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John Baldoni
Leadership author

John Baldoni

John Baldoni is a leadership consultant, coach, and regular contributor to the Harvard Business Review online. His most recent book is Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up.

An Oklahoma example

Q: How would you assess the leadership of college presidents in embracing new technology and innovative teaching techniques aimed at reducing costs, improving quality and reengineering higher education? What leadership steps would you recommend for them?

The future of higher education is promising but to fulfill its true promise it must return to its roots: to teach people to think for themselves. The origin of higher learning can be traced to the Socratic dialogues and then institutionalized by Greek and Roman schools of higher learning.

I say this as a parent of a daughter who is a college senior and a son in graduate school. All too often there is an overemphasis on accumulating credits rather than gaining knowledge. That is, students are pushed to take courses that fulfill graduation requirements rather than attain insight. And to a large degree, students are not pushed to learn how to think.

One university president is doing something about this. On a recent speaking trip to the University of Central Oklahoma, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Roger Webb, its president.

Webb is one of those down to earth folks who has the uncanny ability to make whomever he is speaking with seem important. As busy as he is, Webb makes time to teach a freshman class in leadership studies. There he challenges them to reflect on what it means to be a leader as well as what it means to serve others. He believes that UCO has an obligation of service to the state of Oklahoma, and he puts that principle into action with his own service ethos, which includes time in the classroom.

My late father, a physician, believed a college should teach you how to learn. That is, you may not remember what you learn in a specific course but you will learn approaches within a given context that will help you figure things out for yourself. Critical thinking is essential to that mission. We must prepare today's students in respective disciplines to assess issues, identify problems, seek solutions, and implement what works.

The need for critical thinking abilities is becoming more imperative. With globalism, we have untapped opportunities. But we also have greater levels of complexity as well as social responsibility. Problems proliferate and to solve them we need people who can discern ambiguity, consider context, weigh options, and make good decisions. Critical thinking is essential to each of these steps.

From such thinking comes applied learning. Therefore, we need to continue to invest in a more robust system of community colleges to teach young people (and job seekers) with new skills they will need to implement to succeed.

The future of higher education is not really about the institution of education at all. It is about preparing the next generation to think, learn, and discover for themselves how to make the world a better place for themselves and for us, too.

By John Baldoni

 |  May 25, 2010; 6:33 AM ET
Category:  Education leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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