larger system must also be in perfect balance with each other for the overall system to function most effectively.

When human bodies are inactive or unhealthy, they are not able to perform well.  A sedentary lifestyle and improper nutrition can lead to weakened hearts, lungs, and muscles.  The brain must command the arms and legs to exercise to strengthen themselves and the heart and lungs.  The brain also dictates what the body consumes for food.  A healthy and high-performance body comes about from conscious choice and strenuous and consistent conditioning.  A healthy body is a journey and not a destination.

 There are certain parts of the body that are more vital to its survival than others.  If someone has a problem with their heart, it generally warrants immediate attention and treatment.  Without a functioning heart, the body will not survive.  The same applies to the other vital organs in the core of the body.  Brains are also important to protect.  However, one seldom hears of cases where a person’s brain suddenly stops working without some type of injury or trauma—unlike a heart which, in the case of a heart attack, can suddenly stop working.  The arms and legs, while very helpful to the core of the body, can be sacrificed if necessary.   Exceptional performance is mostly likely to occur when all of the parts are healthy and functioning.

 Colleges and universities are also open systems.  As such, they share many characteristics with human bodies.  They are dependent upon inputs and resources from the environment, they process and transform the inputs into outputs, and give off waste.  Colleges and universities are made up of subsystems that are composed of many elements that must work together in a coordinated manner to function most effectively.  They can be healthy and able to perform unusual and exceptional things or they can be sedentary, inactive, and out of shape.  When even one part of the university is injured or not performing up to standards, the performance of the whole institution can suffer.

As with a human body, certain elements and subsystems of a university are more critical than others.  When downsizing occurs or jobs get cut, certain positions will remain until the very end.  Because colleges and universities are ultimately about teaching and learning, the positions that are directly involved in teaching and learning are the most critical.  The decision-making brains of institutions are also important—they direct the supporting arms and legs to move, exercise, and keep the core strong and they consciously direct the arms and legs to supply the whole body with healthy food.

The heart and lungs of colleges and universities are the faculty.  Without the faculty, teaching will not occur.  The decisions and actions of the institutions should all be directed to supporting their teaching functions.  The staff and support areas of campus, the arms and legs, should all be actively involved in supporting the health and vitality of the instructional core.  The brain and head, or the administrative and institutional leadership of the institution, should coordinate the actions of the limbs to keep the heart and lungs healthy.  The brain should keep the arms and legs safe and strong through consistent exercise, thereby also strengthening the core, to allow the institution to be most effective.  The brain must also make conscious choices to supply the entire body with healthy inputs.  The brain must use information collected from its sensory systems to direct the body away from dangerous and harmful situations and toward those that can be safe and productive for the body. 

In the human body, the parts do not argue, bicker, and play politics with each other.  They are an integrated whole that mutually depend on each other for their existence.  Arms do not get jealous of attention and resources given to the legs, the brain does not horde resources at the expense of the heart, and legs do not sabotage or speak ill things about the other parts of the body.  If every part of the body does not care for and respect the other parts of the body, the existence of the entire system can be in danger.

The care of other parts of the body is a two-way street.  The faculty depends on the staff to provide them with students and resources needed for instruction, but the staff also depends on the faculty for the energy and oxygen needed to fulfill their roles.  A heart that does not pump energy to the limbs and brain will find itself part of a dysfunctional body that is unable to maintain proper health and activity.  Recruiters, marketers, and development officers need energy and vitality from the faculty to successfully fulfill their roles.  When problems with the body arise, the brain must recognize them and seek out appropriate remedies to bring the body back into proper balance.

When colleges and universities are properly conditioned and directed, they can accomplish unusual and exceptional things.  When not, they can lose vitality, atrophy, and eventually die.  Maintaining a healthy body is better to do than letting one run down and then bringing it back into shape.   Exceptional accomplishments and performances, like those of gifted ballerinas and athletes, come from purposeful and consistent practice and training, a commitment to excellence, and dedication from all parts of the body.


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2006, 2007, 2008 Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved