• Issue #12

Lessons from the multiverse

A man floats along in a shattered universe.

Stories featuring the Multiverse are everywhere these days.

But what does that have to do with Higher Ed?

And also, what should we do about Twitter?

Thanks for being here.

Higher Education in the Multiverse

Earlier this week, I was listening to a podcast where the host and the guest talked about how an underlying idea in our stories has been changing. Pop culture has moved towards the multiverse, from big story-generating machines like the Marvel cinematic universe to smaller stories like Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, or even Rick and Morty.

Before our recent story-telling age, our stories have often been rooted in an intuition for destiny. Think Oedipus all the way to Harry Potter. This change seems to represent a significant change in our ideas about our own potential and responsibility to the world and each other.

This change wasn’t entirely unexpected. I think it is a response to this ever-present anxiety about looming war, the possible encroachment of authoritarianism, and the effects of climate change. Our stories are changing to a Multiverse frame of mind because we’re all grappling with the difficulty of motivating people to preventative action and searching for solutions. The Multiverse frame allows us to creatively explore regret, decision-making, and morality themes.

By now, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with higher education. I know you feel a different looming disaster; I feel it too. There are destiny-style talks about higher education. A few years ago, we heard people talking of the great unbundling, and now we’re hearing all about the enrollment cliff.

We all want to avoid changes that will erode trust in our institutions or change the education landscape for the worse. If education is only seen as a private good directly tethered to career prospects, where is the space for the liberal arts? If education becomes a political wedge issue, and only people of a particular political orientation feel the desire to attend, what happens to our democracy?

This is why I think, as an industry, we all need to adopt the Multiverse frame. Here’s what I mean by that:

One: The first feature of the Multiverse frame is taking responsibility for your part in the story. It means not waiting for bad things to happen to you or seeing them as an unstoppable destiny. It means owning your contributions and seeing them as meaningful.

Two: Look for the multiple possibilities. You have more than one path forward. We’re not stuck on a defined conveyor belt of strategies and outcomes. Ask that “what if” question. Try some new things.

Three: Honor the small changes that have big, impactful results. A belief in the multiverse goes hand in hand with a belief in the butterfly effect - small changes can ripple out unexpectedly.

The last thing I recommend is to remember that you feel the effects inside our industry acutely. But, all industries everywhere are facing significant economic and social challenges. Looming disasters are not unique to higher education. They never were, and they never will be.

The effects of burnout and frustration are common in all industries, too. What helps people recover from burnout is seeing their work as meaningful. And there may be no better way to imbue your work with meaning than to acknowledge the Multiverse hero inside you.

Kristin Van Dorn

What To Do About Twitter?

Last week, the self-proclaimed “Chief Twit” began his reign as The Bird App’s new owner, and as expected, things began to change.

As of this writing, the top brass has been dismissed, the board’s been dissolved, hate speech is on-the-rise, and “verification” is something “future-you” can buy for $20/month.

Unsurprisingly, lots of folks are worried about other potential changes lurking around the corner, and many are weighing a decision to leave.

But what should your institution do?

Join Joel and Jon-Stephen for a special bonus episode of Thought Feeder where they’ll discuss what to consider before making that decision.

Arriving in your airwaves on Wednesday morning.

Carl Gratiot