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Volume 2, Number 1, Oct 2001

Virtual U: A University Systems Simulation

Review by Bill Warters, with help from Ian Toft

Understanding campus conflict requires a broad understanding of the university as a system. Virtual U,, 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.

The Simulation Experience

To 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:
Pay Better (Only option available on Demo version)
Allocate New Money
Teach Better
Improve Research Performance
Win Games
Reduce Tuition
Respond To Enrollment Shifts
Enroll More Minority Students
Hire More Minority Faculty Members
Balance The Budget

After 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 or less."

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 levels.

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 their wants.

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.
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Page last updated 11/27/2005

A project of Campus Conflict Resolution Resources.
Supported by a FIPSE grant from the US Department of Education
and seed money from the Hewlett Foundation-funded CRInfo project.

Correspondence to CMHE Report
(Attn: Bill Warters)
Campus Conflict Resolution Resources Project
Department of Communication
585 Manoogian Hall
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI 48201.

Please send comments, bug reports, etc. to the Editor.

© 2000-2005 William C. Warters & WSU, All rights reserved.