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March 21, 2014 8:01 AM Higher Education’s Innovation Problem

By Daniel Luzer

Recently the New Republic published an interesting piece about America’s strange obsession with innovation, a fun economic buzzword that rarely translates into actual policy. As the author wrote,

“Innovation” appeals to the left and the right, both of which claim it as their own. For the left, the case is plausible, at least in the abstract. The values of innovation—uncompromising experimentation, radical impatience with the current order—seem squarely of progressive provenance. But the left’s ecstatic celebration of innovation helps to conceal its glaring absence of a robust technology policy—at least one that is independent of Silicon Valley and serves social goods greater than flying cars and longevity pills.

The right’s got its own problems with innovation. Its politicians also love the idea of innovation but seem often to “celebrate the fruits of ‘creative destruction,’ without spending a moment fretting about its impact on the culture. That’s because many conservatives consider “innovation” a mere synonym for deregulation.”

But the innovation idea is big, really big, in higher ed talk, too. And perhaps equally dumb, for Who Moved My Cheese-style change-is-awesome-just-because-it’s-change reasons. But now there’s a program in college innovation.

One might think academia would be resistant to the idea of change or, at any rate, resistant to change devoid of any specific content. But here we go. According to a piece at Inside Higher Ed:

Arizona State University and Georgetown University’s presidents announced Tuesday that the two universities are teaming up to create the Institute for Innovation in Higher Education Leadership.
The institute, which will begin as a pilot program this fall, is envisioned as an executive training program that will meet over four long weekends each year.

The program is apparently designed for “college leaders, including executives, trustees and others.”

Yeah, well, good luck with that. In general real innovation is not the sort of thing one can teach in an executive training program; you’ve either got a good new plan or you don’t. I suppose it might be somewhat inspiring to get an idea from someone else you meet at these long weekends, but couldn’t innovative idea sharing work just as well over a Listserv?

The article explains that “the program is entering a space somewhat occupied already by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the American Council on Education and several trade associations.”

Harvard GSE has a week-long seminar for new college presidents every July. For $6,325 newly-minted presidents can participate in sessions designed to prepare them for “the opportunities and hazards they will likely face and…to respond to the multiple responsibilities and constituencies of their new role.”

And how many great innovations have resulted from this program?

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer

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