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Tuesday, Apr 23, 2024
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Universities Must Learn Lessons on How to Change

Universities in America (California in particular) face a challenge unparalleled in the history of higher education.

There is no doubt the budget cuts have caused a great deal of pain and suffering and uncertainty to our future. But as President Obama’s chief of staff said early in his administration, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

The world has changed. Universities must change, too.

We have not done well eliminating the “silos” of knowledge that we have created for the student. We have recognized changes in the knowledge base, and often established new courses, even new majors, to meet the challenges. We seldom eliminate any or merge them.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, a news weekly covering the nation’s higher education sector, recently offered the theory that “Majors are scholarly silos standing in the way of learning,” and are part of the reason administrators and faculty have such a difficult time making changes that count.

Learn To Learn

What is important is that young people “learn how to learn” (acquire vital thinking skills) in college; and if possible, find out what they can be passionate about.

According to the Labor Department a few years ago, people will “have 10 to 14 jobs by age 38.” At the time, former Education Secretary Richard Riley said that “the top 10 jobs that will be in demand (don’t yet exist) and they will be using technologies that haven’t been invented. In order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”

With the proliferation of the Internet, the computerization of news archives and libraries available on the World Wide Web, literally thousands of references are available at the click of a mouse.

The challenge today is not acquiring information; it is determining which information is relevant.

We know, too, as work has become something we will do for a long time, and that we are living longer, you better find something you like; better yet, find something you love doing.

Alan Kay, the computer scientist and inventor known for his pioneering work on software and design, was fond of saying, “If you love making baskets, stick to it, you will probably be the best basket maker in the world, and make a ton of money.” I don’t know any basket makers, so I don’t know how well they do financially, but you get the point.

We sorely need to restructure our universities and provide the new curriculum our global, technology-driven future demands. In an age where we are discovering that everything is connected to everything else, the interdisciplinary curriculum is the one that best serves students in this new and uncertain future.

John M. Eger is Van Deerlin endowed chair of communications and public policy in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University.

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