2, Number 1, Oct 2001
U: A University Systems Simulation
by Bill Warters, with help from Ian Toft
campus conflict requires a broad understanding of the
university as a system. Virtual U, http://virtual-u.org,
is a simulation model of a college or university offering
a fun and challenging interactive experience for anyone
interested in practicing all aspects of academic administration.
The player acts as president, leading an institution
through real-life scenarios and common problems based
on real higher education data.
While this multimedia tool does not directly emphasize
conflict (perhaps the opposite is in fact true), it
does help illustrate areas of tension or cleavage on
campus that develop based on the goals administrators
have established. This window into some of the pressures
administrators face can be quite illuminating. Virtual
U is driven by a simulation engine that models five
broad areas: resource allocation and finance, academic
operations, enrollment management, physical plant activities,
and performance indicators.
Virtual U is designed to serve as a fun, but real, professional
development tool for university administrators, those
who aspire to administrative positions, students of
higher education administration, or anyone interested
in the functioning of an academic institution.
Virtual U was conceived and designed by William F. Massy,
President of the Jackson Hole Higher Education Group
and Senior Research Fellow at the National Center for
Postsecondary Improvement, Stanford University, in conjunction
with Enlight Software, a leading simulation system software
developer. Data were provided by the Institute for Research
on Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania.
Support was provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
and the Spencer Foundation.
help you visualize the game, see a quick collage
of screen shots from the demo version. You start
the simulation by establishing the type of college you
will work at (Private Research, Liberal Arts, Public
Research, Comprehensive), you choose a logo, a name
for your school, and then you are asked to establish
some goals for the institution in the coming year. These
goals are taken from a pre-established list:
Better (Only option available on Demo version)
Allocate New Money
Improve Research Performance
Respond To Enrollment Shifts
Enroll More Minority Students
Hire More Minority Faculty Members
Balance The Budget
your preferences are established, the simulation engine
builds your game.
You begin your scenario by receipt of a letter from
the University board of trustees. This helps set the
direction of the game based on your preferences. For
instance, you might receive a letter stating that "The
board agrees with your concerns regarding faculty salaries.
We ask that you raise salaries by 14% within ten years
The simulation displays information using a number of
different content sections. The primary sections include
the Campus, where you can click on different buildings
to visit different departments or facilities, and the
Faculty, Courses, Performance, Finance, and Score. You
can make changes and decisions within the various sections.
For instance, within the faculty section of the interface
you are faced with establishing hiring priorities. You
may choose to focus on bringing in new blood and make
leadership issues more important with the understanding
that this means sacrificing the importance of cost containment
or scholarship talent. You can also change promotion
and tenure goals. For instance, the degree to which
salary-setting priorities are reflected in promotion
can be set high and this could make the difficulty of
promotion to tenure greater as well. One can also alter
salary levels of both departments and rank/ experience
At the end of each fiscal year you are given an evaluation
letter. This will include how well the committee believes
your performance has been. The board singles out areas
that they feel need to be improved. Eg. Alumni giving,
Faculty morale & institutional prestige. They also
comment on the areas they feel you have improved on.
There is then a profit/loss account and balance sheet
presented displaying you performance of the year. You
are then given the opportunity to alter the revenue
and expenditure for the university as you go forward
into the next year.
At the end of the game you are given a score that is
put into the games Hall of Fame. You are also given
a Trustee Evaluation. This game is certainly less about
campus conflict resolution and more about the running
of the University, particularly from the managerial
perspective. However you are able to judge aspects such
as employee morale and make decisions as a result of
On the whole the Virtual U is a good introduction to
those that wish to get a feel for the day to day operation
of a university.
To obtain a copy visit either
You may order the Administrator Version @ $130, the
Game Version @ $60, or try the demo version (2 virtual
academic years, with limited options) for free.
project of Campus Conflict Resolution
Supported by a FIPSE grant from the US Department of Education
and seed money from the Hewlett Foundation-funded CRInfo
to CMHE Report
(Attn: Bill Warters)
Campus Conflict Resolution Resources Project
Department of Communication
585 Manoogian Hall
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI 48201.
send comments, bug reports, etc. to the Editor.
© 2000-2005 William C. Warters & WSU,
All rights reserved.