Michael Middaugh Interview

Interview by Leah Ewing Ross



Michael F. Middaugh is a higher education consultant based in Wilmington, Delaware. He spent 26 years at the University of Delaware, where he retired as Associate Provost for Institutional Effectiveness. Dr. Middaugh has been an active member of several higher education organizations, including AIR, and also served as Commissioner and Chair of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
e-AIR: Please share a little bit about your background and the professional positions that led you to your current role as a consultant.
As the chief institutional research officer at the University of Delaware for over a quarter century, I gained invaluable experience in defining metrics directed at measuring the effectiveness of the institution in meeting its mission. Add to that my role as co-chair of the last two successful decennial reaccreditation self-studies at the university. I have been able to make meaningful contributions to discussions about how to improve institutional accreditation, including in my role as a Commissioner with the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. When I decided to retire from the university in June 2011, I hoped that some institutions might be interested in my experiences in planning, assessment, and institutional accreditation. That interest has, indeed, materialized, and I now consult regularly with colleges and universities in those areas.
"Higher education will be under stress—both economic and political—for the foreseeable future. Successful institutional researchers will be those focused on institutional effectiveness."

e-AIR: What has your transition from campus-based work to consulting been like?
The transition has been quite easy. I now have an opportunity to share with others what I have learned over the years. And I get to choose projects based on interest and how often I want to work. My wife says I am “flunking retirement,” but it certainly is invigorating to remain active and to help others.
e-AIR: What lessons or themes have carried you through your myriad positions on college campuses, with Middle States, as a writer, and as a consultant?
As institutional researchers, we are at the cutting edge of policy analysis in higher education. I learned early on in my career that organizations like AIR are perfect venues for testing and sharing new research approaches and methodologies. I doubt that the Delaware Study of Instructional Costs and Productivity would ever have achieved its current level of use were it not for the help and encouragement of my AIR colleagues. And the late George Keller, a prolific higher education writer in his own right, encouraged me to put to paper what I learned from my various institutional research endeavors.
e-AIR: In light of your experience with Middle States, what nuggets of wisdom or key insights about accreditation would you like to share with institutional research professionals?
The planning and assessment activity that we do in support of accreditation should be much more than a perfunctory exercise. Self-study provides a genuine opportunity for institutional introspection that can focus a college or university on those areas of strategic activity that enhance realization of the institution’s mission. And the depth and breadth of that introspection is very much a function of the quality of institutional research available to faculty and administrators.
e-AIR: If you could spend a day with a group of new institutional research professionals, what would you talk with them about?
I tell newcomers to institutional research that they are entering one of the most rewarding professions in higher education. In the 30-plus years that I spent in institutional research, no two days were ever the same. Each day brought a unique set of problems to which I could apply my analytical skills. I have always told those who work for me to have fun on the job—to let their creative intellects define problems and explore solutions. If what we do for eight or more hours each day is nothing more than tedious drudgery, we should be doing something else. I’ve always tried to make the workplace a place my colleagues looked forward to. As I look back, I think I succeeded in some measure.

e-AIR: Given your vast experience, what advice would you share with younger colleagues, especially in light of the economic and educational changes on the horizon?

I would offer this observation to my younger colleagues: Higher education will be under stress—both economic and political—for the foreseeable future. Successful institutional researchers will be those focused on institutional effectiveness. How can we best assist our faculty colleagues in demonstrating student success in measuring learning outcomes, while understanding that measuring student learning is a

process that must be owned and driven by the faculty? Where institutional researchers can truly shine is in measures of institutional effectiveness that demonstrate that an institution is making the most effective use of its human and fiscal resources to support teaching and learning. This means that institutional researchers must branch into new areas: budget analyses and benchmark studies (such as The Delaware Study), financial ratio analyses using IPEDS data, thorough knowledge of compliance evidence for institutional accredita

tion standards, etc. While these sorts of metrics may be new to some institutional research offices, they represent the types of data that senior management need in order to navigate the current higher education environment. And to be successful, institutional researchers must be relevant. So to my younger colleagues, I would say read everything you can get your hands on, go to AIR and regional accreditation workshops, and do whatever it takes to equip yourselves with the knowledge and skills to be relevant in these times of demand for evidence of institutional effectiveness.

"I have always told those who work for me to have fun on the job—to let their creative intellects define problems and explore solutions."

 e-AIR: Who or what inspires you?I’ve been fortunate in my career to have wonderful mentors. When I first started in institutional research in The State University of New York (SUNY) System in 1979, I was lucky to become friendly with the Director of Institutional Research at SUNY Albany—a fellow by the name of Pat Terenzini—who was incredibly generous with his time and advice to a rookie. I mentioned earlier George Keller’s impact on my writing. But none of what I have written about would have taken place had it not been for my boss and friend for 20-plus years at Delaware, David Hollowell. Dave encouraged me to be active in AIR, SCUP, and in Middle States. He encouraged me to explore and be creative in taking on institutional research projects. In helping me shape my work agenda, he’d tell me what he wanted, provided me with resources, and then left me to my own devices. It was OK to make mistakes, so long as I didn’t repeat the same mistake. What more could you ask for in a boss? I tried to apply those same principles over the years in supervising my own staff.

e-AIR: What fact or experience would AIR members be surprised to know about you?
For all those institutional researchers who fear that in order to be successful in the field you have to be a mathematical or statistical genius, the last "A" I achieved in a pure math course was in high school geometry. I got a "D" in trigonometry, and my college calculus teacher gave me a "C." Fortunately, I had an enlightened statistics teacher in grad school who saw no need for me to be able to derive the equation for a chi-square, and who understood that pocket calculators and SPSS were invented precisely for folks like me. And I’ve been very fortunate in my staff hires over the years to work with many folks who more than compensated for my shortcomings. Somehow, things worked out for me.
e-AIR: What have been the most fun aspects of your career to date?
The most fun part of my career has been the friendships I have made over the years, especially through AIR. My life is so much richer having enjoyed time with folks like Jeff Seybert, Deb Teeter, Laura Saunders, and so many others whose friendships endure into my retirement. More than anything else, I look back with great pleasure and satisfaction on those many friendships.

For more information about Dr. Middaugh’s consulting work and publications, please visit www.mfmiddaughconsulting.com or contact him at mfmiddaugh@comcast.net.

Leah Ewing Ross is a freelance writer, editor, and consultant based in Davis, California.


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Total Comments: 1
Jennifer posted on 2/2/2012 12:04 PM
Great to hear your assessment of your career, Mike! Thanks for sharing and for the advice to those of us still aspiring to retirement. It also continues to be true in my experience that having a boring day is a very rare event in this profession.
Jennifer Brown