More than slick slogans
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?
University leaders face a quandary. On the one hand, it is imperative that they embrace the new technologies wherever appropriate -- they cannot afford to be outflanked by slick and sleek distance-learning startups. On the other hand, they have to believe -- and demonstrate -- that face-to-face classes, preferably in a residential setting, make a genuine difference in learning and in longer-term job and life prospects.
But as is well known, university leaders do not have strong powers. They are dealing with a largely voluntary staff of tenured professors and multiple constituencies, ranging from parents and students, to alumni, governmental and private funders, and of course boards of trustees who, among other things, hire and can fire the president.
The effective university leader must create a compelling vision of higher education in the future, honor the examples on campus that best exemplify these future trends, help those who are willing to move in this direction (through effective rhetoric and concrete examples), and do whatever he or she can to minimize the drag of those who are anachronistic.
But as Drew Faust emphasized, in her installation address as president of Harvard, universities must also think in the long term -- and that means honoring the past as well as anticipating the future.
Those who acknowledge the deep and pervading values of learning and education, which date back to classical times and are exemplified by our most respected and long-lived institutions, are likely to be far more successful than those who embrace the slick slogan and the quick fix. A university president in China once bragged to me "We are going to have 40 MITs." I responded, "Why don't you have ONE first!"
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