The new semester is starting at most American colleges and I'm thinking about the silos on campuses. I don't mean anything having to do with agricultural programs which probably have a silo or two. I mean the figurative silos that are still quite real that appear in departments and schools on campus.
I had bookmarked a headline saying that "Facebook was granted a patent to silo group posts." That's about moderators of Facebook Groups getting more leeway in controlling who sees the comments made on their forums. Some have described it as a patent for shadowbanning - secretly restricting who sees a user's content.
My inspiration to write this post came from that social media story, but it set me thinking about education, especially higher education silos.
Silos are also increasing when it come to online and streaming media. Netflix, Disney, HBO, and other providers are "taking back" their content and siloing it in their own platforms. People have been unbundling and cord-cutting to lower costs and customize what comes into their home, but now they mean to rebuild and might need a half dozen services to get what they want. Ironically, this is how cable companies first emerged - by creating packages of channels for you.
A few years ago, a Forbes article stated that "College Silos Must Die For Students To Thrive" and asked "If academics — the heart of the university — do not silo students, then why are student-focused university departments siloed from each other? Wouldn’t student needs be better served if cross-functional sharing of institutional knowledge were common practice within colleges and universities?"
The authors say that the five functional areas of the university that are most important to students are Admissions (including financial aid), Academics, Student Affairs, Career Services, and Alumni Relations/Advancement. Typically, these five have minimal interaction with one another. They exist in silos.
Silos in higher education aren’t limited to departments. They include academic units, athletics, student support services, foundations, alumni, research and business operations.
Why create a silo? Usually, it is to keep focus in one space and hold onto perceived "turf." The problem with silos is that they discourage interdisciplinary opportunities, which is probably something you will find written into many universities' mission and priorities.
I have worked at colleges where these silos existed. The bigger the institution, the more likely silos seem to occur. For example, you would find IT services housed within a college or school that did not share staff, software, equipment or practices with other schools within the university. In large state universities and university systems, as one example, it is not unusual to find multiple learning management systems being used. That means that training and support can't be "pooled" across campus. Faculty who teach in multiple departments or programs may have to learn and design for several systems.
There are pressures to break down silos. Technology is one pressure. Purchasing power and avoiding duplication of services are other pressures. Calls for transparency and accountability favor structures without silos. Take a look at your campus structure this fall and see if silos exist. Are they increasing or decreasing?