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Opinion: Higher education must innovate
08052020 ONLINE

Higher education is going through a challenge right now due to the global pandemic.  Steeped in long-held traditions, it has its set way of doing things. The order of those things are: 

  • Students are recruited in the spring to come to their school. 
  • Schools prepare during the summer for the new arrivals in August. 
  • In August students come/return to their residence halls and start classes. 
  • The alma mater is learned, the fight song sung and campus rituals are reinforced. 
  • Schools engage students with sports, clubs, trips and other various venues. 
  • Students are mentored and taught by professors. 
  • Students end their classes in May and go home for the summer only to start the process again until they graduate. 

That is the process.  That has been the process for a long time.  That is the process that staff, faculty and administration use and have used for hundreds of years!  

But it is all different this time!  A global pandemic outside the fault and reach of such industries like higher education has forced people to think out of the box. And it is scary for many.   

Some institutions will not change, and as a result, they might fail.  Other institutions will change only because they must, and then, fully expect to go back to the old way after its all over.   

Some of those will fail, some will succeed.  But other institutions that have, over time, nurtured a culture of ongoing change have gathered people in their ranks who think critically, imagine creatively and behave boldly.   

These are the institutions that will innovate new ideas and will embrace the change with a combination of anxiety and excitement.  These are the institutions that will succeed.  

Online classes are an answer.  But they are only one answer to this complex problem.  There are many answers and solutions as long as the organization allows freedom of innovation to exist.  Staff, faculty and administrators will naturally solicit, exchange and submit ideas at colleges and universities where there is a sense of collective contribution that has been built over time.   

These types of organizational cultures are breeding grounds for great breakthrough ideas.  And who knows where that breakthrough idea will come from: A staff person in the registrar or financial aid office or a sports coach in the athletic department, a data processing clerk who sits at a computer all day, a freshman student who comes from a collectivist cultural background or even a fine arts professor teaching dance.  Ideas must be encouraged and rewarded at a time when change is essential.  

There is no normal right now.  Going back is not an option.  Seeking cooperation and contribution is the only way.  Everyone in every industry needs to change.  The time to be fearful is long past.  Now is the time to take advantage of the innovative culture that has been nurtured over the years and collectively come together to seek solutions to what has become our generation’s greatest challenge.  

Bill Haney 

Brenau University professor Clermont

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