How a private-college prof feels in a public university

You're a cipher at a place like this

Wheaton College English Professor Paula Krebs writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education about how different the large state university experience has been for her:

In public higher education, rules actually apply. At a small private college, I am used to asking, and being granted, favors. A reimbursement form was late? A friendly administrator could get it through quickly so I could get my check. But public higher education … has strict procedures and bureaucracies.

Everyone in public higher education is tied up with everyone else in public higher education. Just look at participation in conferences. For the most part, we in the private-college sector operate independently of one another and don’t see each other that much. At a state university, I meet other college officials frequently; all sectors understand that they are tied to one another.

Everything happens at 30,000 feet. At the university system level, you get to see how the university interacts with business groups, the state legislature and state department of education. University decisions are that big.

Nothing happens at 30,000 feet. The teaching, the learning, the actual impact on the community—it all goes on with very little reference, on a day-to-day level, to the work that happens at the statehouse, the education department, or the system president’s office.

I am not, in fact, the center of the universe. At my home campus, I am a big fish in a small pond, elected to lots of important committees. In this giant state system, I am a cipher.