A while back, an image went viral of a group of school children sitting engrossed in front of Rembrandt’s famous painting, “The Night Watch,” in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Only, seemingly instead of drinking in the influence of the old master, their heads were bent over their cell phones, opting for the small screen over the large canvas.

Immediately, the image was tweeted and retweeted, as viewers saw it as the perfect metaphor for the modern age: the ephemeral lure of the electronic data stream over something classic and enduring. The truth? The museum used a special app to give information about the paintings and exhibits to visitors; what looked like Millennial disrespect for the classic painting was actually an instance of rapt attention paid to its history and meaning.

This kind of generational misunderstanding will only become more common, says Brian Van Brunt, executive director of the National Behavioral Intervention Team Association and former president of the American College Counseling Association. Together with Poppy Fitch, associate vice president of student affairs at Ashford University, he has released A Guide to Leadership and Management in Higher Education: Managing across the Generations, the pair’s newest book from Routledge. In it, they explain some of the challenges inherent in our multigenerational higher education community and world.

Currently, we have four generations in our colleges and universities: the Matures, the Baby Boomers, Generation X, and the Millennials. In the next few years, the Matures will finish their migration out and into retirement, and the next group of youths, “Generation Z” or whatever moniker they assume, will migrate in. The challenges inherent in having four different generational perspectives in one institution will stay with us.

“There’s a temptation to get into name-calling, such as saying that Facebook friends aren’t real friends,” Van Brunt says. However, he contends that managing multiple generations is more about demonstrating care than it is about mastering or regulating technology. This is true whether of students in the classroom and employees in the office.

“For my first class [I ever taught], I had never prepped so much in my life. I overwhelmed my students with content,” he says. Soon he learned that connecting with a younger generation was about “forming a relationship with your class” and seeing beyond the technological differences to the similarities of experience and personality. “You need to read the audience and adapt to what they need,” he says. Van Brunt and Fitch’s new book will demonstrate how to accomplish these goals.

Fitch, P., & Brunt, B. V. (n.d.). A Guide to Leadership and Management in Higher Education: Managing Across the Generations.


Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti is the managing editor of Academic Leader and the chair of the 2017 Leadership in Higher Education Conference. She is the owner of Hilltop Communications (http://www.hilltopcommunications.net).


Reprinted from “Bridging the Generational Gap” in Academic Leader 32.8(2016)2 © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.