It was interesting to read about how American higher education has responded to society’s changing needs and the directions it ought to take moving forward in James Duderstadt and Farris Womack’s book The Future of the Public University in America. The book was published in 2003, but the trajectory for the future that was set at the time has continued over the past thirteen years, and I believe still holds true today. Conversations about access and diversity continue to be relevant, perhaps even more so now due to recent developments in the country.
As I thought about how universities continue to cater to and respond to a society that continues to evolve, there are two things that came to mind. First, I thought about the importance of integrating principles of teaching and education in graduate school, especially among those whose goal is to one day become part of the professoriate. Duderstadt and Womack talked about reconsidering the undergraduate experience and the shift to the learning paradigm, echoing the work of Robert Barr and John Tagg. This paradigm shift calls for faculty members to go beyond the stereotypical role of identifying and presenting discipline-specific content and think about developing environments and activities that will foster the construction of knowledge by students themselves. Duderstadt and Womack note, however, that most academic training received at the graduate school level are oriented towards preparing students to be academic researchers. While this is still considered to be an integral and important responsibility of a faculty member in higher education, it is not sufficient preparation for an area that is also of vital importance: that of being an educator, as a member of the professoriate. To this end, I believe that it is just as important to prepare for and think about preparing graduate students – especially PhD students who aim to become professors – to be educators as it is to hone their abilities in discipline-specific research.
I also thought about how innovation and technology has brought down barriers and has made the world smaller, at least in terms of the ability to communicate and interact at a global scale. To me, it means that the University can set an example for international cooperation, collaboration, and the sharing and transfer of skills, knowledge and resources. There are more opportunities now than ever to reach out to other institutions and academics from anywhere in the world, and to bring the rest of the world into the classroom, thus broadening the perspectives of students in higher education.
No one will ever be able to tell us for sure what the future holds. But one thing is certain, the little steps that are taken today will definitely shape what tomorrow will look like. And the University will continue to play an important role in what these steps are going to be.