Last week, President Bruininks hosted the latest "Great Conversation" sponsored by the College of Continuing Education with Robert Berdahl, president of the American Association of Universities, and Jonathan Cole, author of the book The Great American University. Their topic was the future of higher education and the need for change in the face of declining public funding. The same evening, a group of faculty and students held a rally urging the University to invest more in students and faculty rather than stadiums and facilities. While seemingly opposed, those two events were not at all at odds with each other. And they highlighted a role that our disciplines might play in the debate about the future of higher education.
While Jonathan Cole, particularly, emphasized the importance of supporting research and the faculty/student rally focused on the need to support teaching and outreach as a public land-grant university, both conversations recognized that we need to return to basics and retreat from the "arms race" among colleges and universities to one-up each other with ever-nicer athletic facilities and ever-larger stadiums.
Cole reinforced that point at a breakfast the following morning. There he talked about the anti-intellectualism of our time, exemplified by the often politically motivated skepticism of scientifically accepted facts like global climate change, and how this has skewed investments away from the open inquiry that made American universities among the best in the world.
In both the rally and the Great Conversation, people made the point about the need for creative and imaginative ideas in higher education. The recognition that some sort of paradigm shift has occurred and that we must re-imagine how we deliver education, conduct research, and apply knowledge has become a constant theme in the discussions I hear and an opportunity for our creative fields to contribute to the University's thinking outside the box about the future.
I know many of you have ideas about this as well, and so I hope that, through our strategic planning process this fall, we can begin to articulate not only what we are best at doing, but also what we aspire to become given our globally connected, ethnically diverse, digitally empowered, and financially entrepreneurial reality. I look forward to continuing our conversations about this at our upcoming faculty assembly, at 8:30 a.m. October 15, 2010 and staff assembly, at 8:30 a.m. October 22, 2010.