Innovation in Higher Education? HAH!

You can hardly mention higher education today without hearing the word "innovation," or its understudies "change," "reinvention," "transformation." Last summer the National Governors Association opened its meeting with a plenary session on higher education, innovation, and economic growth. We have journals galore (Innovative Higher Education, Journal of the International Council for Innovation in Higher Education, etc.), more conferences on "innovation" and higher education than I can count, and reports about innovation (in teaching, research, university business models, technology, you name it). Even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently weighed in with "College 2.0: Transforming Higher Education Through Greater Innovation."

It reminds me of the old joke.

Q. How many academics does it take to change a light bulb?

A. Change? Change? Who said anything about CHANGE?

But there is nothing funny about the need for innovation and the resistance to change. When I re-engaged with higher education after a 20-year absence in the private sector, I felt like Rip Van Winkle: The generations were different, but the landscape remained the same. During my long self-exile, I worked primarily in media and technology businesses, including with Fathom, an interactive knowledge network in partnership with Columbia University and other institutions here and abroad. I thought then that the shift to a global, technology-based knowledge society, as well as competition from international and for-profit institutions, would force innovation.

That was 10 years ago.

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