During a recent interview, a journalist asked me: “Is the traditional four-year public research university still relevant today?” It’s a question currently being asked of many leaders in higher education. I wanted to share my response with you.
Yes, perhaps more so than ever, there is a great need for universities like Central Michigan University, that blend exceptional undergraduate programs, top-tier graduate and professional education programs, impactful research, creative activity and service to the community.
The state of Michigan, our region, our nation and our world need citizens who possess both the breadth of understanding and the depth of knowledge to be active, engaged and successful in our increasingly global society. This requires us to provide broad and expansive learning opportunities across an array of academic disciplines as well as a deep intellectual understanding of a focused area of study.
We need to educate and prepare future leaders who are creative, innovative problem-solvers, who can work collaboratively across differences, who embrace compassion and empathy in all they do, and who will not only embrace change but also create and further positive change.
Here at CMU, this is what we do every day and so, yes, I firmly believe CMU is relevant today.
However, if we wish to remain relevant in the years and decades ahead, we must practice what we profess and teach every day. We must think creatively, innovatively and broadly about who we are as a university and about the people we serve. We must be bold and determined, and we must think transformational. And we must act with a sense of urgency.
In December, I sat down for a conversation with David Staley, author of the book “Alternative Universities: Speculative Design for Innovation in Higher Education.” In his book, Staley writes: “The problem is not that universities are lacking in innovation, but rather that they suffer from a poverty of imagination of what that innovation might be.”
So often in higher ed, we think of innovation in purely technological terms: We offer more online classes, or we upgrade classrooms with new equipment. As I asked in my State of the University address: “Are we solely in the business of granting degrees and counting credit hours?” If that is all we do at CMU – if that is all that drives our business model — chances are good that we will never recover our competitive place in the higher education marketplace.
What if innovation was much bigger, broader and, honestly, more exciting than that?
What if it wasn’t simply about small transactional differences from one year into another, but instead focused on truly transformational changes that alter the very operations of our institution? These are the questions that will drive our strategic envisioning process.
Just before the winter break, we announced the formation of working groups that will begin to explore these ideas in depth. Through this process, we are designing — rebooting if you will — the future CMU by asking what we as a university must do, both immediately and over the next several years, to be a thriving institution in 2030.
This futuristic approach is not meant to delay action; in fact, it is quite the opposite. To position ourselves for success, we must act now to respond to current and projected trends, address our weakness quickly, and proactively seize upon opportunities.
This week, we launched a new website that will allow the workgroups to share their progress with our university community. I encourage everyone to review the information on the website and to share your questions and suggestions.
We must embrace our true mission: the creation, dissemination and application of knowledge, because knowledge changes lives. Education reshapes people and communities.
Staley wrote, “Anyone seeking innovation in higher education today should concentrate on the kind of transformational experience it enacts.”
Together, we have been transforming lives through education for more than a century. We have great opportunities ahead of us to continue that tradition for centuries to come.