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Jody Greene (UC Santa Cruz, Assoc Provost for Academic Success) and I have been talking together about academic change and academic success every Thursday on Zoom for the last 18 months. We do this because we learn from another and we do this because we insist on finding light even when things are murkiest and we are good at lifting one another up when we feel drowned by our respective academic jobs. (That’s my first piece of advice: If academe is getting you down, find a buddy and make a resolution to life one another. Stick to that resolution!)

Last month, Jody and I felt like we’d talked enough between ourselves and it was now time to share our deliberations with the world. We outlined ten topics and began recording our conversations on Zoom. With the help of doctoral Futures Initiative Fellow Will Edward Arguelles, we plan to edit these into a book, definitely still keeping the dialogic/conversational/thinking-through-together format. It’s practical but also idealistic. Besides being a brilliant thinker and higher ed administrator, Jody is a devout Buddhist teacher who has institutional experience organizing large, complex Zen operations: it helps!Our book is inspired by the Japanese proverb “Nana korobi, ya oki”:  Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight.

Chapter Three is called “People who Inspire Us,” and begins with Jody asking me “Who are some voices or leaders who inspire you?” I kicked off what turned out to be an inspiring exchange about half a dozen educational visionaries (plus Chef Jose Andres!). I began with Dianne Harris, Dean of Arts and Sciences at the University of Washington. Dianne moved to UW a few years ago and almost immediately assembled a group of “Futurists” in a “Rethinking the Academy” initiative.

About a dozen faculty members across fields are, together, spending serious time listening, learning, reading, going on retreats, and tackling the future of higher ed. Their goal, I think, is mostly to offer models and to inspire colleagues to think beyond turf and silos, to really consider what is needed now to change higher ed. What’s inspired is they don’t have to think about “implementation.” At least not at this phase. Their goal now is to think ten, twenty, thirty years out–envisioning the university we desire, imagining how to create the university we need.

I wish every task force, every strategic initiative planning committee, every “reform the curriculum” committee would begin with a serious Futurist conversation, aiming at the stars before coming down to earth to tinker. It would help having the aspirations out front and center first.

Among the many things to come out of the UW Futurists is a set of “Guiding Principles. These are wonderful, inspiring principles that that seem like a baseline for any kind of significant higher ed change.

These Guiding Principles are: 

  • Engage from a place of trust 
  • Recognize and celebrate our differences 
  • Promote the common good 
  • Pursue social justice 
  • Foster community 
  • Support risk, learn from failure, applaud success 
  • Seek joy in our work
  • Remember why we are here

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Cathy N. Davidson

Cathy N. Davidson

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