Friday, June 22, 2012

UVa and Teresa Sullivan: Motivating Faculty without Money

cross-posted from Dagblog

The debacle at the University of Virginia, whose Board of Visitors hastily fired President Teresa Sullivan, has been a lesson in how business-oriented trustees can urge bad business practices. My earlier post listed some of the imprudent ideas that Sullivan was resisting: a big bet on online learning with no business plan or revenue stream; a desire to chase expensive star faculty from outside UVa instead of building in-house; and a drive to reallocate funds from profitable but unglamorous fields to sexier, less profitable enterprises that the Board of visitors preferred. What took me totally by surprise is that Sullivan's antagonists wanted big raises for faculty during a budget crisis, and were dissatisfied that Sullivan only found money for 2% raises. That's flabbergasting.

What that illustrates is that Sullivan's opponents aren't driven by business sense but by business culture.

They're not demanding fiscal prudence (which university trustees have always done, and which many trustees from finance and business have done very well). Instead they're expressing a set of habits and values common in parts of the business world. The key Board members have bought into an especially shallow and naive version of that business culture, but they're extreme illustrations of a wider problem. It's all too easy to apply popular management ideas to a complex enterprise whose economic model you don't understand. And that can lead to trustees like Helen Dragas and Mark Kington demanding moves that, viewed simply as business, are risky and unsound.

There have been hints about the faculty-salary argument before now: in the fairly incoherent op-ed by putsch-supporter Paul Jones (in which Jones cites the $140,000 average salary for full professors at Virginia as "alarming") and in Sullivan's defense of herself to the Board, in which she makes a point of having found money for a small raise this year. Now, Board Rector Helen Dragas's latest statement confirms that faculty salaries were a contentious issue, and a small raise did not suffice.

This disagreement reflects a misunderstanding about how to manage university faculty, who are much less motivated by money than employees in finance are. Every employee is motivated my money to some degree, and certainly professors will never turn down a raise, but it's only part of the mix.

University faculty "consume their wages in happiness," as economists like to say, sacrificing some of their earning potential for other kinds of job satisfaction. I've blogged about this as the LeBron James effect: a willingness to leave some money on the table in exchange for something else the employee values. (In James's case, he was willing to make $3 million less a year in order to have a shot at a championship and, you know, get past the Celtics in the playoffs. It's worked out for him.) In LeBron's case, the man would rather be paid a ridiculous amount of money to be the best at what he does than an even more ridiculous amount of money to come up a little short. That makes sense.

College professors are also motivated by a lot of other things, both selfish and altruistic: the quality of their students, opportunities to do their research, their sense of how much prestige the school they're at confers, the number and quality of colleagues they can talk about their work with: the list goes on and on. They'll all take more money if it's offered. But money alone won't keep them happy if other things are missing. If they have no research collaborators, or feel that they'll never finish their book, or feel that they can't actually teach the way they want to teach because of the way their school is run, they will want another job. (One friend who was frustrated about teaching conditions once told me, "I love our mission, but I can never get enough of my unit back to the chopper.") Giving them a 5% raise might soothe them temporarily, but it won't stop the problem. Fundamentally, those people would rather be somewhere else. They don't want to be at the same place for 5 or 10% more money, so paying them more doesn't buy you any real loyalty.

On the other hand, a professor who makes a comfortable salary, but might get a better one elsewhere, might not go looking around for a raise if other things are going well. If she has the pleasure of being able to watch her students succeed, stimulating intellectual relationships with colleagues in or near her field, and the satisfaction of getting her own research done, the fact that she feels underpaid might be just one of those things. A rival college might be able to lure her away by flashing some cash, but they'll have to come looking for her, and they'll probably have to convince her that they can match those other sources of happiness. People are unlikely to move to a school where students aren't as well prepared, or where the rest of the department is always fighting, even for a raise. They almost never move to a place where they think it will be harder to get their research done, no matter the price. Most professors would rather be paid an okay salary to write their books and teach students who really seem to get something from classes than be paid a better salary to not write their books or to teach students who aren't interested.

A lot of UVa's faculty could make better money at some rival school. But then, virtually all of those faculty could have made more money, at some point, by not becoming professors in the first place. They could have leveraged their earlier educations, their ability to manipulate information, and their relative class privilege to earn more in some other, less interesting field. But, at least initially, they traded a measure of their earning power for other satisfactions. The trick to keeping them at the University of Virginia isn't to throw money at them, but to emphasize the other things that make them happy about Virginia. A few will still be lured away by schools with deeper pockets, but Virginia can't win heavy bidding wars on salary anyway, and over time the quality-of-academic life approach will retain more people than other strategies would. Of course, the last two weeks have infuriated most of the faculty and convinced them that the university is in chaos and upheaval, which is much worse for faculty retention than salary stagnation could ever be.

Dragas and company did not, at least, make one of the mistakes that people from the business world occasionally make when dealing with academics, which is to decide that since professor's salaries are so shockingly low, by business-world standards, that professors will be grateful for any extra amount of money. The thinking here is that faculty have simply failed to make a better living, and since their salaries are comparatively low, the price of their loyalty is low. Needless to say, the assumption that faculty members will go along with anything if you give them a $500 raise often leads to trouble.

Dragas makes the opposite, and more generous error; since UVa's faculty salaries are so far out of line with what she and her colleagues in business earn, she assumes that they must be in desperate need of pretty large pay raises. This is a more subtle mistake, and leads to a more subtle problem. While faculty are relatively unmotivated by salary, they can be very aware of relative salary. They might be less attuned to how much they make than to how much they make compared to the usual salaries for their department and university. The salary isn't just money, but a psychological marker of respect and success. Changing the pay scale too much, too quickly, especially if done piece-meal, can upset faculty who were previously content.

Let's say a leading full professor at UVa, where the average full professor's salary is around $140,000, is actually making $175,000. (Let's imagine, for the sake of this example that our professor works in a department which is dead-average in salary, so that the extra $35,000 is not simply about her being in a better-paid field.) Although she might be aware that she could theoretically attract a higher salary if she moved elsewhere, she likely feels pretty good about the money she does make, because she's being paid well by institutional standards. If, however, her department suddenly lured in two new star faculty from outside (which Dragas seems to think would be the way to go), and those new hires start at $215,000, she's going to suddenly wonder why she isn't valued as much as the outsiders are. That's not rational, but it is human. Similarly, if you a university suddenly has a pool of money for unusally large raises, and chooses to distribute more of those raises to some faculty than others, that new money will foster discontent. People who might have been okay with Colleague X making more than they do are not going to be okay with Colleague X suddenly making that much more than they do. And suddenly, all that the administration's money has bought it is trouble.

But the biggest mistake, born out of the assumption that salary alone governs employee loyalty, is that Dragas wanted to find money for raises at the expense of the other things that make faculty happy. Cutting academic programs in order to fund raises for the faculty who don't get cut would mean a net loss in faculty happiness and loyalty. Raiding financial aid funds to increase salaries would mean a net loss of faculty loyalty: that would inevitably mean a weaker student body, and undercut the faculty's sense of purpose. (You can only ask people to sacrifice so much for a teaching mission they believe in, but you can't ask them to sacrifice anything for a cause they don't believe in.) And a top-down, business-style form of university governance, where one executive makes all the decisions with little or no faculty input, will simply enrage faculty. You might find room to pay them an extra ten or twenty percent that way, but not nearly enough to make them happy under the new system. If they wanted to work in a top-down, business-style organization, they would, for a lot more money. There are some things you almost literally cannot pay then enough to do.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Teresa Sullivan and UVa

cross-posted from Dagblog

I'm out of the country right now, but even so I can't avoid the uproar over Teresa Sullivan being pushed out as President of the University of Virginia after only two years.

Her forced resignation seems to have taken the campus entirely by surprise, and she was widely regarded as doing an excellent job. The university's Board of Governors (composed entirely of political appointees, mostly major donors to the governor) was first said to have acted unanimously, but now seem to have never actually held a meeting or taken a vote. (Sullivan was evidently sacked at an "emergency meeting" held by 3 of the 16 Board members.) And the Board's chair or Rector, Helen Dragas, has been extremely bad at explaining the reasons for this sudden move. Kris Olds at GlobalHigherEd has the most extensive round-up of the information known to this point, and asks if it still makes sense for a board of gubernatorial appointees to have this much power over a university now that the state only provides 10% of the budget.

How this shakes out in the end is far from clear. But at the very least, this is a public-relations disaster by the Board, and may do meaningful damage to UVa's reputation. It's pretty clear that the Board leadership, dominated by business executive types, wanted more "visionary," top-down MBA-style management (one person who's boasted about working on the "project" of removing Sullivan has thrown around the phrase "strategic dynamism"), but they've provided a good lesson in how "bold," go-it-alone decision making can burn an organization.

I also don't know how you recruit a truly promising replacement for Sullivan under these circumstances. Unless Dragas has secretly lined someone up in advance, any good prospect for UVa's presidency would have to be wary about the job. But any replacement that the faculty and alumni perceived as having been lined up beforehand would be tainted by this process, and face significant management and fund-raising challenges.

But one thing especially deserves mention:

This is very unusual for a school with Virginia's reputation.

Boards of Trustees do often push for more "transformative" and "visionary" leadership, hiring and supporting college presidents who fit the model of leadership promoted by popular business-management books. But "transformative" management figures much more heavily in schools with weaker reputations, while prestigious and established universities are much less likely to have leadership talk about reinventing the whole university. (Why reinvent Princeton? Princeton is doing fine.) You are far more likely to hear about the president of Prairie State College (Lonely Rock campus) as a visionary CEO, if you ever hear of him or her, than you are to hear that about the president of Yale. (Yale's had the same president for decades, and as far as I know he talks a lot about excellence, but much less about transformation.)

There are a lot of reasons for this. The better-established a school is, the more power various individual stake-holders have, and the more buy-in the leadership needs from those different power centers. A rich school has more big donors to keep donating; a school with prize-winning faculty members has to keep them from leaving for a better offer; a school with a loyal alumni base has to make sure that those alumni believe that the school is continuing its best traditions. Wealth and prestige come with more people to keep from alienating. And reputation itself matters. The less well-regarded a school, the easier it is to sell the idea that it needs to be shaken up and transformed. A CEO-style university president of an obscure college can be imagined by the Trustees (and himself), as a bigger deal than the school itself. But, as I believe John Quincy Adams first said, ain't nobody at Harvard bigger than Harvard.

The University of Virginia is much more like Harvard or Yale, in terms of reputation, than it is like my hypothetical Prairie State at Lonely Rock. It is nationally ranked, with many departments ranked in the top ten: truly one of the Public Ivies. It has a large, well-heeled body of deeply loyal alumni. It has faculty who are leaders in their fields. It was personally founded by Thomas Jefferson. Some of the campus buildings were designed by Jefferson himself.  This isn't some low-profile satellite campus.

And for that reason, the struggle over Virginia will suggest a great deal about the fate of higher education, and especially public higher education, in America. What the Board of Visitors would (apparently) like to do there has already been done at schools that don't get any love, and no one's raised much of a fuss because, basically, the people who make decisions in our society don't give a damn what happens to the students at those schools. If you're going to Prairie State at Lonely Rock, elite decision-makers have already written you off because you couldn't get into a better school. They won't say this, of course. They will just talk about what is best for you, and what a student like you really needs, which of course is never what their own college-age children need but what is appropriate to someone of your lowly station. And naturally, what someone in your lowly station needs is not to have your aspirations set too high.

But UVa is not a school for people that our policy elite wants to write off. UVa is for students that Virginia's power brokers view as actual students, with actual futures. And the University is something in which the state, as a whole, has long taken great pride. Giving Mr. Jefferson's University the Prairie State-Lonely Rock treatment, if it sticks, will be a sign that what's been happening at Prairie State-Lonely Rock will soon happen everywhere in public higher education. There will no longer be a high-quality option offered at a few flagship schools while the other public universities became playgrounds for whatever educational and management fads are popular among neoliberal business types. All of the public universities will be neoliberalized, with strategically dynamic visionary CEOs free to run the places as they choose. Maybe that will be great. Maybe it won't. But if it doesn't go well, there won't be any other kind of public university to choose from.

What might Rector Helen Dragas want a "visionary" president to transform about Virginia? Early (and very much incomplete) signs suggest three things:

1) An aggressive move into E-learning

A lot of speculation has gone into the high-profile topic of e-learning, which the tea leaves suggest the Rector wanted in a big way while Sullivan was attending to other issues (like fixing the school's finances, coping a big enrollment increase mandated by the state, and trying to deal with the fact that much of UVa's already-smallish faculty is nearing retirement). This has gotten attention because e-learning has been in the news a lot, but is likely a minor factor.

If Sullivan was moving slowly on e-learning, there are good reasons, not least the fact that e-learning is expensive and there's already budgetary strain on day-to-day academic operations. One of the Rector's comments suggests that the new MOOCs at places like Stanford and Harvard have impressed her, but those MOOCs are money-losers by their very definition. They are exercises in public outreach and brand-building. (And the schools offering them don't give academic credit for them.) Investing heavily in MOOCs right now would cost serious money and return no revenue at all.
Meanwhile, the for-profit model of online education pioneered by places like the University of Phoenix does reduce the cost of instruction per student, but has much lower student success rates and would be a real danger to UVa's brand. (UVa's long-term health is about its prestige and desirability.) If UVa makes a successful move into online learning they, like the rest of us, will have to take the time to figure out a better model than the ones currently on the table. This is an area that calls for deliberate haste, as that great management guru Caesar Augustus would say. Wanting to see a big investment in online learning right now is maybe the essence of over-excitable management.

2. There are rumors that the Board wanted to chase high-profile star faculty.

Sullivan had gotten in across to the Board that Virginia needed to replace the wave of faculty due to retire over the next decade. She had also pointed out to them that UVa's current faculty stars were extremely vulnerable to poaching by richer schools, and that because UVa is on the small side for a faculty of its caliber, many departments could plummet in the rankings if only one or two of its stars left. Sullivan's approach was to find ways to hold onto the star professors without getting into bidding wars that UVa would lose anyway, using things like interdisciplinary research centers to keep the best faculty tied to Virginia. (The thinking being that if faculty get involved in interesting long-term research projects with other professors at Virginia, they will be less likely to jump ship.) In other words, Sullivan knew she couldn't compete on salary, so she sensibly looked at the other things that motivate faculty but which cost less money. And in her first two years, she'd already set up two such centers.

Sullivan's approach to rebuilding the faculty could be paraphrased as "draft, train, and retain," which is the most effective low-cost solution. Her model envisioned very careful hiring to get the best new faculty fresh from doctoral programs, helping them grow into stars, and having them retire at Virginia. That approach requires superb execution, but it's by far the most affordable way to build a strong faculty. And of course, that approach requires patience and time. There are hints that at least some of the Board wanted to chase big-name star faculty right away, which by necessity means throwing money at those pricey free agents at the same time the school is in budget trouble.  If this is even partly true, it suggests that the MBAs on the Board were pushing a riskier, more expensive, and less fiscally prudent (but flashier) recruitment strategy on the less "visionary" and "dynamic" PhD charged with managing the university. Recruiting what Dragas calls "a stellar new president" would be the first such star hire.

3. Most importantly, the Board wanted "Program Prioritization"

It's clear, according to the Washington Post today, that the Board leadership wanted Sullivan to make large budget cuts, including cutting entire academic departments. This is presented by the Post as cutting the money-losing units, but the truth is likely more complicated.

Dragas's remarks have included references to "prioritization and reallocation." This refers to a process currently fashionable in academic management for a process called "program prioritization," a centralized process which evaluates every academic program and department in the university, rates them, and recommends that some be cut or reduced while others be funded more. The point of the exercise is to shift funding from one area to another. (Dragas has also talked about "redirecting funds.") This sounds, on the surface, like protecting the bottom line, but circumstances at Virginia suggest the opposite.

"Program prioritization" is the mutant offspring of the "building spires" model of academic management. "Building spires" suggests that a school can't be good at everything, so that to grow best it should invest its money in one or two signature programs that eventually become renowned for excellence. Those "spires" then build the school's overall reputation, bringing in money to build up one or two more programs until they become "spires," and so on. "Prioritization" turns this around to try to create favored programs while cutting money, rather than adding it. Instead of funding the non-favored programs at a status quo rate while investing any new funds in the favorites, "program prioritization" cuts funds from some programs to put the money into the one or two that the administration wants to turn into "spires." The central management handbook on this process (a book which, God help me, I have actually read), states this principle outright: "The main source of new resources for programs is from existing programs." 

Sullivan had just installed a set of new financial reforms that is just the opposite of this rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul system. She had decentralized UVa's finances, allowing each school and department to keep the revenue it generated but also forcing the schools and departments to live within their means. It's a way of promoting fiscal responsibility from the ground floor up. Departments that generate a lot of tuition, bring in a lot of grants, or raise a lot of donations could grow, and departments that didn't would have to find a way to do better. This is much like Harvard's famous "every tub on its own bottom" fiscal principle, which means that the university's various schools never subsidize one another. The Law School keeps the money it generates, and so do the Medical School and the College, and if, say, the School of Ed is having budget troubles it solves them itself instead of taking money away from Law or Business. This really is a live-within-your-budget system. 

But this, apparently, is not what Dragas wanted. Program prioritization allows the central administration to take money from profitable units and redirect it to unprofitable units that the administration favors. If the Rector disliked the financical-responsibility model that Sullivan had installed and is talking about "prioritization" it suggests that she wants to take money from financially sound units that she doesn't value in order to finance money-losing glamor projects.

I know that this is exactly the reverse of what everyone expects, so let me repeat it. The business-school types on the Board favor a system that cuts funds from profitable departments and funnels that money to less profitable ones.

The humanities, for example, sound impractical and "wasteful," but are often quite cost-effective, especially at the lower levels. A 300-student lecture on Shakespeare or the American Civil War brings in a fair amount of tuition with very little overhead. Some of the money that humanities departments generate this way subsidizes their smaller advanced classes, so that seniors can have face-time with the faculty, but there's still some money left over that colleges often use to fund smaller and more expensive majors, like physics. Every school does some of these so-called cross-subsidies, but often the rule is that departments might cross-subsidize but colleges or schools do not. And Sullivan evidently just limited the amount of those subsidies within schools and colleges.

If this displeased the Board, it's because they don't want certain high-profile programs to have to live within their means. For example, some early comments have suggested that UVa's highly expensive and unprofitable Medical Center might be one of the favored programs. If so, the thinking would be to make cuts in Virginia's undergraduate program to help underwrite its struggling hospital. That is what the business-school graduates on the Board may want to do in the name of financial prudence. If it sounds like the opposite of sound financial management to you, well, I don't have an MBA.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Ray Bradbury Is Dead, Alas

cross-posted from Dagblog

Ray Bradbury has died, the newspapers all say. I am grateful that he lived so long, and sorry that he's gone.

Ray Bradbury was most famous as a science fiction writer. He deserves to be famous as one of America's great short-story writers, period. I didn't say that he wasn't a science fiction writer, and he wouldn't have said that either. He was a gifted stylist. He could write like Poe in a better mood. What he chose to write about on a given day is beside the point. And when the mood was on him, he wrote 20th-century America's dreams about itself straight onto the page.

Bradbury educated himself in America's public libraries. He made a living as a short-story writer, selling a story every week in the early Forties to keep his "hot-dog and street-car lifestyle" as he put it, going. That profession is impossible today. Even if you could write three or five thousand words of publishable fiction every single week, as Bradbury used to, you could not make even a hot-dog living at it. There simply aren't enough places to mail the stories. Bradbury was one of the last writers, maybe the last, who could live by the short story alone.

At his best, Bradbury writes like someone who has to write a story every week to pay the rent. But he also writes like he can't afford that story to be anything except wonderful: not like he can't risk not making a sale, but like he needs the stories to be magic so he can keep going. A Bradbury story never wastes words, but it never wastes opportunities, either. The prose is clean and concise, but never sparse or bare. There's too much to see. Bradbury moves the story along fast, but never hurries you past a chance to look at our world and marvel.

His writing manages at once to be swift and evocative, energetic and reflective, tight and springy. His stories were driven by images rather than plots, moods rather than characters, but were unerringly and unsparingly shaped, because Bradbury could create a mood in half a sentence better than most writers could with three paragraphs. Bradbury's stories indulged nothing but the reader's imagination. He was a big-hearted storyteller with the unbending discipline of a poet.

He was at his best in short forms. The Martian Chronicles is not a novel, but a group of short stories strung together with bridging material to create something that could be plausibly called a book. (A fixup, in the genre parlance.) It's worth reading that book once through looking at just the interstitial pieces between the stories, often only a page or three long, creating marvelous effects in even less time than Bradbury gave himself for a magazine story. And his most successful novel, Fahrenheit 451, was written in a fierce, sustained burst. Bradbury had no gift for massive structure, and no weakness for sprawl. He was a sprinter. He wrote faster than he could breathe, every foot in the right place, until the end.

We won't see another writer quite like him. They don't make them any more.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Too Progressive for Obama? Vote Obama

cross-posted from Dagblog

Last week Articleman made his case, and it's a strong one, for re-electing Barack Obama. Let me add my own case, for those who feel (like many of our Dagblog readers and commenters) that Obama is not progressive enough.

If you would like to have a president more progressive than Barack Obama, the only way to make that happen in the next twenty years (or more) is to re-elect Barack Obama first.

If Obama is defeated, the lesson that our political establishment will take away from that is that he lost because he was too far to the left. Saying that you didn't vote for him because he was too moderate won't matter. Saying that Obama would have won if he were more liberal will be pointless, even if it's true, because most people will draw the opposite lesson and they will act on that lesson. Even if that lesson is based on misunderstanding, it will change what it is politically possible for future candidates.

On the other hand, if Obama wins after having been called a socialist and a secret foreigner and what not, the lesson that people will draw is that calling someone a socialist doesn't work any more. The lesson will be that a liberal can still beat a conservative. (I know, I know, you don't think of Obama as a real liberal, but that's what he gets called, and the media won't distinguish real liberals from him.) The lesson will be that you can run to the left and win two terms as president. And that lesson will also change the political playing field.

I'm not talking now about how bad things will be if Obama is not re-elected, although it will in fact be very bad, and will be worst of all for the people that progressives care about most: the poor, the weak, the vulnerable. I'm talking about just avoiding evils. I'm talking about moving closer to actual goods.

We cannot have a more progressive president than Barack Obama next year. It is Obama or someone worse. On the other hand, after two terms of an Obama presidency we can campaign successfully for someone to Obama's left: not just as a protest candidate or as someone to pull the front-runners to the left during the primary season, but as a legitimate front-runner with a chance to win. We won't have to be on the defensive. We won't have to persuade people that a liberal could hypothetically win, because everyone will have seen that a liberal (or a "liberal") can. If we have two terms of Obama, we can talk about moving forward with more progressive policies (much as Reagan's two terms allowed conservatives to back candidates whose policies were well to the right of Reagan's). That doesn't guarantee that we'll get the progressive we want. But it guarantees us a real fighting chance for someone significantly more progressive.

Re-electing Obama doesn't mean that we'll get a more liberal president after him. But every road to a more liberal president over the next few decades starts with Obama getting re-elected first.

If you're sick of timid moderates who are afraid of being called too liberal, we need to re-elect Obama. If you're sick of Blue Dogs who shiv their party leadership because they're convinced that the voters are really conservative, we need to re-elect Barack Obama. If half a loaf leaves you hungry for more, re-elect Barack Obama and stay hungry.

I know some people think that if the conservatives and their terrible policies do enough damage, there will eventually be a backlash and the country will take a hard swing to the left. But we already had the backlash: Obama is what we got. And by the time the backlash came, our politics were already so far to the right that Obama looked like a massive swing. If Romney runs this country back into Bush II's ditch and buries our wheels in the mud, the swing back to the left will likely be to someone even more centrist than Obama.

Don't believe me? That's what happened in our presidential politics for the last forty-four years. Hoping for the backlash has only gotten us further and further away from what we'd like. Every Democratic president since LBJ has been a disappointment to the left, and their defeats have only led to more moderate, more disappointing Democrats. LBJ's refusal to run again not only made Richard Nixon president, but set the table for the next Democrat in the White House to be Jimmy Carter, a centrist with no real interest in extending the Great Society programs. Carter's defeat by Reagan meant that the next Democratic president would be Triangulating Bill Clinton, who not only "reformed" welfare but actually bought and repeated the right's No-Big-Government mantra. It's only because Clinton managed a second term that we have a President who's not much further to his right, although the defeat of Clinton's half-a-loaf healthcare plan ensured that Obama couldn't get more than the quarter-loaf he actually passed. And if Obama's stingy stimulus package isn't enough to get him re-elected, future Democrats will be afraid of any stimulus at all, no matter how inadequate and stingy.

Defeat moves us backward. Victory moves us forward. Talk about the Overton window and changing the terms of debate, but the way you move the Overton window for real is at the ballot box. 

If Barack Obama frustrates you, vote for him. If you want more than what's on the table, you have to start by winning what's on the table now. Our best hope is for Obama's successor, and that starts with Obama's success.