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  • Law, Policy -- and IT?

    Tracy Mitrano explores the intersection where higher education, the Internet and the world meet (and sometimes collide).

What's Technology Got To Do With IT?
April 26, 2011 - 8:45am

I know that both Tina Turner's song and the it/IT thing are hackneyed, but what does technology have to do with the history of American higher education? A lot.

In Boston for the Rethink Music Conference, I am reminded that the ministry moved the creation of Harvard. Not a seminary, the college nevertheless served to educate earnest Congregationalists better known today as Puritans and best remembered as originally a fervent religious community. Market factors changed its course most prodigiously in the early years and it would be over two hundred years later that the classics gave way to what we think of as a modern curriculum of science, "social science," and the humanities of a liberal arts education. Nothing less than the industrial revolution, grandly abetted by technology, changed that course. It is fitting that I sit in the Elliot Hotel, given that President Elliot of Harvard was the grandmaster of that transition.

Now in the information revolution, we should be surprised that technology challenges higher education again? Clearly not from an intellectual perspective, but as power stultifies, politics delays the kind and quantity of change necessary to keep higher education afloat in these interesting times. For specific ideas there are a thousand articles and some books out there suggesting new directions from global universities (virtual and real) to distance/distributed/blended learning to for-profit models. What we might put our collective minds together to consider is not which directions or what models to pursue but what psychological and material factors keep traditional not-for-profit higher education from moving forward with greater alacrity. That insight would help us understand choices from agency rather than reaction and be a study in real leadership.

On these various notes I will make only one addition today. It is to salute Sally Jackson for acting on mission-driven principles to step down from her position as CIO at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. I know nothing about the particulars. I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Jackson at a CHE Conference in Tampa a couple of years ago, but do not know her personally, so nothing I say here is motivated by anything more or less than a shout out for real leadership in higher education generally and information technology sector in particular. Amen.



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