It is recognized that a campus is a “community” where networks are established and other externalities accrue to those who matriculate and enter the Ivory Tower. On the other hand, the rise in competency-based programs, where students are increasingly required to exhibit mastery of materials beyond articulating what they can recall from their text materials and faculty presentations, mitigates or tempers the ability to leverage social networks against demonstrable skills.
Yet, in 2015 United States universities received 1.2 billion dollars directly in support of campus athletics at a time when the core of the university, its research and education functions not only are under funded but are even being defunded. Costs are rising for the academic core and many students are being obligated to assume significant and unforgiveable debt to complete academic certifications, often in areas where the fiscal compensation makes the ability to repay onerous. As Hamlet says in the eponymous Shakespearean play, “The time is out of joint.”
While the irony is seen and the pain is felt, it may be time to reflect, or as Wordsworth said in his “Ode to Immortality”, “ We will grieve not, rather find strength in what remains behind”. In the Christensen model of disruptive innovation, the present industry tends to want to preserve its past while the nascent disruptive alternatives struggle to come into being. And thus it is with the Ivory Tower. This does not signal the demise of the past/present but rather the present evolves as it adopts and adapts to the emergent.
Having known and worked with “volunteers” in the Peace Corp since its beginning in the 60’s and working in a number of developing countries it is clear that there has been a significant change in both the volunteers and also in the country in which they work. In the beginning, the United States was learning about the under resourced countries, their needs and where the US might play a part. Simultaneously, the US needed experienced personnel to support this effort.
Thus, the Peace Corp played a significant function in building up a cadre of individuals with international experience, particularly in the developing world. It was/is a learning experience for all parties. Today that world has changed dramatically. Other countries are active in providing many of the needed skills and services that the US identified through a difficult and less than well developed process.
Today the under resourced countries have many of the same needs but at a different level. They have risen on the learning curve, become more aware of what is available and from whom such needs can be met. In many instances the demand for the level of competency, even in small villages has been raised. The ubiquitous cell phone and social networking has identified possibilities.
Many resourced countries are responding by bringing in professionals as both volunteers and financially compensated beyond subsistence levels. Health care is an excellent example as is agriculture. Unfortunately, as we see in the United States, the health profession has its own demands and recruits nurses and others drawing from some of the developing countries. Expecting to fill such needs in the under resourced countries at a level sufficient to effect change requires more than an appeal to volunteer, particularly at a time when many of these individuals have significant demands of families and incurred debt. “Any help is welcome” is not a response.
It is said that the two oldest entities are The Church and universities. While The Church has seen substantive changes over the years, the basic institution remains intact. Universities on the other hand seem to conform more to the disruptive models suggested by Clayton Christensen.
With the arrival of the Internet, institutions in click and brick space are emerging and are challenging the extant model of the Ivory Tower in all areas from basic knowledge creation and transmission to its larger functions within society. The sensibility of the disruptive innovation model seems to hold. Universities, as they exist today, evolved from their founding about 1000 years ago, and for the most part, will exist in the future. But they will be significantly changed, informed by the emergent competitive paths that effectively meet the immediate and long term needs of the society in which they are imbedded.
In the past, these Ivory Towers might be considered as points of knowledge creation and concentration in a darkened plain, a source to attract seekers of such learning along an arduous path to arrive and access that knowledge. Over time ICT, information/communication technologies, have evolved making it easier to access knowledge but not with the same urgency to travel to a “Tower”. Simultaneously, scholars and researchers, in the past dispersed, came together at these centers; yet, today, except for the necessity of physical resources, that need has changed, also, but in ways different from the past. In many research driven disciplines, faculty collegiality around singular research is greater across institutions than with the faculty next door.
What would happen if the faculty and students in all the public universities in the United States in September of 2016, starting on Labor Day, called for a one week teach-in that shut the normal campus programs down across the US to explore the issues at hand and create a plan that would re-capitalize and re-energize the academic spirit, the core rationale for public education in general and public universities in particular.
The news feeds in both click and brick space have noted that universities across the United States acquired 1.2 billion USD for sports programs and facilities. In parallel, there are continued reports of academic budgets being reduced in public universities while private, ranked universities in the United States continue to grow their endowments.
While there is continued reporting of cuts in specific universities, there seems to be little concrete action and visible support from the academic community at large other than ululations and condemnations while faculty and students seem to be ducking for cover.
We have seen programs at universities organize around concerns that either lie outside of the institutions or peripherally have focus within the disciplinary areas. Civil rights, the Viet Nam war, and various social issues within the United States such as GLBT or the rights of various minority groups (e.g. “Black Lives Matter”) or economic disparity (wealth amongst the 1%) have commanded various levels of attention/action.