November 30, 2017 | Academic Affairs

By Kathleen Barker2017 Fall Conference panelists

Over time, the following words entered our vernacular and were intended to signal change: creative destruction, disruption, and innovation.

Creative destruction, economist Joseph Schumpeter’s idea that capitalism would sow its own seeds of destruction, was itself converted to the idea of disruption, a more positive notion, and then disruption was increasingly associated with innovation, a much more positive spin.

This UFS Conference is premised on “change” as an array of both progressive and questionable practices occurring within American higher education and beyond. Professor Clay Christensen of Harvard has, for many years, promoted theories of “innovative disruption” in corporations. Regarding higher education, Christensen commented that online courses are “a disruptive innovation.”

Many authors have commented on the notion that the essence of disruption is ideas fail because they do not keep up with newer and better ideas. Currently, disruption is such a powerful idea that the University of Southern California opened a Bachelor of Science program in innovation. According to one author, black T-shirts worn by the incoming class put it in simple terms: “The Degree is in Disruption.”

By phrasing this conference “Innovations and Disruptions,” we are recognizing that change may be innovative or disruptive or both.

Should we agree that all change is necessarily innovative? Or disruptive? And what happens when if it is both? Can ideas that are located in sport psychology or technology be seamlessly translated into large educational bureaucracies, institutions that remain a human-to-human enterprise?

Many of us now view our institutions, and our colleagues, as at a crossroads. Although the intellectual workers of higher education have been central in maintaining the “edge” of the U.S. over other countries, we are now pausing to consider that role in a transitional environment, or, a set of transitional environments. Scholars such as Martin Finkelstein and colleagues have noted the diminished role of the professoriate in decision-making processes and many have noted the rise of the corporatized or commercialized higher education.

Although objections to change are often self-serving, too often any objection is dismissed out of hand because change is typically considered “good” and vocalized objections are “bad.”

History teaches us, and we hope this conference will assist all us to be mindful that unforeseen consequences, both positive and negative, will accompany any change moment.

The panelists who spoke at our UFS Conference are at the center of re-thinking higher education from multiple perspectives.

This UFS Blog series will feature reactions from faculty who attended.

Kathleen Barker is a Professor of Psychology at Medgar Evers College, and Vice-Chair of the University Faculty Senate.  She wishes to thank her co-organizers of the UFS’s highly successful November conference: Dr. Martin Burke, Professor of History at Lehman College and the CUNY Graduate Center, and a fellow member of the UFS Executive Committee; and Dr. Matthew Cotter, Executive Director of the University Faculty Senate.

The UFS Blog is a forum for CUNY Faculty, and welcomes the expression of all points of view.

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Photo: S. Pasela, UFS