Speeches and Remarks
Bruce A. Finlayson Lecture 2013: The Future of the American Research University
May 28, 2013
Good afternoon, and it is a thrill and an honor to be the Inaugural Bruce Finlayson Lecturer. And I am pleased to be back on the University of Washington campus where I began my career as an eager, hopeful and optimistic assistant professor 31 years ago.
I take particular pleasure in being part of the recognition of Professor Bruce Finlayson’s remarkable career. Bruce truly epitomizes what is so central to the missions of public research institutions like the University of Washington, and the University of Minnesota. First there is Bruce’s scholarship, established by the publication of key textbooks and research monographs that established him as the leader in the field of numerical methods. His rigorous work has been recognized by a series of awards, culminating in his election to the National Academy of Engineering.
Then there are Bruce’s remarkable contributions to education, and his passion for introducing computational methods into the curriculum. For this he has been frequently recognized, with a national Award for Excellence in Computing in Chemical Engineering Education, and the Dow Lectureship Award from the American Society of Engineering Education, among others. And as a former colleague—a very junior one—Bruce’s expectations for teaching in the department are very high.
Next, there is Bruce’s service. This is an area that some put aside or leave to others to organize, schedule, develop, or administer.
But Bruce is a champion here, too, with service to the University as a department chair, and to his profession in many ways, including service in the Leadership Ladder and as President of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.
Finally, Bruce and I share another connection, having both earned Ph.D.s not only at the same University, but under the same advisor, L.E. (Skip) Scriven. Skip was a remarkable mentor and engineering scientist, and guided many who went on to great professional success. So, it is that academic “brotherhood” I share with Bruce that really makes this so very special for me.
As I prepared my comments today about American higher education, I thought about Bruce’s career, and about Skip and others. It is the work of those people, and thousands of more like them—well, not a thousand like Bruce, but many—who have made American higher education the envy of the world. This country still remains the preferred destination of many of the world’s brightest students.
The strength of our system is deeply rooted and has many facets.
It includes distinctive core values. We value the academic freedom that allows investigators and students to explore topics—even if they fly in the face of conventional wisdom or are blasphemous to some.
Another core value is our liberal arts tradition. We educate young people broadly, teaching them to think, critique, solve problems, and explore a range of topics. Our historic strength is also rooted in the diversity of the American higher education system. From two-year community and technical colleges to R1 research universities, to online degree offerings, we boast the most robust and diverse system of post-secondary learning in the world. And we welcome students from everywhere and with every background to come join our educational enterprise. Yes, it is still a great melting pot.
It is a system that has served us exceptionally well for nearly two centuries. During that time, in all but the most recent past, we have been the most educated country on earth, and still remain, according some recent global studies, in the top five or so, behind some more homogeneous places: Canada, Israel, and Japan.
Our system was so successful that in many ways, we took it for granted. I think it is a little like the way GM must have felt before the Japanese arrived. Or the airline industry before deregulation. Or the Western Union before the telephone. Or the Post-Intelligencer. These companies and industries were rocked by a perfect storm of forces…
Forces that arguably could have been foreseen. So my comments today address this daunting question: Is higher education facing a similar game-changing challenge?
I am far from the first leader—either from within or outside of higher education—to note this perfect storm. But the challenge is worth reflection. Consider the forces at work. To begin, I am going to quickly list 10 of them, and there are probably that many more.
First, U.S. public higher education is facing massive cutbacks in state support. At the University of Minnesota, in 2012 our state funding in actual dollars was the lowest in more than a decade. Here at the University of Washington, your cuts have been even a bit more dramatic, with state support just about cut in half, adjusting for inflation. What worries me the most is that I see these cutbacks as evidence that there has been a fundamental—and maybe unrecoverable—erosion of the social contract that built the Great American University.
We’ve done such a good job convincing policy makers, students, parents, and the public of the private benefits of higher education—better jobs, greater lifetime earnings, better health—that they’ve decided that individuals—not the public—ought to pay for it! The problem with this approach, of course, is that the full cost of education at any of our public institutions well exceeds the cost of tuition. Many of our institutions have a land grant mission—we exist to serve the public. For that mission to flourish for the next two centuries, we must renew that social contract.
Second, in response to this massive disinvestment and erosion of our historic public partnership, tuition—and student debt—have risen sharply. At the University of Minnesota, over the past decade, our tuition has just about doubled. When I speak to groups in Minnesota I tell this simple story that is easy for parents and students to understand. Fifteen years ago, you showed up with a dollar, the state showed up with two dollars, and that’s how your tuition was paid. Now, you show up with a dollar, and the state of Minnesota shows up with…just 50 cents.
That’s the shift of the cost onto students and their families. At the University of Washington…you know all too well what happened. Over the past decade, tuition and fees tripled for undergraduates. Meanwhile, nationwide, for those students with debt, their burden has increased, on average, about 58 percent since 2005, from about $17,000 after four years to more than $27,000.
While it’s clear that state disinvestment has been a major driver of tuition increases at public institutions, that’s not the whole story. Tuition has also gone up significantly at private colleges. There, it’s been driven by rising costs we all face: competition for top talent—both faculty and students, technology, and infrastructure (and not just climbing walls and lazy rivers, as some would have you believe).
Ours is a leading-edge business. We simply cannot teach students last year’s theories using last year’s equipment. For example, at the University of Minnesota, two years ago we installed some of the largest MRIs in the world, at our Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, and it puts us right in the middle of President Obama’s brain mapping initiative. That required a 65,000-square-foot expansion at a cost of $53.2 million. Frankly, it’s expensive to stay on top of the technology and innovation curve.
Higher education is also a highly educated industry. That’s right—it’s shocking!—but we may have a higher percentage of degree holders among our workforce than any industry in America! Ironically, as the value of a college degree continues to rise and demand a wage premium, higher education institutions experience that cost increase just like every other employer. I’m not complaining—it does underscore the value of a college education!
Third, we’re not only experiencing massive state disinvestment, we’re also facing significant cutbacks and changes in federal funding. This will have significant impacts at places like Minnesota and Washington. Some think we ought to consider the sequester impacts as permanent and permanently shift our expectations and budgets for federal funding. Federal grants are more competitive than ever, with only one out of five federal applicants receiving funding, and in some areas it is much worse than that.
Federal support has been key to the development of the Great American Research University. Our ability to train the world’s best graduate students and post docs is in large part thanks to federal support of research. These federal dollars have also supported critical infrastructure investments, like that giant magnet we’re installing. But I do think the days of growing support for research are ending, at least for the time being. I think that will lead to an inevitable consolidation of research activities as funders look to achieve the highest value for their research dollar.
Fourth, even as funding is declining and tuition is rising, employers are demanding more from our institutions. Nationally, and in Minnesota—maybe here in Washington—there is great skepticism over what we do…what we produce. From books like Academically Adrift—that question whether students learn anything at all—to employers who question whether graduates are skilled for the workforce, the fact is that the public will no longer just take our word that we are effective at what we do. You see some of this in what I think could be very valuable discussions around replacing the credit hour with some sort of competency-based evaluation.
You also see it in the attack on the liberal arts…which teach skills, but maybe not a particular job. One of the ironies in this challenge is that in every single study of employers that I’ve ever seen, they say the top skills they want in workers are exactly those that align best with the liberal arts: critical thinking, communications, working in teams, creativity, problem solving, cross cultural capabilities. They also want to see proof of these skills, and in many cases an internship or other experience is key to that first job.
Next, while U.S. employers and some policy makers wring their hands about the liberal arts, the fact is that universities from China to Argentina are investing billions to emulate our model. This leads me to the fifth challenge: increasing global competition.
U.S. higher education—like General Motors, Western Union and the airlines—has been the envy of the world. Maybe we did get a little fat and happy. A little stuck in our ways. A little dependent upon international students to meet some of our goals. Hate to tell you, those days are over. China is after us.
Today, according to official Chinese statistics, there are 31 million students in China’s universities, and that doesn’t count the thousands here in the United States. That means there are more than twice as many Chinese students as American students in college, according to the NSF. And, interestingly, there are now more Chinese undergraduates in U.S. universities than Chinese graduate students, an indicator that they understand the excellence of our top four-year colleges.
U.S. universities continue to dominate the respected Shanghai rankings, with Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and Berkeley as numbers one, two, three, and four. Your university and mine remain among the top 30 or so in the world, according to the Shanghai rankings. We should be proud of that, and fight hard to remain global leaders. But we’re up against some powerful forces, like the new university in Saudia Arabia with a $10 billion endowment, or the five-year plan in India that calls for a nine-fold increase in higher ed investment.
Clearly, U.S. universities must plan, compete, and win on a world stage. Doing this without a firm partnership with our state and federal governments will be virtually impossible. The playing field simply won’t be even with universities—especially in BRIC and other rapidly developing nations. They will invest mightily as we watch a shift in global economic power from the developed economies to the developing world.
Sixth, competition is not just growing globally, it’s fierce and changing within the United States. As I noted earlier, the cost of recruiting and retaining top faculty and students is a driver of cost increases. We all know—many of us firsthand—how challenging it is for those of us in public institutions to compete with the privates. Our best scholars have many options—they can often write their own ticket.
And, the fact is that many of the best private R1 universities can and will almost always pay a lot more than the publics can.
The income gap between America’s richest private institutions and our public ones is as worrying as the income gap within the public at large. A 2011 National Research Council report shows that doctoral education in the United States is dominated by programs in public universities in terms of numbers of doctorates produced.
Seventy-two percent of the doctoral programs in the study are in public universities. Of the 37 universities that produced the most Ph.D.s from 2002-2006 (making up 50 percent of the total Ph.D.s granted during this time), only one-third were private universities. The health of research and doctoral education in the United States depends strongly on the health of public education.
We not only have an arms race for faculty and staff but also, to some extent, on our campuses in terms of facilities and student services. And, of course, there’s a very real arms race in Division I athletics. That’s one which is both high risk and high reward in terms of our global reputations and profile, but also our academic priorities and principles. From a president’s point of view, managing a multibillion-dollar educational institution that also happens to have a $100-million sports-entertainment operation has enormous challenges. And when things go wrong in athletics, the institution is damaged.
Our national competitive landscape is also changing. Not only do we have new entrants, such as online universities and, now, online course providers, we are also seeing a decline in the number of small, private liberal arts colleges—especially those with limited endowments. They simply cannot raise tuition high enough to make ends meet. I expect we’ll continue to see a consolidation of that sector over the next decade. Looking forward, we need to think about our competition—locally, nationally, and globally—in very different ways.
Seventh, even as the competition is changing with regard to those things on which we have historically competed, we’re facing demographic shifts, which may alter our student profile and markets. Some regions, like the Upper Midwest, are seeing a reduction in the number of high school graduates. We better compete nationally, or compete at a different level academically, to attract first-year students. Other regions are seeing massive growth in new immigrant populations. And, we’re all seeing more adults returning to higher education.
The beauty of the U.S. higher education system is that we do have different kinds of institutions positioned to serve each of these populations, but I think it will be incumbent on each institution to be very clear about the population it wants to attract, and to articulate and invest in its distinctive strengths in order to do so.
Eighth, these forces—employers, policy makers, families—wanting higher education to be more affordable and more relevant (at the same time) are thus demanding that we become more efficient. We must, at least in our business operations, operate more like a business.
We must be as efficient, effective, and accountable as possible. I know at the University of Minnesota we’ve been behind industry standards in many of our back-office processes and technologies. But I also know we’re well ahead of many other universities. I know we’re not making widgets, but it’s not heresy to want our business operations to be as effective and efficient as possible. And, we have to lift the veil and be transparent with our many stakeholders about how we are doing that.
And, ninth, of course, no discussion of the challenges facing higher education would be complete without talking about technology—in the classroom and beyond. Critic Nathan Harden—a voice of young conservatives and a Yale graduate—took it to the extreme when he wrote earlier this year: “In fifty years, if not much sooner, half the roughly 4,500 colleges and universities now operating in the United States will have ceased to exist…nothing can stop it…[T]he residential college will become largely obsolete; tens of thousands of professors will lose their jobs; the bachelor’s degree will become increasingly irrelevant; and ten years from now Harvard will enroll ten million students.”
Scary. Imagine 10 million more people claiming they went to Harvard! Now, of course, I think MOOCs are here to stay. I do think they will change teaching and learning. But I do not foresee the demise of the bricks-and-mortar University, nor the end of the residential college. Karen and I have two sons, and when each turned 18, all of us were ready for them to leave the house, go to college, and learn about themselves amid other young people. The transition from a teenager to a young adult will continue to happen, and for many it will probably happen at college.
MOOCs and other technology enhanced learning offer real opportunities to change the way we teach and learn. It may make our in-classroom time more effective and powerful. It may help use space on our campuses more wisely, as we re-imagine the classroom.
I do believe this will make our educational outcomes better, and reduce time-to-degree and cost. But there is a history of technology development in higher education, and the first paper about how technology will disrupt higher education was published in the early 20th century—and it was about the telephone.
Tenth, and finally, as institutions, we are not good at change. Our basic Socratic model has worked for more than two millennia…but that does not mean it will work for 2000 more years. These are mighty challenges. One of them alone would be enough to challenge many businesses and institutions.
But all together? At one time? Together, these challenges represent a loud wake-up call for the Great American University.
We cannot be complacent. We must be proactive. It cannot be business as usual. Our institutions—our industry—must change to meet these challenges. We need to draw both on the intellectual vitality within our organizations and governance processes to drive this change. Someone said failure is not an option. But it will take some courage to avoid that failure and then activate our collective smarts.
University of Washington memories
These are the challenges I think about every day, maybe every minute! But before I talk about how we are addressing some of them at Minnesota, I thought I would answer another question I am asked, which is how does a chemical engineer wind up as a University president, anyway? For me it was unplanned. I once asked a famous poet how one got to make a living as a poet. His answer was that it was the consequence of a series of bad decisions.
As a first-generation college graduate with an engineering degree, my goal was certainly not an academic career. As a Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota my aspiration was that I was going to be the youngest senior vice president in the history of Exxon. One day, the head of the chemical engineering department, Ted Davis, came to me and explained that he had somehow come up short with instructors and he needed someone to teach a class on Process Control. I asked him how much it paid. He told me more than what I was making as a research student, so I said, “I’ll do it.”
What I didn’t tell him was that although undergraduate Controls courses are common in most curricula, it wasn’t part of my experience as a Caltech undergraduate. In fact, I had not only never taught a Controls course (or any course, for that matter), I’d never even taken a Controls course. No problem. I learned it, I taught it…and it was wonderful. I had a great connection and resonance with the students.
Teaching that course changed the course of my life and I looked for an academic job. Which leads to that wonderful day in February 1982 when I was interviewed for an assistant professor position here at U-Dub. I took off from Minneapolis amid dirty snow and temperatures in single digits only to arrive in Seattle on a wonderful, warm, sunny day, with Lake Washington shimmering and Mount Rainier smiling at me. I got to my hotel and called my wife, Karen. And told her, “Honey, if they offer me any job, I’m taking it today!”
What did I know? I was 25 years old. I thought it was always sunny in Seattle. I got the job and found myself in a terrifically supportive department, with a great chair in Charlie Sleicher. But I was your typical assistant professor: I knew there was a department chair and I figured there was a dean out there somewhere in charge of something, but beyond that the administrative structure was a little bit cloudy, as were most of the rest of my days here. For the next seven years, the charm of Seattle was mostly wasted on me. I worked a lot. Son Charlie arrived in 1986, tenure in ’87, and Sam Kaler in 1988. These were busy, tiring and, in every way, extremely productive years.
By 1989, I realized I was spending more time in the air between Chicago and Seattle than I was at home changing diapers, and the East Coast would be a better fit for me. So, I left for the University of Delaware and my Seattle days became history, and before long, I embarked on a two-decade-long series of those decisions. I crossed over to “administration,” going from department chair to dean to provost. Two years ago, I walked into the office of the President of the University of Minnesota facing all of these issues I just teed up, and started work to strategically determine how to tackle them. We at Minnesota have, more or less, faced what you folks here at UW have faced. We are similar institutions, although we are the only public research university in the state and have the land grant and agricultural missions.
The view from Minnesota
Addressing the challenges I mentioned earlier is the most important job we have. We are entrusted with the future of America’s higher education systems and our individual institutions. If we fail them, we not only fail generations of students, we fail our faculty and staff, and our communities. So to avoid that fate, we’ve pursued six strategies:
• Reinvigorate our partnership with the state of Minnesota
• Invest in excellence and access
• Improve business operations
• Pick up the pace
• Focus and amplify our value proposition (put simply, tell our story better)
• And strengthen accountability and transparency.
So, how have these strategies come to life?
Let’s start with reinvigorating our partnership with the State of Minnesota. In the climate I have described—all of these competing forces, rampant skepticism about our value, and loud calls for accountability and affordability—we knew that when it came to our legislative request it could not be business as usual. We crafted a legislative request that—in form and substance—was significantly different than anything we’d ever proposed before.
For years, the University of Minnesota went to the Legislature asking for money because we are great, because we prepare students to be the state’s doctors and pharmacists, because we needed a new building or stadium, and—well—just because. We didn’t go with the notion that the state and the U should be partners in solving the state’s challenges or helping the families of our students. We changed our approach this year.
We packaged our request as a renewing the historic partnership.
So, rather than asking for a state investment to support academic excellence, faculty, disciplinary investments—the usual—we knew we needed to reset our relationship with the Legislature. We also knew that we had to help the public understand that tuition increases were directly tied to state disinvestment. It was a risk, but we decided to tie our state ask directly to freezing tuition. Specifically, we promised that if the state fulfilled our request, we would freeze tuition for Minnesota undergraduate students for two years.
That is risky for us because we have constitutional autonomy, and the Board of Regents sets our tuition, not the state Legislature. But there is no law that says the state has to support its university properly, unfortunately, so we have a delicate relationship.
From a messaging point of view, the strategy was very well received. Lawmakers wanted to know what they “bought” with an investment in the University, and this couldn’t have been clearer. In terms of advocacy, it was also extremely powerful. Students, parents, faculty, and staff could all be vocal supporters of this investment.
For the research and academic part of our request, we developed a new research program tied directly to areas of intellectual strength at the University that also matched Minnesota business and industry strength and growth. For example, Minnesota has an exceptional agriculture sector. We are home to General Mills, Cargill, Land O’ Lakes, and numerous smaller food-based companies. There’s probably more food industry within 25 miles of our campus than anywhere else in the country. We have a real opportunity to become the Silicon Valley of food, specializing in production, food safety, nutrition, and other strategies to feed the world. It’s a tradition that dates back decades when plant pathologist Norman Borlaug, our alumnus, won the Nobel Peace Prize for fighting hunger.
Thus, food was one of four prioritized research investments we proposed to the Legislature. Our other research initiatives were in the areas of water resources, robotics and advanced manufacturing, and neuromodulation, a powerful medical technology for the treatment of many diseases and conditions of the brain and the central nervous system. That is also the next frontier of the medical device industry, which was invented and is still located in Minnesota.
And I’m pleased to tell you that just 10 days ago, the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill providing enough funding to the University to allow us to freeze tuition for in-state resident undergrads and supporting nearly $36 million in research funds, funds that we believe will leverage federal dollars and private philanthropy. That’s nearly $80 million in new money, plus we were fully funded on our operating budget for the first time in six years. Still, we’re at 2001 funding levels, but I believe we have re-established a basis for a new partnership with state leaders.
We have invested in excellence and access. We invested about $1.5 million in doctoral dissertation fellowships. As you folks have done here, we increased financial aid, but to the tune of a more than 30 percent increase in gifts and waivers over the past five years to about $131 million on our Twin Cities campus. We added 23 faculty to our College of Liberal Arts, after years of slots going unfilled.
We embarked on a MOOC strategy, partnering with Coursera, as you have, with five new courses launched just this month, garnering more than 40,000 “students.” In response to student, parent, and employer demand, we are in the process of adding 1,000 undergraduate slots to our College of Science and Engineering.
And we’re taking head-on the back-office business issues, and improving our business operations. From the moment I arrived at Minnesota, I knew that tackling administrative costs had to be a priority. You call it Operational Effectiveness, we call it Operational Excellence. I had come from Stony Brook University, in the State University of New York system, and we had to address those costs, too. Increasingly, business and industry leaders are critical partners for higher education, whether it be for research or philanthropy.
We must be accountable to them and they want to have confidence that we operate—in our business operations—as efficiently as the market demands their businesses do.
The U had been doing a lot—merging colleges, even closing one. These were heavy lifts, but also some “low-hanging fruit.” There remained consultant reports detailing the more difficult, structural, organizational changes that needed to be done. We dusted them off and convened our senior leadership team weekly to prioritize projects and get them done. In just two years we have eliminated vice presidents and administrative offices, combined tech operations, mothballed buildings to reduce the square footage we need to maintain, reduced energy costs and health care premiums, and, yes, laid off people. Through these efforts and others we’ve reduced costs by about $30 million a year, recurring. And we redirect those dollars to our core missions of teaching, research, and public engagement.
I would guess every large research university must address the issue of administrative costs, and I recommend they do. We have much more to go, and I know that some faculty believe we are spending too much time on becoming more like a business and less like the academy. But I firmly believe that to survive and enable the academy we all want, our business operations have to run like a business.
Then, there is the need to pick up the pace. As I just noted, while we have made strides adopting business practices for our “back office” operations, we are still behind the times and our organizational and decision-making structures can bog us down.
Let me tell you a story. In my inaugural speech, I spoke about how the University of Minnesota has traditionally made decisions. I am a supporter of faculty governance. We have a century-long tradition of it at Minnesota, and it’s not going away. But consultation can sometimes be overdone. We have on the Minnesota campus an iconic building: Northrop Auditorium. Inscribed on its façade are these 33 powerful words:
“FOUNDED IN THE FAITH THAT MEN ARE ENNOBLED BY UNDERSTANDING
DEDICATED TO THE ADVANCEMENT OF LEARNING AND THE SEARCH FOR TRUTH
DEVOTED TO THE INSTRUCTION OF YOUTH AND THE WELFARE OF THE STATE.”
The story behind those 33 words is instructive. It goes like this. The idea for inscribing profound words on Northrop was hatched in 1924—about the same time construction was first proposed. Four years later, in January, 1928, President Lotus Coffman appointed a committee,…an inscription committee…to write the words.
This committee didn’t meet until March, 1929…14 months later. They must have had scheduling issues. Because they couldn’t come to agreement, the project lost steam and was not revived until the summer of 1935…six years after the first committee meeting! By then, Northrop had already opened…with no words. During this time, the University hired an inscription consultant. He was, of course, from California.
By May 1936, the words were settled on by the committee and, soon after, inscribed. They are beautiful words. But…12 years for 33 words? That sort of culture on campuses must end. There is a real cost to slowness, to long meetings, excessive committee deliberations, and endless email chains. There’s a cost in human resource time, and in the tangled web of bureaucracy that dogs us. And there are opportunity costs.
Of course, we will be data driven and collaborative. But a University President has to be relentlessly consultative, but not to the point of stagnation, indecision, and missed opportunity. Figuring sometimes we need to lead by example, I asked our Board of Regents to reduce the number of meetings they held, and they agreed. We’re doing the same amount of work at two fewer meetings a year, and we’re reducing our waistlines with six fewer meals! We’ve done other things, too, but I am pleased when I talk with my colleagues in departments, and they tell me they are pleased to be able to move more quickly.
We need to focus and amplify our value proposition (put simply, tell our story better).
We must articulate our value in more and better ways. Universities like ours cannot be shy about communicating clearly and strategically all that we do for our communities and states. We must amplify the value we bring to individual students or the cultural and economic climate of our regions—or the nation or the world.
For example, the Twin Cities are the 15th largest metro area in the United States, but our population includes a high percentage of college graduates and we’re the eighth most prosperous region in the country. We’re the 21st most populous state, but we spend the 8th most research dollars of any public university in the nation.
We—and you—must constantly remind community and thought leaders and taxpayers of our universities’ impact and value, and the so-called higher education premium. The data are clear: college graduates earn far more than high school graduates, have far lower unemployment rates and, so, much greater lifetime earnings.
But we must also do things differently—our “new” story must be based on reality. To that end, we’ve worked tirelessly in Minnesota to renew our partnership with business and industry. We have upgraded our tech transfer operation and streamlined our intellectual property program to reduce the legal haggling that so often stands in the way of bringing discoveries to the marketplace.
Our new program is called MN-IP, or Minnesota Innovation Partnerships, and it is nation leading. We’ve signed 40 agreements with 35 companies over the past 18 months, advancing patents, licenses, and disclosures. The modern university must have strong partnerships with the industries that drive our state’s economy. Research universities have been tackling our state’s most pressing challenges for years. But we need to do it more, and need to do it more noticeably. Not just in curing and treating diseases, but in closing the K-12 achievement gap, in counseling returning war veterans, in protecting the nation’s food supply, and in producing green-energy alternatives. We must emphasize even more our role in public service and in helping to drive the common good.
Finally, strengthen accountability and transparency. In this environment, we also must be accountable for all that we do and be extremely transparent in doing it. The news pipeline is too big and the velocity of news too fast for anything else to work. Our advice to administrators and athletes alike is to treat anything that they email or tweet as though it were a nationally-televised news conference.
We need much better ways to be accountable.
Higher education desperately needs a better system of comparing how we’re doing and what we’re doing. We must together devise better measurement tools and systems. If we don’t do it, others will do it for us, and they have already started. Look at the White House Scorecard on Higher Education or the countless rankings out there.
Graduation rates, job placement rates, campus ambience, NIH grants awarded, best partying schools. Everyone seems to be assessing us and ranking us, and telling students and parents how we’re doing.
But as an industry, we don’t do a very good job of that ourselves.
Certainly, IPEDS, our federal central data-collection process, is deeply flawed. How are we all doing? It’s hard to tell—and that is not a good answer.
In closing, we are the keepers of the best higher education system this world has ever known. That system is under tremendous external and internal pressures to evolve at a rate much faster than we ever have. I don’t believe I have a crystal ball any clearer than anyone else’s, but I do know that the changes will be many and will come quickly. I think we will see fewer research centers of excellence, not more. I think we will see very different ways of teaching that will lead to better outcomes and faster degrees, probably at a lower cost. I do not see our importance to our communities decreasing, or our responsibilities to nurture the arts and culture declining. And I’ll leave it to others to discuss whether we will franchise our athletic programs, or not.
While I’ve talked about the challenges and some of our responses, we should not lose track of the great good that our universities do, of the innovation and creativity we spark, and of the many lives we change for the better. And we should not forget, also, to take time to celebrate the success of our remarkable colleagues, colleagues on whose shoulders we all stand, colleagues like Bruce Finlayson.
Thank you for listening.