Home > Uncategorized > Technology Vs. Democracy at UVA – Part II

Technology Vs. Democracy at UVA – Part II

June 27, 2012

After a tumultuous couple of weeks, the governing board of the University of Virginia reinstated the President they summarily dismissed. The NYTimes article described the inherent conflict between those who want to run the school like a business and the forces for the status quo at the college:

The dispute exposed fears about the murky future of higher education at a time of deep cuts in state support and an intensifying debate about whether colleges should be run more like businesses. At the same time, expectations are high for a rapid transformation — through costly technology — to online instruction.

In particular, some members of the Board of Visitors, most of whom are business executives, appear to have been shaken by the way prestigious institutions like M.I.T., Stanford and Harvard have dived into the online realm, and wondered if the University of Virginia was being left behind.

Ms. Sullivan said she perceived the many threats to the university, but favored addressing them in a collaborative, incremental way, not the more aggressive, top-down approach favored by the head of the board, or rector, Helen E. Dragas, and the former vice rector, Mark Kington, who were the driving forces behind the president’s ouster.

I was just reading an excerpt from The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge describing the need for organizations to set visions that intentionally create discomfort, noting that when organizations cede to those whose emotional tensions run high they invariably lower their expectations. This desired “creative tension”, though, is arguably different from the creative destruction being wrought by technology… and those in the private sector, used to making decisions that devastate communities behind closed doors got caught up short when they tried to make radical change at a rapid pace in a public institution.

Unfortunately, public universities, like public schools, are being forced to play under a new set of rules. Just-in-time-on-demand video instruction makes customized instruction available quickly and cheaply and the combination of higher costs for college and lower employment rates and lower wages for graduates makes a lower price tag much more attractive. The forces for status quo won the battle… but they may want to think hard about their strategy for the war that lies ahead.

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