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Closing Summit: Reinventing the University
Written by Laura Mansfield
The finale of the 2012 Innovation Forum included a distinguished panel representing thought leaders from academia and industry.
UW President Michael Young.
Dr. Fariba Alamdari, Vice President of Marketing and Value Analysis for Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
Dr. Anoop Gupta, Distinguished Scientist for Microsoft Research. Gupta also serves on the UW Bothell Advisory Board.
Dr. J Rogers Hollingsworth, Professor Emeritus of Sociology and History at the University of Wisconsin.
UW Bothell Chancellor Kenyon Chan opened the evening by recognizing the success of UW Bothell’s inaugural Innovation Forum. “This event demonstrates that the University of Washington Bothell is a hotbed of innovation and creativity,” he said.
In his opening remarks, President Young remarked that it had been an “extraordinary” week at UW Bothell. “This week has been a reflection of what I have sensed about this campus. There is a spirit of imagination and innovation that is healthy and thriving. That spirit has never been more important than now. It is imperative that we reimagine higher education.”
Young reflected on the role of the University of Washington to society. “We do extraordinary things at this university. We receive the second-most intramural funding in the United States. We constantly strive to translate our work into things into what will make people’s lives better.”
“We have a capacity to organize ourselves around a simple but profound concept: the notion that a great university thinks about ideas and moving those ideas into the world in a way they have impact.”
Young called for an auditing of higher education. “We examine everything but ourselves,” he observed. “Technology has transformed everything that makes this kind of transformation needed. Students are different, but we haven’t transformed our thinking in instruction to respond.”
“We have a “Bismarckian” notion of what a university should like look like,” he said. “Knowledge is created on the edge of disciplines. There is a tremendous need for people who work across boundaries and look at the grand challenges.”
“We currently think of the modern university in terms of local and global. We need more longitudinal thinking,” he said. “Where did we come from and where are we going?”
The pace of change in the university is accelerating, Hollingsworth noted. “Fifty years from now, universities will be very different than they are today.” By 2050, Hollingsworth envisions a global university, in which faculty will be recruited from all over the globe and engaged in a narrow range of research.
“My fantasy university is relatively small and engaged in rich interaction,” he said. “It has relatively few faculty, but they are teaching tens of thousands of students. In my model university, the faculty changes every five to 10 years. This ensures a constant change of ideas.” Hollingsworth noted that such models are already in place, citing the Howard Hughes Research Institute and the European University Institute.
Hollingsworth says UW Bothell is at a turning point. “I think this campus has enormous potential,” he says. “This is a wonderful environment in which to live. I walked around the campus today and found some land … the global university could be located right here.”
Alamdari noted the strong relationship between the university and the economy, calling for greater investment in research and development. “The U.S. is not at the top of list in terms of quality in math and engineering,” she said. “This is so important for global economic growth. We have to help universities achieve high education and research. How can we do that?”
Alamdari, who worked for more than 25 years in academia, says her dream is to “go back to the basics.” Universities have moved towards processes and layers at the expense of basic skills, she said. “People cannot write, cannot communicate, and they worry when you show them math. We have to make sure no one leaves the university without these basic skills.”
Turning to the notion of innovation, Alamdari said real innovation comes about through diversity of thought. “We all talk about diversity, but we have to concentrate on diversity of thought. We need people who think differently. We like like-minded people, but that doesn’t aid innovation,” she said. “If everybody thinks the same, no one is thinking”
Technology has transformed all aspects of education, but the university has not changed in fundamental ways, he said. He speculates great change on the horizon with the growing adaptation of online education. “Scale changes everything,” he says. “Now we have institutions offering courses with tens of thousands of students,” he said, noting Berkeley, Stanford, MITx and the Khan Academy as examples.
“There is lots of evidence that the traditional lecture model is not a great model of learning, he says. “Today we have embedded quizzes, electronic textbooks, and social tools that permit us to scale large but allow us to assemble in small communities. “ Gupta said technology provides a great opportunity to meet the needs of many people who cannot access education through traditional methods.