Academia in crisis: Brian Hawkins addresses the NITLE Summit — NITLE

Brian L. Hawkins, co-founder of the Frye Institute and the first president of EDUCAUSE, gave an impassioned presentation “The Information Resource Professional: Transformation, Tradition & Trajectory” to an engaged group of conference participants at last week’s NITLE Summit. He didn’t mince words: along with institutions in all other sectors of higher education, it is urgent that liberal arts colleges invent a new future together, working in true collaboration. Today’s uniquely dire higher education fiscal environment is the driver. Institutional failures to respond energetically will result in the institution not surviving (emphasis DSC).

Hawkins based his argument both on astute observation of the current milieu and on comparisons with the trajectory of events and transformations he observed during his long and distinguished career of higher education leadership (emphasis DSC). Drawing on his experience in roles ranging from Senior Vice President at Brown University to EDUCAUSE leader, and returning to his many publications and presentations throughout that career, Hawkins delineated the current environment, painting an unsettling picture: (emphasis DSC — which I call a game-changing environment).

  • Public universities, once beneficiaries of state support, are increasingly competing for the same tuition and research dollars as private institution, and public funding will likely not return.
  • Private institutions are increasingly priced beyond the means of most American families.
  • Smaller colleges and universities are as vulnerable to environmental stresses as fish in small fish tanks.
  • The model of higher education that has obtained in the US for 130 years “is broken and no longer works.”
  • Because of the constrained fiscal environment we face as a nation, higher education has lost its traditional political supporters in state and federal government. Politically “we have no allies.”
  • Institutions are dysfunctional: resistant to change, slow to adapt, fraught with “special interests,” mistaken that they can return to an earlier time, and precluded by their own distinguished and complex histories from “starting over.”
  • The “new normal,” as delineated by Cornell president David Skorton in the opening plenary (PDF) at  NAICU’s annual meeting this part January, includes lost endowment income, weakened fund raising, smaller tuition increases, and more demands for financial aid, moving forward.
  • The global information environment has evolved far more quickly than have educational institutions.

…Hawkins further stressed the critical importance of genuinely transformative inter-institutional collaborations: “We have to stop thinking of collaboration as an avocational approach…… it is the only means of competitive survival.”