Samuel A. Kirkpatrick
October 20, 2000
As we embark on a university-wide conversation about the future of EMU and our collective vision for a heightened regional and national role in this dynamic knowledge age, it is important for us to reflect on the major trends in our broader environment, and strategies available to us for positioning the institution for even greater success. This is a tall order&endash;it will require good thinking by many of us, and a strategic planning process that engages the entire university community, that will yield a tangible vision of the future, and will bring about effective strategies for getting us there. My goal today is to plant a few seeds, to stimulate the process of looking forward and thinking strategically, and to offer a glimpse of what our future could be.
Everywhere today, higher education is in transition. Universities are organic and adaptive; shaped by their environment, and in turn, reshaping the world around them. Our potential for improving our world is directly dependent on how we understand and process environmental factors that both define and enable us. What are these key change-drivers influencing us today, and what are the implications for higher education, and especially, for Eastern Michigan University?
The first and most obvious forces are demographic. Philosophers and empiricists alike know that demography is destiny. Many of the people we will serve won't look like the majority of us. We see dramatic racial and ethnic shifts, with Anglos comprising just about half of the population in one-quarter century. The graying of America is here, and a wave of new immigrants is on its way.
Beyond these compositional shifts are changes in growth and distribution. Our population will grow to nearly 400 million over the next half century and the metropolitan population is growing more rapidly than others. Over half of us now live in 39 large metropolitan areas.
EMU is well positioned by historical philosophy and location to respond to these growing demands. We have a commitment to high access, to diversity, and to the role public universities play in fulfilling the American dream. We must not lose our responsiveness; it is our lifeblood. Unlike many of our sister institutions, we must not confuse quality and prestige with the denial of opportunities to learn.
As Jimmy Carter once said, "We must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles."
Many of you have heard me speak about the imperatives of the new metropolitan university and how EMU can achieve distinction as a major intellectual resource to link the creation, dissemination and application of knowledge to the needs of the metropolitan region; educate students to be informed and effective citizens; teach in ways that provide research-based knowledge with practical application; conduct research that links the basic and applied; and engage in community collaborations for the mutual benefit of the institutions and organizations that are the fabric of our culture.
We are not alone in this adventure. Over the course of the last decade, more than 50 public institutions who share fundamental characteristics and a common commitment joined together as the Coalition of Urban and Metropolitan Universities. I am pleased to report that EMU is now part of this Coalition and will further benefit from its research, publication and conferencing activities. Together, these institutions represent a movement as significant as the normal school and the land grant movements of the 19th century.
The second set of change forces that will shape EMU comes from the emergence and maturation of an information economy&emdash;one based more on information than on goods, more on knowledge than traditional capital, more on intelligence than fossil fuels, more on computers than machines and more on bio-engineered science than on mechanics. The most salient component of this development is that skills and education are the most important factors in this new economy.
Universities are at the center of this action. We have never been more important, nor have expectations ever been so high. With centrality comes relevance and visibility, but responsibility and accountability demands grow as well.
This reconfigured economy is characterized by a changing and more complex view of capital. Human capital is replacing physical capital and this is largely a metropolitan phenomenon. This means an enhanced role for universities, especially those serving suburban and urban growth areas. These new regional economies create higher-end jobs and require more education. This is yet another reason for EMU to keep access and diversity goals high on its agenda.
Knowledge capital is also a part of this new economic equation. And this is our business! This university has a strong legacy in knowledge dissemination, priding itself on being a learner-centered place which emphasizes quality teaching. But, we are&emdash;and must be&emdash;contributing more to knowledge creation and its application. Selective doctoral programs and basic and applied research efforts that meet the needs of the new economy must take on greater importance in our mission. To help us focus these efforts and position us better for idea sharing and national visibility, we sought membership in the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, which is reserved for major state universities with doctoral programs. I am pleased to report that their board has now granted us membership on the basis of our current program mix; our commitment to outreach, extended education and public service activities; and our aspirations for focused development at the advanced degree level.
A final form of capital&endash;social capital&endash;is also taking on new relevance. As Robert Putnam defines it, social capital refers to "features of social organization, such as networks, norms, and trust, that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit." In this regard, Eastern Michigan University has a key role in bringing individuals and groups together to develop interpersonal and inter-institutional cooperation. The University must provide community leadership and serve as a facilitator and collaborator in the metropolitan environment. These are especially meaningful roles for EMU. Important areas of deficit in human, knowledge and physical capital exist in our region that can be compensated for by social capital efforts. This is why it is so important for us to develop a philosophy of community partnering reflected by a range of business alliances, economic development initiatives, arts partnerships, service-learning and volunteerism, joint research initiatives, technical assistance and training, corporate affiliate programs, technology transfer activities, public school collaboratives and extended education and special degree programs.
A third set of trends that affect us are linked to economic shifts and are related to occupations and the world of work. Changes in the nature and distribution of work are spurring demand for higher education. Occupations requiring the least amount of education are declining. Increasingly, a college degree has become necessary, even in the service sector, the fastest growth area. The emergence of the high-technology workplace implies that we have an obligation to train students in new skill areas, and we must do so, whether in teacher education, technology, business or health and human services.
There are also more subtle and dynamic forces at work that reinforce the importance of the core curriculum and the disciplines in the arts and sciences. Change is the byword of the occupational marketplace. We know the impact of one worker in five changing jobs each year and one in 10 changing careers each year. We see increasing worker displacement; the erosion of traditional career ladders; a high-tech workplace characterized by telecommunication linkages, less personal interaction and artificial intelligence and expert systems; and the flattening of traditional organizational hierarchies. All of our graduates will have to become increasingly skilled and flexible, and with the emergence of a global marketplace, they must also be knowledgeable about other nations and cultures.
The most important question a university can ask is, What should its graduates know? What should all of its students learn? What is the common ground? What marks an EMU graduate? These questions need to be revisited. Eastern is rightfully proud of its commitment to holistic student development at the undergraduate level&emdash;academically, emotionally, physically and socially. But we cannot deliver on our promise without a solid and well-defined core curriculum. At the university level, we must face the challenge of providing the kind of substantive and analytical education that is most suitable for our changing world and work force. Obviously, high levels of reading, writing, speaking and computing ability are essential, as is the full development of analytical skills, the development of conceptual abilities and integrative strengths, and greater facility with abstractions. Many of these cognitive features are most challenging to teach and to understand, and in many ways they are the keys to flexibility for our graduates. We need to teach for flexibility, for the acquisition of knowledge, and for life-long learning. Our graduates will have to intensify their focus on critical thinking in an age of explosive, and often undifferentiated, information. Information search and organizational skills will be even more critical tomorrow.
A fourth development that is affecting us and providing new opportunities for learning and service is information and communications technology. It is altering the meaning of time and distance, and when coupled with other shifts in consumer behavior and accountability, it is helping to shape profound change in higher education as we move from a more "provider-driven" model to one increasingly influenced by "client-driven" demands. This is spooking many of us. Higher education is not the monopoly it once was and faculty no longer have a monopoly on what is taught. Competition is emerging everywhere.
More than ever, colleges and universities are being regarded by students, political leaders and the general public as entities that should be willing to change in response to consumer demand. College students do not necessarily want to define what the faculty teach; rather, they want their education to fit in their framework of work and lives more conveniently. Many want education "just in time," bundled appropriately, seamless, and one-stop.
Although universities have felt the pressures of these new expectations, many have resisted them, failing to address diverse learning styles, or develop new delivery systems or employ new learning technologies. EMU has plowed new ground in these areas, appropriate for a redefined metropolitan mission, and we have gained national attention for our extended education programs, the Halle Library and learning technologies, and our emerging online activities. We are experimenting. We are growing technologically and we need to do more. EMU can be a model for the appropriate use of technology to improve both learning and service to all of its stakeholders.
Another byproduct of all this change has come in the area of public finance&endash;a fifth force at work in our environment. Americans are less willing to tax themselves to provide expanded government services. They have come to rely on more market-driven solutions. Throughout the last decade the amount of money available to higher education nationally has been reduced and states are disinvesting, often in direct proportion to increases in spending for prisons and social services. This shift has come about partly because legislators are aware that a college education is valuable in the workplace and they are willing to transfer more of its costs to students.
As a consequence, we have a challenge to increase the amount of private scholarship support to EMU students. It must be a key element in our effort to strengthen and manage enrollment consistent with our public university mission, to heighten retention and to ensure greater success for our students.
A final change with a major impact on higher education is a change in values. They are reflected in environmental shifts I have mentioned, such as consumerism. But we cannot ignore changes in values on campus that reflect the larger and more diverse world. What many sense as missing in academia today is a framework of shared values. We need to reassess how we find strength in diverse values as we build a larger sense of academic community. This is an area where Eastern has shown strength, conceptualizing itself as a family. I am suggesting that we recognize and celebrate the values we hold individually while working to incorporate them in a set of strategically driven common goals. We can become stronger by recognizing that we have differences in the way we approach our teaching, learning and scholarship. And we must remain aware of how those effects reinforce our overall mission.
There are many implications of these fundamental trends affecting the University. There are many opportunities for us to mine. I have suggested some all along, and there will be much room for conversation as we develop a vision for the future over the course of the next several months. Some of these forces of change beg questions of institutional design in higher education and suggest new organizational strategies. Students do not care who works for whom and they have a way of encouraging us to penetrate our bureaucratic silos. Similarly, the flattening of organizational structures in society holds promise for us to push decision making to appropriate levels, empower employees and hold them accountable, further tempering the old command-and-control philosophy.
This is an exciting and pivotal time for EMU. We are in demand and more relevant than ever. We have a firm base upon which to build. Our roots in the most noble of the professions&endash;teaching&endash;have spread to address the broader needs of our dynamic metropolitan area and have fed a more complex mix of programs and services important to the information age. These strengths, if understood, nurtured and communicated effectively, will ensure distinction and national recognition for EMU. We could not be better positioned, but as with any good thing, it will not come easily. It will take the best of ideas, creative strategies, involvement from many, and a willingness to adapt and change.
After having talked with many in the University community and beyond, I believe there are key institutional strategies essential to this pursuit of excellence. I will share a few with you.
The first is the planning process itself; we cannot move forward without a dream&endash;a dream informed by a rich process&endash;and a dream with a deadline. Our most important strategy is to clearly develop our mission by building on past strengths and new opportunities, to focus on key directions over the next five to seven years, to creatively build strategies to achieve goals and ensure effective implementation, to budget properly, and to be accountable for results. This will involve new ways of thinking and acting at EMU, but I am confident we can achieve results.
In addition to vision and accountability, we need visibility and promotional strategies to employ and communicate our vision. We will need a comprehensive regional, state and national visibility and marketing plan to make our strengths more public, to connect the University nationally, to make Eastern Michigan's competitive advantages clear, and to position ourselves for even greater success.
A third strategy&endash;that of public engagement&endash;is closely linked to the first two and to solidifying the metropolitan elements of our mission. We must link to the broader community more effectively, especially through partnerships with business, schools, cultural institutions and the public sector, through comprehensive service and volunteer programs, and through robust and effective legislative and executive branch strategies that yield additional resources.
Internally, we recognize that we can only achieve broader goals through effective teaming and communication strategies. We must reduce the barriers to information and idea-sharing, create more professional development and learning opportunities, enhance communications and dialogue about trends and issues affecting us, practice good administrative teamwork, stimulate innovation and liveliness, and develop social capital on campus
The fifth is a set of programmatic strategies&endash;responding to regional and national needs and those of the changing information age by developing programs that are sensitive to environmental opportunities. This will entail such programmatic efforts as selectively developing high demand doctoral programs, expanding and integrating volunteer and service-learning programs, revising the core curriculum, assessing the mix of academic programs and their delivery systems, enhancing partnerships with community colleges and ensuring a more seamless transfer system, and bringing employer needs to bear on the curriculum.
Sixth, it is imperative that quality is our first objective and that quality assurance strategies permeate the University. This involves such tactical elements as pursuing innovations in academic and non-academic programs, management strategies, distributed education, information technology and student services; developing comprehensive quality assurance approaches; enhancing our information and communications technology environment; streamlining human resource operations; implementing effective policies and practices to support doctoral programming and research; and developing institutional reward and recognition systems. These quality assurance strategies will involve cultural changes at EMU and are important in this age of increased competition and limited resources.
A seventh strategy involves the learning community, an area of traditional strength at EMU. I challenge us to firm-up the undergraduate learning experience, including honors activities, the common ground of general education, character and leadership development, learning communities, student and residential life, student activities, holistic approaches to student development, retention and student success programs, academic advising, community service, and support for non-traditional students. This learning environment must also be one that reduces barriers to opportunity, accommodates a diversity of learning styles, recognizes that students learn more with diverse peers and faculty, and reflects the global world of work in which graduates must function effectively.
Finally, the future of our larger objectives will be dependent on the development of effective resource acquisition and management strategies in this competitive age of public disinvestment. This entails expanding our state appropriations, giving special attention to developing private gifts, more sponsored programs and grants, expanding enrollment and reducing barriers to degree attainment, stimulating entrepreneurial activities and technology transfer, reducing turnover due to the competitive marketplace for faculty and staff, optimizing our scholarship program, and reducing cost growth in health care and utilities.
As I have suggested, this is a tall order! We will not be able to meet challenges and continue building the institution without developing a new sense of priorities and new awareness about how each of us is responsible for change. Only by understanding and embracing change can we fulfill our institutional aspirations. A revolution comparable to the industrial revolution, perhaps even the Reformation, is taking place around us. Our efforts may tax us but they will also make us stronger and more coherent. Only by committing ourselves to shared purposes and realizing a common vision can we progress. We can indeed hold unchanging principles even as our vision changes. I pledge to you that I will do all in the power you and the public have vested in me to promote our mission. And I invite you to join me in developing strategies to meet the new demands of higher education in the 21st Century.