||THE EXPERIENCE OF THE GRANT RECIPIENTS
A number of themes emerged repeatedly in my conversations with individuals who had received grants from FIPSE in the years between 1973 and 1978. In the sections below, I try to summarize those themes in my own words and elaborate them by using representative quotations from the interviews.
|Recipients reported overwhelmingly positive experiences with FIPSE.
|The respondents discussed with enormous fondness their initial encounters with FIPSE, now over 25 years ago. They spoke warmly of their interactions with the FIPSE staff and with other FIPSE project directors, and frequently mentioned that they were still in contact with those individuals. They showed enormous pride in the projects that FIPSE had funded, many of which still operate after 25 years. Several of the respondents remarked that the projects initiated with the aid of FIPSE funding, and the resulting professional associations formed through those projects, had provided the foundation for professional directions that continue today. In other words, people referred to their association with FIPSE with the kind of nostalgia and warmth that is usually reserved for formative moments in life such as a wonderful college or high school experience.
I've done a bunch of grants, but FIPSE was clearly the most rewarding. Others were successes, but the FIPSE project was the best thing we did.
If someone just mentions the term FIPSE, you'll find people energized; they will remember it as something special. It launched me into a nine-year career as a management consultant designing seminars. My current work is really an extension of what I started with FIPSE.
The people they put us together with were the basis of our organization today.
Most of us have maintained these friendships and professional relationships over the past 25 years, and we still collaborate, although everyone has gone to different places. I still talk new ideas with a lot of the folks I met through FIPSE.
FIPSE asked me to coordinate the activities of a number of organizations. It changed my life, and I have been coordinating and facilitating ever since. FIPSE was the beginning of all of that.
|FIPSE was fundamentally different from other agencies.
|The recipients felt that FIPSE had an entirely different approach from the approaches of other funding agencies, both government and private. In contrast to the others, it was open, non-bureaucratic, and interested in learning and innovation rather than trapped in internal formalism or staff politics.
At one point, I was having staff problems in my organization. The problems were really disturbing. I talked to the FIPSE staff about it; we just batted it back and forth. With most funding agencies you wouldn't dare let them know there were internal problems.
Working with FIPSE contrasted with the experience of trying to raise money from, say, the major foundations. Those people were so arrogant; they acted as though it was their money. After the arrogance and elitism, FIPSE was a breath of fresh air.
Usually the government bureaucrats were formalistic, cold, technocratic, and rule-based. My relation to the FIPSE staff was radically different. First of all, I had a relationship with Virginia that just wouldn't have been possible with another funder. They were much warmer, wanting to be supportive and helpful. They were on the phone with us all the time, seeking help, advising.
If you got rejected, you had a conversation with the staff. It was humane. People weren't used to that. Dave or Carol would get on the phone and say, "Here is where it was weak, come back again next year." When you are funding only 70 out of 2000, you would think the field would say, "FIPSE is just a crock." But instead, FIPSE developed a level of respect. They were treating the rejected folks with respect and helping them. If you had been rejected, you still didn't feel that badly because the staffers were extending themselves to help you.
FIPSE worked with you through this kind of friendship and bouncing off each others' brains. The FIPSE staff would have another point of view that would be worthwhile. There is nothing like that now; there is nowhere in the federal government you can go with a new idea. You do get that from good foundations, where you get discussion of ideas, but there is not much place for discussion of new ideas in the education world. There is no back and forth. Some of these ideas need collaboration, but there is no forum for new ideas
It was a contrast with the Department of Education. I remember getting a call from the Department of Education and being told that there was a typo in the report, and I had to come down to Washington to fix the typo.
|The guidelines and the application process encouraged creativity and collaboration.
|The recipients highly praised the grant application process. The two-stage application procedure not only saved time for applicants whose ideas would not be accepted, but also created an opportunity for staff feedback and collaboration in the earliest stages of funded projects. Non-traditional institutions and individuals felt welcomed by the open-ended nature of the guidelines, and the guidelines' flexibility also encouraged creative and innovative projects.
The guidelines were really helpful. When you got a grant, you knew it was because of the project's merit. There were no shenanigans with the FIPSE proposal evaluation process. The integrity of the process and the confidence in the staff was really high, and that made you really proud when you got a grant. You were in a select group of people, and it felt great.
The criteria were phrased more in terms of values than rigid structures, and there was always a clause, "If you don't fit here, tell us about what you are doing anyway."
If you looked at the first guidelines, they were written in a way that was more inviting for faculty to create their own programs, rather than to shape programs to someone else's ideas. The process was much tighter in programs other than FIPSE.
The two-stage process provided a great opportunity for staff influence, because the staff would give input after the first proposal was accepted.
It saved a great deal of time; if FIPSE wasn't interested, you wouldn't have to submit a full application. It was also great for our own staff development. We found it difficult to sort through ideas, but the five-page limit really helped us focus on a few ideas we wanted to develop.
In the proposals there was a preliminary proposal and then there was dialogue, which was enriching. They were looking for innovation, as opposed to what other federal organizations or even foundations were looking for.
With the preliminary proposal, you knew you didn't have to kill yourself, to mount this huge proposal. You could test it out; if it had some merit, you'd be told to develop it or you'd be told, "How about applying again next year?"
They got you to do the first three months of work as part of the negotiation process, before you ever got the money. Especially in the federal government you would never see that. Compared to other bureaucracies, FIPSE had a younger staff and was smaller in size. They had . . . autonomy, particularly when compared to what was going on at the Department of Education.
|There was a tremendous willingness to take risks both in the nature of the projects and in the people selected to do them.
|All of the respondents mentioned FIPSE's willingness to take risks and to support innovation. Projects were funded that no other funding source would touch, and several recipients reported that they themselves had been shocked by FIPSE's willingness to support them, given their lack of the usual credentials.
Working with FIPSE was a very exciting experience. Now that I have had a lot of other grants, and know how they work and how donors work, I would say that what was extraordinary was that the FIPSE program picked us. I don't know how it was done, maybe by random chance, but they picked a good group. We were at a terrific place. Others might have said our idea would never work, but FIPSE took a risk and the project was successful. After two years of funding by FIPSE, the program continued for several more years on its own.
We were young upstarts. We did this as graduate students, and the organization that we started still exists 25 years later. We were as young and green as FIPSE was.
I was quite green-I was 25. While I had previous job experience and worked in state government, I had never been an evaluator, and I had never worked at the kind of institution we were evaluating. They were willing to take a risk, and then when they funded me, they took a risk on a non-proven, not even name-brand organization.
They were really looking for something that would change higher education but also change the institution. They gave me the grant partly because they were impressed that someone in my organization was doing what I was doing, and they wanted not only to encourage the project, but also to reward those within the organization who were moving in the direction they were interested in.
I heard that whenever any proposal got from any reviewer the highest marks for innovation, even if they had rated it low in other categories, Virginia always read it personally, to make sure that some really innovative idea wasn't being overlooked. We have all had proposals read by people who didn't catch on to what we were doing. I was 100% confident that the agency would pick out those unusual ideas and bring them into bloom.
|The selection process was highly inclusive.
|The respondents also gave high marks to the inclusive nature of the application process, which allowed any organization and anyone from within an organization to apply. This created much more opportunity for innovation, and also created greater possibilities for cross-fertilization among various projects.
They would take an application from anyone. It was a brilliant strategy; they produced a whole cadre of leaders at all levels.
They were open to many more types of learning experience and people. Farmworkers, adult learners, labor unions-a broader array of people and places. There were a lot of different learning experiences and a lot of different institutions.
FIPSE contributed to the diversity we now see in higher education. I remember a discussion about what was meant by "postsecondary" education. That phrase was a deliberate choice, as opposed to "higher education," and it was meant to broaden out the experience.
Many community college grants were made, and I can't stress enough how different this was.
Basing a major national project at a community college was a conscious decision by someone at FIPSE, and they wanted to say something about expanded access. Choosing a community college was a strategic decision.
FIPSE was a way for us to apply for funds that were not available from any other agency, and they were really serious about it. Other agencies had guidelines that said "You may apply," but FIPSE really meant it. That was, for us, a major determinant.
We had a rural training center in an extremely rural place that served a membership of 10,000 black farmers, and other rural folks. Our initial request was for a non-formal educational institution. This evolved into another organization that I am still affiliated with. It still exists and FIPSE was significantly responsible for helping it start. Prior to the FIPSE grant the organization was only funded by OEO [Office of Educational Opportunity], which had an aura of something for poor people; the FIPSE grant gave us a lot of credibility since it was a federal agency. We subsequently received funding from other federal agencies. I really think the fact that we were able to list the FIPSE grant (which was relatively small) gave us a lot of credibility.
|The staff was dynamic, supportive, and activist.
|The FIPSE staff received rave reviews from all of the respondents. The recipients perceived the FIPSE staff as colleagues and partners rather than as bureaucratic program managers. Respondents characterized the staff as refreshingly different from program officers at similar institutions, and saw them as driven by a real desire to learn and to shape the field in new and exciting ways.
They were regular folks. They were interested in learning, themselves, and were not remote and distant. It was like the Peace Corps: a young, idealistic staff, not bound by territoriality, but working with each other.
One way I measure staff is whether they would give you their home number. The FIPSE program officers did that. I don't see that from the staff at the other agencies.
A spirit of collegiality was built in. There was room within the staff for fun, and that spilled over into the projects. When you were dealing with FIPSE you didn't have to play a role, but you could just be yourself. It was more open and honest than what you usually see with foundations and agencies.
They were smart, they cared, and they had integrity that they demonstrated in the evaluation process. They were responsive, unlike typical federal bureaucrats. They were like the whiz kids at Ford after the war, a special group of people who were all there at the same time, who were able to do amazing things. The quality of leadership was very high.
The staff said, "We really don't know what we are doing, we doubt that you do, so let's start with an advisory bureau." So they helped us create an advisory panel, and then we had a free-for-all for two years. The program officer was a real participant-observer, and I stress the "participant." She had an investment in the project that transcended anything internal to the organization. That was very exciting, plus the total lack of affectation was also wonderful.
They worked incredibly hard. They were always calling you back from the office at 6:30 or 7:00 p.m., their time. Today, if you shot a cannon down the hall of the Department of Education at 4:30 in the afternoon, you wouldn't hit anyone.
I can still picture the offices. They were messy with boxes everywhere; in other words, they looked just like our own workplaces.
|FIPSE created unique opportunities to network with other innovators.
|The respondents spoke glowingly of the opportunities that FIPSE provided to network with other like-minded colleagues. The conferences for project directors proved to be a highly successful part of the program where many valuable associations were formed.
The conferences were amazing. I would be very interested in the people in my area, which was reading, but then I would wander into a discussion of math anxiety. It was enormously stimulating.
The conferences were wonderful. Once, I took a younger female colleague to one of the conferences. By mistake they had her share a room with a man instead of a woman. Neither she nor the man ever mentioned this to anyone until after the conference was over. They just assumed that it was part of the FIPSE spirit.
Talk about a fabulous meeting-the project director meetings were very special occasions with a lot of fascinating people. They picked just the right sites; it was like summer camp. They had a directory of every project grantee and the grants, so I knew who they were and what the description of the grant program was. FIPSE created a kind of environment where you could pick who to hang out with, and there was time to seek them out, and take responsibility for your own learning.
The conferences were very important; there was a big effort to get us together with others from whom we would benefit. For example, there was a school that was doing the same kind of thing we were, but had a different focus. They made sure we got a chance to interact with that institution, and the interaction really helped our project.
They decided that some of those marginal groups should be supported, just to see what they could do. There were a group of us. At the FIPSE conference, we shared two rooms and stayed up all night talking. That is how we got to meet, and with FIPSE support the organization I am with now was founded.
You felt an enormous sense of support, as though everyone who was there was privileged to be there. It was like being at Harvard, where you assumed everyone was special or they wouldn't be there.
|A FIPSE grant legitimized innovation, both within the organization and with other funding sources.
|Hand-in-hand with FIPSE's willingness to take risks was the sense among most respondents that a grant from FIPSE provided legitimacy. In some cases, this legitimacy was most valuable within the grantee's own institution.
One of the side effects to working with FIPSE was that it helped me to negotiate the federal government in other ways. After working with FIPSE, I felt more confident to move to do what we needed to do. That confidence can't be underestimated.
It gave us credibility with other federal agencies and with foundations. We had competed for a federal grant successfully, and those types of things gave us credibility both within the federal government and elsewhere.
It was an honor to receive a grant, even if the money was small. We could take that to other organizations. Since we had been funded by FIPSE, the other organizations were now interested in us. It was prestige in our own organization. FIPSE was the first grant, then we were able to go to other governmental organizations.
Just having a FIPSE grant gave you legitimacy and also put pressure on you to do well.
People got lists of FIPSE grantees and then contacted us and said, "What is it that you are doing?"
The FIPSE grant was our first step toward legitimacy within the higher education world.
One of the most important factors that helped our new concept gain credence internally and externally was that we could say that FIPSE thinks that it is hot. If FIPSE thought something was hot, it was hot. The most important thing that FIPSE did was to give us external credibility. We gained insights, but the most helpful was the credibility; that was the holy water.
Nothing would have happened without the imprimatur of FIPSE, that they were willing to back this kind of idea. That gave it substance and credibility. It wasn't just the money that was important. The money was incidental, and it wasn't enough anyway.
You got bonus points with your university for having a FIPSE grant.
|FIPSE's small size and the collaboration between program officers facilitated innovation.
|Because of FIPSE's small size and dedicated and energetic staff, the program officers knew a great deal about many of the other programs FIPSE was funding. This encouraged cross-fertilization and networking among the projects, and increased the knowledge base of the staff.
FIPSE was staff-driven, and the staff was brilliant. They had a lot of ideas and were eager to learn and share from each other.
They each knew what the others were doing; they knew about other projects. If your project officer left, there would still be continuity.
At the conferences you would see the program officers together as a group and it made a difference. First of all, there was just the personalization-it allowed you to see that they had staff-wide reasons for choosing what was funded. Second, they would know about each others' projects.
They were, in the end, all friends with each other.
|FIPSE had visionary leadership.
|The respondents lauded FIPSE's leaders, both for visionary leadership and for brilliant implementation of their vision.
Virginia and Russ had a tremendous vision, and knew how to hire wonderful staff. The staff were like those people they are talking about hiring in the schools, the architect who wants to go into teaching, rather than someone with a teaching degree.
I once asked Virginia how they coped with having all of that flexibility in the middle of a bureaucratic morass. She told me that she adopted a philosophy that when people said, "You can't do this," she would say, "Where does it show in writing that we can't do that?" And she would assume that she could do anything unless they could prove she couldn't.
There was a spirit in the agency that was a reflection of Virginia, of her philosophy and attitudes. It went as far as the young people who answered the telephone; everyone always called you back, which is not the usual protocol.
The statement of a vision in inspiring ways was really important. Today you get bland mission statement stuff that no one reads. Genuinely stirring language really helps.
Virginia is an outstanding educator, she infused that agency with a spirit of "Let's try it; if it seems viable and worthy, let's investigate and see." There was an openness, and in addition to that she had a background and experience that enabled her to pick out what was viable. She has wonderful relations with the people who worked for her. There was a spirit of cooperation, so they bounced ideas off each other, so even if your program officer changed, there was a familiarity with what was going on.
|FIPSE was a "breeder reactor," training staff members who took the FIPSE philosophy to other organizations.
|Several respondents mentioned the professional careers of the FIPSE staff members after they left the organization. They perceived the staff as professionally mobile, in contrast to the bureaucratic "lifers" in other agencies. This meant that, over and above their influence on the programs that were funded, the staff themselves had a powerful influence in their later professional lives.
They have also produced change in private institutions and in other funding institutions. Not only did they change FIPSE, but they also took the thinking into other jobs. Russ went to work for AAHE [American Association for Higher Education], and he did a lot in that way. Alison went to The Ford Foundation. Carol worked for AAUW [American Association for University Women], and also for AAHE, and has always been in innovative positions. Rusty went to work for the Council of Independent Colleges, and brought a lot of good ideas to small colleges.
Follow the careers of the people who were there, like Carol and Alison. They have gone to other institutions, and are making policy in a different way. Their FIPSE experience has been important on the national scene. It is interesting that very few stayed in government service. In other words, there was a double impact, not only on the grantees, but on the staff as well.
|There is a pressing need for other institutions like FIPSE.
|The respondents said that FIPSE met important needs that all too often go unaddressed. They saw a pressing need for small, flexible, non-bureaucratic structures that will be inclusive, take risks, and support innovation.
The size of the agency is tremendously important. The optimal size is probably below 25; when they get big and bureaucratic, they are always saying that a new idea should be at "someone else's table. Send it across the hall."
An agency should have discretionary ability, not be too restrictive. It seems to me that practitioners in the field have a lot to offer in terms of new ideas that may not have gained credence at the bureaucratic level. Taking the things I have done over the years, if I had had to depend on Washington, they never would have gotten off the ground. There is an area that has never been probed, and that is the relationship of public policy to foundation policy. Whose turf is what? Nobody in the foundation world or in the public world takes enough of a risk in order to make change. There has to be a segment where you trust the people who invent the airplanes, and that doesn't exist any more.
There should be a role for maverick institutions even within the federal government.
People who operate on the fringes often don't have many friends. FIPSE created a support group. You would meet people doing things that were like what you were doing, and that gave you education, courage, and support. Sometimes the people you met through FIPSE were more like your peers than the people in your home institution.
At the core for me would be the idea that lots of people who might not be in the so-called traditional positions of leadership have ideas that are worthwhile and valuable. They should have money to try things and be allowed to come forward, including people who are not normally running the show.
In higher education people think they know what innovation is. But institutional transformations are very slow and ponderous. Every once in a while there needs to be a new thing. The concept then was the introduction of the idea that higher education was for everyone. The last new thing was the so-called revolution of teaching learning. We lose track of things because we get too pompous in terms of the professoriate, and we need ways to keep transforming institutions.