City University of New York dean Ann Kirschner (note she also sits on the Apollo Group’s Board of Directors) posted an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education yesterday about “change” in higher education. She characterized the “glacial pace” at which higher education institutions evolve despite funding crises, new technology, and mounting pressure from for-profit institutions and federal political agendas. This article correctly identifies many of the challenges facing public higher education and also, the need to meet old and new challenges with new ideas.
However, one thing missing from this piece is an analysis of what things about higher education today (and yesterday) are worth protecting, preserving and investing in more deeply. Further, we would like to challenge the claim that universities have not evolved during the last century. Students donning clickers, ID cards with electronic journal access, and nearly 24-hour email access to professors might agree. Kirschner’s article appropriately identifies many of the challenges that make change difficult at (sometimes) huge, complex, and varied institutions. However, we would add that each institution must examine its values and determine what is worth preserving (or even, expanding) and what is in need of reform, and then reform quickly. As many of the thoughtful comments on this article state, change for change’s sake, or the wholesale adoption of untested change is more than futile, it can be incredibly destructive.