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Warren Bennis

Warren Bennis

Warren Bennis is University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Business at the University of Southern California. His newest book is 'Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership.'

National inflection points

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?

Having just completed a national search to find a successor to USC's president, Steven B. Sample, I had the opportunity to review countless resumes and interview a fair number of sitting presidents and provosts.

While there were a few graying Luddites among the dozens of prospects, most all of the serious candidates appeared to be not only familiar with but also already using the new technologies to reduce costs and update, transform or remove stale pedagogies. It's no accident that we selected our incumbent provost, a doctorate in electrical engineering and a maven of all manner of innovative technologies and teaching methods.

I think there's a more basic and urgent challenge facing university and college presidents today: They will have to identify and think deeply about a number of "disruptive inflection points" and how they will profoundly change the curriculum and research programs, as well as the criteria used to select the new professoriate and student body.

The most important inflection points are as visible as the full moon shining through my window tonight as I write this: a vertiginous economy that will require more efficiencies of every kind and still-to-be-imagined jobs; new and urgent problems that must be addressed, especially by major research universities, including the environment, energy, security, job creation and public-health issues; a rapidly changing, increasingly diverse demography from which our future students and faculty will be drawn.

These are the vexing challenges leaders of higher education will have to address. The easy part is adapting to the new technologies, which are primarily delivery systems. The hard part is freshly imagining the content for future curricula and research that will sustain a healthy economy, social justice and a relatively high sense of collective well-being.

By Warren Bennis

 |  May 26, 2010; 11:48 AM ET
Category:  Education leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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