My op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times about the future of higher ed produced many reactions, both positive and negative, from readers. As I told several of them, 800 words is not nearly enough space to debate this important subject. So here are some additional thoughts based on what I didn’t get to write and [...]
My op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times about the future of higher ed produced many reactions, both positive and negative, from readers. As I told several of them, 800 words is not nearly enough space to debate this important subject. So here are some additional thoughts based on what I didn’t get to write and in response to some of the comments I received yesterday:
American higher education is a diverse “system.”
I put system in quotes because we really don’t have a higher-ed system, although we often refer to it as one. Public flagship universities face somewhat different challenges than do small private tuition-dependent institutions or community colleges. The quality of teaching differs between institutions, as does the adoption of new technologies. It should go without saying that not every prescription for change applies to all campuses.
Good ideas do exist outside of academe.
It seems everyone who doesn’t teach on a college campus and has an idea about higher ed is branded a “business” person who doesn’t understand academe. Good policy will come through ideas from inside and outside higher education that spur vigorous debates.
It’s not all or nothing.
One reader who sent me a message said I wanted to replace all teachers with computers. I don’t. Whenever we talk about new ideas in higher ed, whether it’s about technology or how to finance institutions, we seem to quickly divide into two camps at the extremes. Ideas near the middle have been lost.
Change is incremental.
The reason colleges and universities have existed for hundreds of years is because they don’t simply adopt the latest new thing and focus on more than just the next quarter. I don’t even think advocates for change agree that we should adopt new policies by reading a few newspaper articles (as it seems the University of Virginia board wanted to do). Change never happens as quickly as we predict, but it usually is more widespread than we imagine.
Finally, as I received critical messages from professors and administrators yesterday defending academe, I was reminded of a period about 10 years ago when I was in the same position but defending another tradition: journalism. On conference panels and elsewhere, I argued that the digital revolution that was killing newspapers would bring an end to good journalism. In some ways it did, especially in some towns. But the dire predictions didn’t turn out as bad as some of us imagined (at least not yet). I also realized that helping shape the changes in journalism (in my case at a print-based publication) was better than being a bystander in the evolution of the industry.