A View of Major Trends at Research Universities

E.F. Infante

Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs University of Minnesota

There is no doubt about it—we find ourselves in a changed and changing environment. I am reminded of the remark that the only person who likes a change is a baby with a wet diaper, and that only so that she may return to the "initial condition." Change is painful but nevertheless necessary if we, within the academic community, are going to retain and strengthen our core, enduring values.

In this workshop, we are focusing on the mathematical sciences, on the research funding environment, and on education in mathematics. I thought it desirable to attempt to verbalize the changing environment of our universities, for they are crucial to our mathematical enterprise. The mathematical sciences, perhaps more than the other sciences, are very university-based; moreover, the ubiquitous nature of mathematics—in precollegiate education and throughout the industrial and service sectors of our economy—does not give it a center outside our research universities. To preserve the strength and appropriately meet the challenges facing the mathematical sciences requires actions that must be centered at our research universities. It is thus essential that we attempt to understand the challenges that these institutions are facing.

What I will attempt to contribute to this workshop is an articulation of the external pressures on higher education as an enterprise, and an outline of what seem to me the notable challenges, trends, and responses on the part of our universities.

External Pressures and Challenges

There seem to me to be a very large number of trends, pressures, and concerns that our society and its political and economic leadership are imposing on the higher educational establishment. A cacophony of voices, a diversity of expectations, and contradictory requests are all evident. One clear message, and I believe a positive one, is that our society well understands the importance of our higher educational institutions, and has insistent—although diverse—expectations. To better attempt to understand these, and the changed environment within which they take place, I describe them within four categories:

  • The fragmentation of the stakeholders' interests in higher education;
  • The change in the nature of the demand for university education;
  • The limitations of resources (and the corresponding increase in accountability); and
  • The globalization of higher education.

There is abundant evidence that the coherence of expectations of the past 50 years by the many stakeholders in higher education is badly frayed. The end of the Cold War, very serious



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A View of Major Trends at Research Universities E.F. Infante Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs University of Minnesota There is no doubt about it—we find ourselves in a changed and changing environment. I am reminded of the remark that the only person who likes a change is a baby with a wet diaper, and that only so that she may return to the "initial condition." Change is painful but nevertheless necessary if we, within the academic community, are going to retain and strengthen our core, enduring values. In this workshop, we are focusing on the mathematical sciences, on the research funding environment, and on education in mathematics. I thought it desirable to attempt to verbalize the changing environment of our universities, for they are crucial to our mathematical enterprise. The mathematical sciences, perhaps more than the other sciences, are very university-based; moreover, the ubiquitous nature of mathematics—in precollegiate education and throughout the industrial and service sectors of our economy—does not give it a center outside our research universities. To preserve the strength and appropriately meet the challenges facing the mathematical sciences requires actions that must be centered at our research universities. It is thus essential that we attempt to understand the challenges that these institutions are facing. What I will attempt to contribute to this workshop is an articulation of the external pressures on higher education as an enterprise, and an outline of what seem to me the notable challenges, trends, and responses on the part of our universities. External Pressures and Challenges There seem to me to be a very large number of trends, pressures, and concerns that our society and its political and economic leadership are imposing on the higher educational establishment. A cacophony of voices, a diversity of expectations, and contradictory requests are all evident. One clear message, and I believe a positive one, is that our society well understands the importance of our higher educational institutions, and has insistent—although diverse—expectations. To better attempt to understand these, and the changed environment within which they take place, I describe them within four categories: The fragmentation of the stakeholders' interests in higher education; The change in the nature of the demand for university education; The limitations of resources (and the corresponding increase in accountability); and The globalization of higher education. There is abundant evidence that the coherence of expectations of the past 50 years by the many stakeholders in higher education is badly frayed. The end of the Cold War, very serious

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social problems, and the changing expectations regarding an appropriate education for today's job market cause a diversity of claims by different stakeholders. Universities are bombarded by fresh concerns about the balance between teaching, research, and service to the community. Research universities are being particularly criticized for an overemphasis on research, the questionable relevance of some research, and a lack of attention to teaching. The new language of customer orientation is used to state that the student is the customer (some of us still believe she is an investor), and that research and outreach must be focused on problems of immediate relevance. At the same time, there is a deep understanding within the leadership of our society that the benefits of our investments in research have been enormous and are the foundation of our economic strength. It is notable that, in spite of indicators that our political leadership values undergraduate education more highly than research, there continues to be a deep commitment to sustaining our university-based research enterprise. There seems to be a developing agreement among thoughtful observers that the established paradigm of teaching, research, and service, with its implication of separate and contradictory activities to be carefully balanced, is yielding to what seems to me a more descriptive paradigm of learning, transmitting, and applying knowledge. And this, I believe, is supportive of our research universities. The fragmentation of stakeholders' interests in higher education is particularly deep between the public, elected officials, boards of trustees, and faculty of our institutions. Parents, and the public, are clamoring for access, affordability, and, increasingly, a vocational-oriented education that prepares the student for entry into the job market; the public feels squeezed financially, expects value for its investment, and demands relevance. Public officials' concerns center on effectiveness and efficiency; they share the public concern over relevance and job preparation but are conscious of the importance of investments in long-term research that addresses economic, medical, and technological needs. Internally, within the universities, faculties espouse the traditional core intellectual and academic values that on the surface seem to contradict those of the public and of their elected representatives. This fragmentation of interests is underscored by the changing nature of the demand for university education. In orientation, values, and structure, higher education is still fundamentally based on concepts developed when participation in higher education was the privilege of a small minority of individuals in the 18- to 22-year age range. Today, participation in higher education has expanded enormously to include almost two-thirds of those in this traditional age range, plus a significant number of older, part-time students. In today's job market a college degree is becoming as necessary as a high school diploma used to be; the differences in compensation and in opportunity for advancement are striking. Furthermore, there is an increasing need for training and retraining of college-educated individuals. Thus, a focus on job-oriented education and on economic participation is driving an emphasis on relevance—indeed on what can be called vocationalism—and thus changing the demand structure for higher education. Let it be understood that this trend is occurring not only at the undergraduate level but also at the postbaccalaureate level, with profound effects on the support of, demand for, and appropriate preparation of participants in graduate programs. There is no disagreement that resources in support of higher education are limited. Indeed, in some areas we have faced net decreases, in spite of increased demands. In the public sector, higher education and research are "discretionary" expenditures, corollaries to major

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decisions—and increased expenditures—on health care, environment and social services, and elementary education. During the next 7 years, it is expected that higher education will increase by 20%, with, at best, half of that increase matched in financial resources. It often happens that when legislatures, or Congress, have no funds to appropriate, they instead regulate and add to the accountability process. In spite of the well-deserved demise of the U.S. Department of Education's Post-secondary Review Entities, this increase in accountability and the burden it places on higher education is continuing. This is evident in regulations imposed on grant management by both the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, in rules regulating faculty workload and financial aid for students, and in the use of "performance funding" mechanisms of financial support institutions of higher education. Finally, the globalization of the economy is also having its impact on the globalization of higher education and research. We in the United States have become accustomed to playing an overwhelmingly dominant role in graduate education and research in relation to the rest of the world. Clearly, globalization implies that we cannot expect to continue to do so, and this change is particularly important for our graduate programs in the mathematical sciences. Internal Responses What are the academic community's most essential responses to these external changes? I suggest they are the following: Adapting to less money; Dealing with increased accountability; Utilizing technology; Developing novel roles and responsibilities for the faculty; and Developing new activities and new forms of competition and cooperation. Our universities have been adapting to the shrinkage of resources in three stages. The first stage has consisted of what could be called "pruning plus across-the-board cuts." We have experienced reductions in faculty and administrative personnel and the elimination of very small and marginal activities (seldom, academic programs). This stage was expected to provide an appropriate bridging to a near future when resources would increase again. But resources have not increased. The second stage, in which many of our institutions are now involved, is an adaptation of the use of market mechanisms: "responsibility-centered management," "cost centers," and ''revenue centers" are terms we are getting to know. These methods are meant to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of our operations through the use of incentives. There are few questions about the application of these management methodologies to the administrative and supportive structures of our universities; there is much more concern about their application to the academic core. Nevertheless, these means of adaptation to difficult times are being implemented, with some successes and many concerns. I believe it is inevitable that these forms of accountability and incentive will become pervasive; and I am equally convinced that it will

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take considerable wisdom on our part not to misuse these tools within the academy, where values, not costs, are the most important characteristic. The third stage is what is commonly referred to as reengineering. We already see reengineering efforts being applied in the more financially stressed units of our universities, such as medical schools and related hospitals. The efforts of reengineering consist of radically changing the processes and structures, including the curriculum, of these units. We at the University of Minnesota are undergoing such an effort in the health sciences, with considerable anxiety, anguish, and concern. Given these trends, I believe that we must be prepared, as individual faculty members, to intelligently involve ourselves in reengineering activities. The most fundamental of our processes is the learning process; I posit that everything at a university depends on it. How does one reengineer that process? Moreover, an academic institution, especially a research university, is the quintessence of the organization for workers who are engaged in the development and dissemination of knowledge, individuals who depend on peer review and collegiality; it is not an industrial organization with easily measurable outputs and processes subject to total quality management (TQM) techniques. But we have little choice but to learn from others and adapt, and hopefully to invent methods designed to increase our effectiveness and efficiency. These methodologies are designed to simultaneously increase effectiveness and efficiency, and thus stretch resources, and to increase accountability at the individual, departmental, and institutional levels. There is a major trend occurring in this area, through the institution of "measures" of performance and through funding mechanisms that depend on them and are meant to reward good performance. Responsibility-centered management within the university and "performance funding" at the institutional level are not the only accountability tools; others imply a plethora of rules and regulations, and of accounting systems that are increasingly burdensome but nonetheless inevitable. It is essential that, if we are going to meet the challenges with which we are presented, we learn to deal effectively with these accountability measures. It is well known that the use of technology has had, and continues to have, a most profound impact on the effectiveness and efficiency of industrial operations. The development of the computer and of information technologies is having a similar effect on the service sector of the economy. Instrumentation, computers, and the use of technology have also profoundly affected research and advanced study; they are now beginning to have a significant effect on scholarly communications. There is an expectation that the use of information technology will also have a major impact on the efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and methodologies of the processes of learning and teaching. This is a promising development that is exciting and intellectually stimulating; thus far, however, it has in general not led to cost reductions. Actually, the opposite has occurred, resulting in major new expenditures for equipment and its maintenance, with mostly desirable new outcomes, but cost increases instead of reductions so far. Moreover, the increase in capital-labor ratio implied by these investments in a period of very limited resources has invariably resulted in a reduction of "labor," that is, in the number of faculty. The most important trend that is occurring within universities is the changing roles and responsibilities of our faculties. No doubt our faculty and the discharge of their roles in learning and discovery are central to any meaningful change that will occur within the university. Increasingly, the faculty is seeing its primary mission as education, in contradistinction to the

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teaching-research-service paradigm, and thus generating a stronger level of connection, integration, and synergy among those components. In looking critically at learning and teaching, faculty are introducing at the undergraduate level what they have done so well at the graduate level, and using new organizational structures and technology to promote more participative learning at the undergraduate level. It is the faculty that is carefully reexamining courses and curricula. The emphasis in our research community on calculus is a notable example of major efforts at curriculum reform. Moreover, and most importantly, faculties' increased interest in education extends beyond the undergraduate level to high school and elementary education. This involvement in K-12 education is desperately needed, for its own sake, but also because our students are formed in that system. This trend is contributing to a profound and positive transformation in the outlook and attitudes of our faculty at research institutes, in how they prepare their graduate students with a new emphasis on teaching, and on teaching careers beyond research universities. Finally, a profound change has occurred in the roles and responsibilities of the faculty that is resulting in a much higher level of involvement in multidisciplinary, multidepartmental work; in a joining together in "team" efforts much more now than in the past; and in the involvement of teachers, undergraduates, graduates, and faculty in joint enterprises that open disciplines, education, and research. This change in roles and responsibilities is making it possible for new activities to be undertaken and new forms of collaboration to exist. The involvement of the faculty in normal activities directed to the K-12 system, interaction with other disciplines in undergraduate teaching, and cooperation with industry in the development of graduate degree programs in response to industrial needs are outstanding examples of the broadening of the horizons of the mathematical research community. These new activities are also bringing about novel forms of cooperation—across other institutions, industrial organizations, and other educational systems—with community colleges, high schools, and elementary schools. They are bringing new competition. U.S. universities are competing with each other more than ever before; they are also competing with other service providers. The competition is not only for students and funds, but also for ideas and opportunities. The responses of the universities show a vigor and energy that contrast with the problems of low morale during this period of change and of discontent. It is a period in which change is also accommodated by low salaries, less than pleasant discussions of tenure and workload, and a most difficult environment for the young scholars who are being prepared for a teaching career. There are few positions for aspiring professors, few accolades for academics, and voiced unhappiness at high costs and low performance. Concluding Remark Change is difficult; it is particularly difficult for those of us who recall little but praise directed at research universities, and great individual opportunities for their scholars. Undoubtedly today, morale is low, we feel unappreciated, and we worry about the future. Yet, if we look carefully, we cannot help but see, amidst the challenges, the strengths of our research universities. And if we listen carefully, we cannot help but hear a commitment from our society to ensure our effectiveness and performance. Let us study our strengths and

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weaknesses and the new environment and let us respond to the opportunities. The quality of our response will determine both the level of our support from society and our performance.