The illiterates of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
– Alvin Toffler
Volume 76 | Issue 4
July 2008

From the Executive Director: Partnership: An Old Idea's New Importance

Marsha Herman-Betzen

What do Barnum and Bailey, Proctor and Gamble, Ben and Jerry, Abercrombie and Fitch, Black and Decker, and Batman and Robin have in common? You guessed it, they are famous partners.

There have been famous pairings throughout history from Antony and Cleopatra to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to Beavis and Butthead. However, as I discussed in a 1994 Union Wire column, mutually beneficial partnerships really took off in the 1990s when political, economic, and corporate entities developed strategic alliances at an accelerated pace. We can remember Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin announcing an economic partnership between Russia and the United States; Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin signing a peace treaty uniting Palestine and Israel; and the United States, Mexico, and Canada establishing the North American Free Trade Agreement to facilitate the importing and exporting of goods and services among the three countries. Even fierce competitors found ways to align with each other when Apple and IBM cooperated on the development of software that could communicate, and carmaker Nissan agreed to buy parts from its archrival Toyota.

The same quote I used in 1994, from futurist John Naisbitt’s book, “Global Paradox,” holds true today. Naisbitt (1994) says:

Competition and cooperation have become the yin and yang of the global marketplace. Like yin and yang, they are always seeking balance and always changing. Competition we know about. One thrust of the new cooperation, the new strategic alliances, is to carve out a piece of your world in which you agree to cooperate with your strongest competitor. (p. 95)

While it appears counterintuitive to suggest that there are ways in which business competitors might collaborate, there are actually sound reasons why this approach is necessary. As Naisbitt (1994) explains, modern organizational success lies in connections and intangible experiences, not only in physical assets and economies of scale:

The selection of strategic partners with whom to collaborate is now becoming a life or death issue for most firms. In the new economy, strategic alliances enable business to gain competitive advantage through access to a partner’s resources, including markets, technologies, capital, and people. (p. 12)

Today, “partnership” has become even more of a buzzword as well as a sound and proven business principle. In 2008, two defense giants, Lockheed Martin and Boeing, created the industry’s dream come true when they announced plans to work together on the Air Force’s next-generation bomber. Their mindset is “half a pie is better than no pie.” In fact, economist Alan Greenspan (2004) has said, “I have found no greater satisfaction than achieving success through honest dealing and strict adherence to the view that for you to gain, those you deal with should gain as well”(¶ 18).

“Star Wars” filmmaker George Lucas obviously does not underestimate the power of partnerships. U.S. movie giant Lucasfilm announced an alliance with toymaker Lego Systems more than a decade ago. After successfully joining forces to create Lego characters Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, Lucas saw a familiar way to introduce a new generation to Indiana Jones during this year’s release of the fourth film in the series. As Nancy Mullane (2008) reported for NPR, “They’re putting the Indiana Jones sets next to ‘Star Wars’ on their website, in their stores, and in their magazine. And the campaign is working. Kids are craving it” (¶ 16). Lucas leveraged the existing connection between “Star Wars” characters and their Lego counterparts to sell Indiana Jones to youngsters who did not experience the magic of the original.

Partnerships also are proving successful in a more familiar arena: higher education. Faced with increased competition from the private sector, reductions in state support, insistence on quality improvement, and the ever-growing public outcry about rising tuition costs, colleges and universities are always looking for ways to do more with less. One of the best examples of higher education collaborations is the Auraria Higher Education Center, which serves the Community College of Denver, Metropolitan State College of Denver, and the University of Colorado–Denver.

Until Auraria was built, the three institutions were spread throughout the city with inadequate facilities. Options were limited for Denver residents who could not afford to leave home or needed a low-cost education that could be combined with work. Auraria was planned as a nontraditional campus, where a student theoretically could enter without a high school diploma at Community College of Denver, receive a four-year undergraduate degree from Metro State, and continue through a master’s and Ph.D. program at the University of Colorado–Denver. (Auraria Higher Education Center, n.d., ¶ 3)

No single institution could have built as comprehensive a facility on its own. These three institutions identified their commonalities, and now working in tandem, can provide outstanding products and services to their constituents.

Higher education associations also have had a strong history of collaborating, even among organizations that have been long-established competitors. Since the mid-1990s, ACUI has worked tirelessly to position itself for the future by developing cooperative ventures with a variety of organizations. We have partnered with sister student affairs organizations to organize study tours to Ireland, Australia, and South Africa, drawing on the expertise of each educational partner. For example, on each of the study tours NASPA has been in charge of the faculty and curriculum, while ACUI has managed the logistics and delegate registration. Without exception, each study tour has been a successful revenue-generator for each participating association. Additionally, ACUI has two partner programs scheduled for this year: Innovative Solutions for the Campus Community (with NACAS) and the Women’s Leadership Institute (with eight higher education associations), not to mention all the webinars available through our partnership with KRM. While each organization must agree to take a calculated risk with these ventures, it is always satisfying to collectively share the rewards from our collaborations.

College unions and student activities have begun to do the same. In 2003, the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Wisconsin Union partnered with the on campus dairy to develop and name a new ice cream in honor of the union’s upcoming 75th anniversary celebration. Names and flavors of ice cream could be submitted online or in person. The recipes were tested, and a committee narrowed down the choices to five new ice creams. The delectable concoctions were prepared and members of the campus community were invited to taste each one and vote for their favorite. The winner was Union Utopia, a scrumptious vanilla ice cream laced with swirls of peanut butter, caramel, and chocolate. One of the best ways to tell the college union story is by building connections with another campus entity.

Another great example of a partnership between the union and a campus department happened at Clemson University’s Brown University Union. The student-run coffee shop Loggia Latte, opened for business in 2002. Through its partnership with the Clemson food science department, beans were roasted, classes were taught on business development, and the coffee shop went from on-campus learning lab to a small student-run enterprise.

We must continually find ways to expanding our relationships with our campus and corporate partners to find new ways to enhance each other’s successes and minimize our threats. We need to be the leaders in forming partnerships with academic departments as well as others in student affairs. How about reaching out to our competitors in the community at large, creating winning alliances and improving town-and-gown relationships along the way? Partners are well-known allies who are united with each other in a sphere of common interest, sharing monetary, professional, and personal risks and rewards. John Naisbitt best summarizes the importance of partnering: “The industry establishment and entrepreneurial upstarts alike are partnering at a dizzying pace, fully aware that no single company—and no single country—can alone be a successful player in the new global game” (p. 54).

We need to continue to seize every opportunity to be the true leaders in building campus community. This can be accomplished by tearing down the old barriers and boundaries that divide us from one another, keeping us in our all-too-familiar silos, and limiting our possibilities for interaction, cooperation, and growth. As Winston Churchill so eloquently stated, “If we are together, nothing is impossible. If we are divided, we all will fail.”


Auraria Higher Education Center. (n.d.). The Auraria campus: A brief history. Retrieved June 3, 2008, from http://www.ahec.edu/campus/history.htm.


Greenspan, A. (2004, May 13). Remarks by Chairman Alan Greenspan at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago’s Money Smart Conference, Chicago, Ill. Retrieved May 29, 2008, from http://www.federalreserve.gov/Boarddocs/Speeches/2004/20040513.


Herman-Betzen, M. (1994, December). Competition gives way to cooperation. Union Wire, p. 2.


Mullane, N. (Reporter). (2008, May 19). Lego promo eyes new ‘Indiana Jones’ fans. On All Things Considered [Radio broadcast]. Transcript retrieved May 28, 2008, from the National Public Radio website: http://npr.org.


Naisbitt, J. (1994). Global paradox: The bigger the world economy, the more powerful its smallest players. New York: William Morrow and Co.