Steven Rosenstone writes about the transforming University of Minnesota.
I have just returned from my second visit to China, where I visited with University of Minnesota alumni and met with officials at our partner universities in Beijing and Tianjin to discuss strategies for expanding our programs of student and faculty exchange. This wasn't just an official visit. It was a high-velocity trip into the future. The magnitude of the changes that I saw—the momentous expansion upward and outward, the tumultuous entrepreneurial ferment of open markets, the social and political transformation—heralds a new age not only for China, the world's most populous nation, but also for all of us.
At last count, there were at least 48 Chinese cities with more than one million people (compared to about five cities that big in the United States). The Chinese higher education system is one of the fastest growing in the world—and so is its economy. China is quickly gaining dominance in global markets, in industries from engineering and technology to pharmaceuticals.
Even as the skies over Beijing and other large cities darken with industrial emissions, China's aspirations and prospects seem boundless. Decades of change are happening in an instant, with no slowdown in sight. I find myself wondering: What's next?
It's been said that most people are in favor of progress; it's the changes they don't like. And one person's confident leap into the future is another's scary ride into the unknown, or worse. The truth is, even visionaries can't see the future with 20-20 vision. And most of us don't even know what's around the next bend, much less over the horizon. Every move forward is a leap of faith.
Where are we going, and how will get there? How do we harness all of this creative energy for the common good? How do we balance economic, social, cultural, political, and environmental interests? How do we work together across geographic and cultural boundaries to answer these questions?
These questions bring me right back to the University of Minnesota and CLA, where they drive everything that we do.
Transforming academic spaces
A wholesale transformation is under way in the College of Liberal Arts and the University of Minnesota—and it touches every department, every student, every faculty and staff member. It also touches people and communities throughout the state of Minnesota and around the globe, across distances that have shrunk dramatically over the last decade.
Of course those distances haven't literally shrunk. China is still roughly 6,700 miles away. But it seems closer than ever as open markets and new technologies enable global exchange of goods, services, ideas, and resources; and facilitate education, research, and economic collaborations across oceans and continents.
The most critical problems of our time—climate change, poverty, disease, inequality, natural resource and food scarcity, war and terrorism—are global in scale. Complex global problems require complex global solutions. They require fast-forward big-picture thinking and broad collaboration across borders, cultures, and academic disciplines. They require new ways of teaching and new strategies for preparing students for global citizenship.
If the University of Minnesota is going to be a top-tier global player in the 21st century, we must rethink everything from classrooms to academic disciplines and curricula, from admissions to advising, from brain research to writing instruction, from global geopolitics to issues of citizenship and identity.
We must continuously reevaluate how we teach, learn, make decisions, and communicate, and how we pay for public goods, make a living, feed the world's people, preserve our ecosystems, create sustainable communities, and raise and educate our children. We must develop powerful new ways to foster discovery and innovation.
We must change how we conceptualize, configure, and inhabit the institutional and cultural space that we call the University of Minnesota as well as the physical and cultural spaces in which we live and work in the world.
In CLA and across the University, we're doing all of this, and more.
Whether we welcome change, resist it, or just go along and try to stay apace, in the end we all must learn new ways of living and working. And that requires the versatility, resiliency, creativity, and resourcefulness that are CLA hallmarks.
I invite you to come to campus to see for yourself how we're changing the course of history. Fasten your seatbelts and stick around for the ride—it's going to be an exhilarating journey into a new world.
—Steven J. Rosenstone, Dean and McKnight Presidential Leadership Chair