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Resisting the Global Campus: Strategic, Political and Cultural Dimensions Undermining Efforts to Build a Virtual Campus

Laurel Newman (University of Illinois, USA)
Additional Authors
Deborah Windes (Trinity Christian College, USA)
Session Information
October 14, 2015 - 1:45pm
Institutional Strategies & Innovations
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Research Study
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Theory/Conceptual Framework
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Discovery Session
Atlantic Hall
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Discovery Session 1

Observations using strategic, political and cultural perspectives are offered in a case study examining the establishment and discontinuation of a virtual campus.

Extended Abstract

Using archival data and a select set of interviews, we analyze the initiation, implementation and decision to discontinue the University of Illinois' Global Campus for online learning. Our analysis focuses on the strategic, political and cultural dynamics involved in this attempt at educational innovation. Insights and observations regarding the implementation of large scale organizational change related to online learning initiatives are offered. A brief synopsis of the case is provided below:

Case summary:

At his 2005 investiture, B. Joseph White, newly appointed President of the University of Illinois, described his vision of creating a virtual university as a fourth campus designed to provide online education (Heckel, 2005). By the summer of 2006, a proposal for the online "global campus" was being widely circulated. The explicit goals of the proposed global campus were to offer high quality programs with flexible, convenient access in a way that was educationally innovative and financially sustainable (Office-of-the-President, 2007). The original concept outlined in the proposal was for the global campus to be established as an independently accredited for-profit, entity that would offer online students access to University of Illinois programs in areas of high demand such as nursing, business and education (Jaschik, 2006). The global campus would rely primarily on non-tenure track, part-time faculty teaching courses delivered in an 8 week, accelerated format designed to appeal to adult learners. The campus was expected to have sufficient enrollments to break even by 2010 and reach an enrollment goal of 10,000 students by 2012.
The original proposal encountered a wall of faculty resistance. Campus Senates, at the already established Champaign, Chicago, and Springfield campuses responded to the proposal with concerns about lack of faculty oversight over curriculum and delivery of instruction by part-time instructors in the for-profit model. After intensive negotiations, the model was revised in a compromise designed to overcome faculty objections. The Global Campus was renamed the Global Campus Partnership. The campus would be non-profit and would not seek independent accreditation. Courses and programs would be designed and supervised by faculty members in existing academic departments (Jaschik, 2007). The Board of Trustees approved the establishment of the revised initiative and the Global Campus opened their doors to new students in January 2008.
By April, 2008 media reports indicated that after investing $3 million startup funds for IT, recruiting and service infrastructure, the Global Campus had only managed to enroll 10 students (Scholz, 2008). By November of 2008, enrollment had only reached 120 or so and administrators were concerned about the lack of high demand baccalaureate completion programming partnerships from the other 3 campuses (Des Garennes, 2008). These disappointing results led President White to reintroduce the idea of separate accreditation for the global campus. White argued that separate accreditation would give the Global Campus the freedom to develop baccalaureate programs more rapidly. Senate Conferences, the university's overarching faculty governance body, opposed separate accreditation for the global campus and the board and President decided to explore alternatives.
A task force, with faculty and administration membership from each of the University's three campuses, proposed a "reset" of the University's approach to online education entitled "Global Campus 2.0". The 2.0 proposal recommitted the University to the mission of delivering high quality, accessible and affordable online college education but with a more decentralized approach. Ownership and responsibility for online programs would remain at the campus and academic unit level and the global campus would serve as a service and support organization (University of Illinois Board of Trustees, 2009.) In May, 2009, the board approved the resolution endorsing the global campus 2.0 approach.

Theoretical and Methodological Approach:

The global campus case including the planning, implementation and subsequent dismantling of the 4th campus is analyzed from a strategic, political and cultural perspective. From a strategic perspective, we look at the decision to provide a heavy upfront investment versus a more incremental approach. The late entry into an already competitive market is also examined. Disruption innovation theory applied to education (Christensen, Aaron, & Clark, 2001) sheds additional light on the strategic dynamics involved in this case. From a political perspective, we examine the role of powerful actors at cross-purposes particularly with respect to the University President and his team versus the faculty and leadership at each of the three university campuses. A cultural analysis reveals that the global campus ran afoul of the value system of a traditional university system by its emphasis on part-time non-tenure faculty and its entrepreneurial, profit-oriented approach.

Our data collection involves several strategies. We rely heavily on archival data including media coverage as well as publicly available reports, Board of Trustee minutes, resolutions and e-mail memos. Interviews with a few select key players will also be utilized.


Christensen, C. M., Aaron, S., & Clark, W. (2001). Disruption in Education. In M. Devlin, R. Larson & J. Meyerson (Eds.), The internet and the university: Forum 2001 (pp. 19-44). Boulder, CO: EDUCAUSE.

Des Garennes, C. (2008, November 4, 2008). UI president: Global campus needs accreditation. The News-Gazette.

Heckel, J. (2005, September 23, 2005). B. Joseph White presses campus to aim high. The News-Gazette.

Jaschik, S. (2006). The new state u [Electronic Version]. Inside Higher Ed, August 31, 2006. Retrieved August 28, 2010.

Jaschik, S. (2007). Death for for-profit model [Electronic Version]. Inside Higher Ed, January 12, 2007. Retrieved August 28, 2010.
Office-of-the-President. (2007). University of Illinois Global Campus overview.

Scholz, R. (2008, April 6, 2008). UI's global campus starting small. The News-Gazette.

Lead Presenter

Laurel Vaughan Newman serves as the Director of Online Programs for the College of Business and Management at the University of Illinois in Springfield. Laurel earned her Ph.D. in Business Administration with a major in Organizational Behavior from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Laurel has presented on topics related to distance education, management education and human resource management at numerous international, national and regional conferences.