Being Futurisktic

Institutions of higher education (IHEs) have often been viewed as slow to change and to prefer, and even perpetuate, the status quo or the “way we have always done it”.   Thus, IHEs often appear to be (or are) risk-averse and reluctant to change.  But change is clearly needed amidst the many challenges facing higher education today.  In addition to the challenges, there are many and varied opportunities and possibilities.

In thinking about the future for higher education and working toward transformative change (evolution and especially revolution), the challenges tend to visible immediately and the associated risks often become the reasons that we question if we can or if we should move forward. Even though progress is always possible, change is often limited by the risks or the perception of risk and possible failure. Some academic leaders are risk-averse or take actions that appear to be risk-averse, but I would argue that risk must be acknowledged and welcomed as a part of our growth individually and professionally and institutional change.

To effect change we must adapt our thinking to be futuristic and simultaneously embrace risk as a critical element for significant progress to be made; that is futurisktic.  Futurisktic thinking can also be seen as a way of thinking not just about the future but as a mindset for engaging with today’s challenges and associated risks in pursuing the opportunities that emerge.

A few thoughts about being futurisktic relative to graduate education. Graduate deans and graduate schools can be agents for change by taking the risk and leading the way in challenging the status quo.  For graduate education, the status quo has played out in many ways but only two are mentioned here: assumption that ‘surviving graduate school’ is the norm and the way to evaluate performance is primarily through known markers of success while ignoring or dismissing failure.

Obviously we should strive for success but still note that much can be learned from failures. For graduate education, academic leaders should accept the responsibility to create the space for encouraging graduate students to take risks in pursuit of greater understanding knowing full well that failure is possible. As we know well, failure is a critical component of learning and research.

Surviving graduate school has been the recent rhetoric about the graduate student experience and I advocate to change the rhetoric and reality from surviving to thriving. Thriving provides an alternative metaphor for the experience and should guide us toward to the future. Thriving doesn’t mean lowering of quality or expectations. It is about empowering graduate students and providing the space to seek opportunities and take risks. Thriving allows for more creativity and innovation within the graduate education experience.  As a Graduate Dean, I encourage us to think differently about graduate education for the future (that’s a topic of a future blog), take some risks and encourage being futurisktic.

Futurisktic: of the future that includes risk (that’s okay) and taking risks (that’s good)

Global Deans

In a recent blog, I wrote about our individual pathways and the Tour de Academe.  On Sunday, July 22nd our individual pathways converged in Paris and our collective journey started.  And now, the week-long Graduate Deans Global Perspectives program ’12 (GPGradDeans) has come to an end.  Our last meeting was a joint gathering with GPP Switzerland alumni from Virginia Tech and University of Basel at VT’s Center for European Studies and Architecture (CESA). Rich discussions were held and insights gathered.

During the program, the Graduate Deans visited University of Pierre and Marie Curie (UPMC) and the historic Sorbonne University, the University of Strasbourg, the University of Basel, and the University of Zurich. We discussed graduate education and the future of higher education with Presidents (Rectors) from three universities. We learned about their versions of graduate schools (e.g., doctoral college, graduate campus). We met with administrators and faculty.  And our program began with dialogue with colleagues from the European University Association (EUA).  For details of our visit, see itinerary and read associated links.

This visit was nestled between the end of the Tour de France In Paris and the Opening Ceremonies of the 2012 Olympic Games. The weather was perfect throughout the week (Paris, Strasbourg, Basel, Zurich, Lugano) – a little hot at times but virtually no rain.  Our visits required the use of three languages beyond English: French, German (more precisely Swiss German) and Italian. The cuisine spanned countries and cultures. We traveled by plane, bus, tram, metro, train, and quite often by foot – sometimes up hill and sometimes with luggage. Lakes, mountains, rivers, plains, and terraced hills (e.g., vines) surrounded us daily.  A collective journey of shared experiences and individual reflections….we have taken photos, blogged, and tweeted.  We had readers following our blogs and “followers” on twitter (@kpdepauw, @GPPVT and more).  We had families traveling with us who shared in our experiences on a daily basis.

The Global Perspectives program has touched many lives across many universities, many countries and across many years.  As a result, I believe that the Graduate Deans and GPP alumni now share in the responsibility to expand the reach and enrich the global experiences and perspectives of others.  It has been my great pleasure to share personal and professional experiences with my graduate dean colleagues.  Thank you for joining me on this adventure toward greater global understanding and enhanced global graduate education.



Tour de Academe – Individual pathways to a shared journey

While driving to the Roanoke airport this morning to catch my flight to Dulles and then Paris, I knew that our Tour de Academe had finally begun.  But in reality, the journey actually began some months ago as the Global Perspectives – Graduate Deans program was conceptualized, the itinerary developed and individual decisions were made to participate.  Although titled GP Graduate Deans, the individuals in this shared journey include graduate deans (of course), the organizers and hosts of our Tour de Academe visits, and the Global Perspectives Program (GPP) alumni from VT and UniBasel.

The individual pathways were set.  Some would bring family.  Some would travel solo.  Collectively, we would travel by car, bus, train, metro and airplane and arrive from many different places.  By now, some have already left their home place.  Many are traveling today as I am.  And some are preparing for departure in a few days to arrive for the Graduate Deans/GPP alumni event in Riva San Vitale in the Italian speaking part of Switzerland.

Today I could almost sense and did visualize the movement of the individuals toward our shared journey.  Different places, different times, and different pathways leading to the shared experience.  Each of us will leave our homes and work places and travel toward a common place called Paris – the Latin Quarter and the Hotel called Maxim to start our shared journey on Sunday, July 22, 2012.  This portion is the Graduate Deans journey and we will be joined by colleagues from the EUA and universities in Paris, Strasbourg, Basel, and Zurich.  They too are a part of the shared global perspective experience in that we can learn from each other as we engage to understand global higher education.  And along the way, we meet and interact with those we know and those we can only observe in the spaces in which we interact (streets of Paris, trains, restaurants and more).  We observe the culture, the cuisine, the building (windows and doors), Swiss Alps, towns, cities, lakes, and more.  These too are important components of the global experience.  The shared journey will culminate at VT’s Center for European Studies and Architecture (CESA) and will be enriched through the reflections and interactions of GPP alumni from VT and UniBasel who will travel along their unique pathways to reach our shared space.

The place and time are set – the program is in motion.  We await the arrival of the participants who will come and go throughout the journey.  Although this program will last but a week, but the journey toward global perspectives will continue.  As Lukas said of the 2012 GPP Basel experience, the program ends but the process continues.

Collaborative experience for graduate deans & GPP alumni

Our flights are booked.  Hotel rooms reserved.  Restaurants prepared to share their cuisine.  Our academic and university hosts are eager to welcome us.  And of course, the Virginia Tech Center for European Studies and Architecture (CESA) is prepared for the arrival of the graduate deans and the GPP alumni.  After hundreds of emails, numerous meetings, many phone calls and lots of discussions across nearly 9 months, the plans have been finalized for the Graduate Deans Global Experience (July 22 -27) and the GPP alumni reunion (July 26-27).  Enthusiasm appears high and we are ready.  Follow our experiences through our blogs (Global Perspectives, Graduate Deans, or individual blogs) and follow us on twitter (@kpdepauw).