Reinventing ourselves

reinvent“Our duty is to wholly reinvent ourselves. We are America’s future—intellectually, socially, culturally.”  – Gordon Gee, former president of Ohio State University

As we grapple with how our colleges and universities can survive and thrive well into the future, we must in many ways reinvent ourselves and how we do business.  Conversations about how to do this well have been taking place on Minnesota State College and University campuses throughout our state over the summer and fall, as faculty, staff and administrators have been responding to a draft set of recommendations, entitled “Charting the Future.”

As I’ve been contemplating many of the recommendations in the report, it has been helpful to reread The Innovative University by Clayton Christensen and Henry Eyring.  Most of the 2011  text outlines the evolution of higher education in the U.S., and compares and contrasts some new models of educational delivery.  The authors acknowledge that all of higher education is in crisis, with rising tuition, out of control costs, and is facing disruptive technologies, such as for-profit competitors offering online degrees. They suggest that college and university leaders will have to innovate to the point of changing the DNA of higher education from the inside out in order to survive, since our traditional model of higher education in the U.S. is expensive and unsustainable for the long term. To get started with this process, Christensen and Eyring admonish institutions to focus on their unique contributions within the higher education landscape, by:

1)      Assessing Capabilities – determining what we’re best at and how well we meet the needs of students and other constituencies we serve.

2)      Making Choices – making hard choices about what the organization will and will not do and being clear about the trade-offs.  Asking:  what students will we serve? What will the academic offerings include? What are our unique areas of expertise?

To have these conversations about capabilities and making choices, Christianson and Erying wisely recommend that questions of people must be put ahead of questions of strategy. In fact, they state that faculty members hold the key to successful institutional change.  And the organization must demonstrate a high level of commitment towards their people to ensure individual commitment to the mission. They add, “Innovation may require them [faculty] to alter their activities, but no meaningful discussion of change can be undertaken without assurances that capable members who commit to innovating can remain with the community.”

As we move forward with “Charting the Future” discussions, it will be important to continue to engage not only our faculty leaders, but all stakeholders in the important and tough choices we need to make.

Anita Rios

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