Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Academic Leadership: Lunch, Literature, and Listening (AL3) - March 9th

The second Spring session of AL3 took place on Friday, March 9th. For this meeting Dr. Neely decided to break us up into small groups in order to facilitate more conversation, a technique which seemed to work very well and allowed each of our groups to discuss a couple of the ideas in Part 3 of The Innovative University in a little more depth.

Our group was assigned a discussion of what took place at Harvard during Derek Bok's presidency. Bok had a few major causes that he promoted. Specifically he was concerned with improving instruction, diversity issues on campus, and increasing social engagement. In addition, there were a variety of tensions running through the university culture, such as compensation issues and other faculty tensions, with which he had to contend. Upon completion of his tenur, Bok issued several warnings about higher education stating that more attention needed to be paid to improving instruction. He cautioned against the idea of "imposed political orthodoxy" that made individuals - faculty and student alike - reticent to bring up new ways of thinking for fear of recrimination. And, he was concerned about the public's perception of the university as becoming less engaged in social responsibility.

In addition, our group examined the idea of Harvard struggling to operate two completely different enterprises, meaning that they were attempting to run both an educational institution and a research institution. The inherent problems with this came to a head in 2008-2009 when the market problems experienced by the nation as a whole also drastically affected both the endowments/donations and the investment portfolios of Harvard. The most surprising thing that I learned on this topic was the shocking amount - $11 billion - that Harvard lost in a just a matter of months during this downturn. 

Topics discussed by the other groups included how the organizational structure of the University of California system originally somewhat mirrored that of the Carnegie system with different schools for different purposes, but how it was also reinterpreted (as the Carnegie "ladder" has been) as a system of ranking importance. This focus on climbing a ladder, with the perception of the research university (like Harvard) as being the top and most important rung, has important implications for universities, such as increased use of adjuncts, larger class sizes, and changed focus and emphasis on student recruitment.

Additionally, the topic of distance education's rise in the 1990's was discussed, along with particular areas that hindered it in the beginning, which consisted mainly of technological immaturity and accreditation problems. However, accreditation of for-profit universities along with the increased availability of the internet, as well as significant advances in computer and software design and availability, have allowed distance education to thrive and become a significant disruptive force within the academic world. This began a discussion of the impact that these changes may have on the roles of faculty and the traditional view of academic life, and we were all left to ponder the question of how these changes will affect TWU - will we be more or less vulnerable? If we need to, can we respond to the challenge?  

Additional Resources Provided in the Handout for This Session

The second meeting, like the first, had very good attendance, including attendance from the Houston and Dallas campuses. Upcoming meetings, which are all on Fridays at noon in Stoddard 308, will be on these dates:
  • April 20 – Part 4: A New Kind of University
  • May 4 – Part 5: Genetic Reengineering
Please feel free to post comments, ideas, and/or interesting links here! What did you think of the ideas that we talked about on Friday?

No comments: