Think Again

It always seems impossible until it is done.

– Nelson Mandela 

Over the past year I have researched, written, and zoomed my thoughts on the reimagined university Post Corona. My recommendations included replacing strategic plans with vision plans, year- long academic offerings, in person and online teaching, re-constructing the recruitment and admission processes, differential pricing, unbundling of costs, partnering with alternative educational providers, re-configuring classroom and residential spaces, and creating a lifelong relationship with students.

I have received numerous emails from provosts, enrollment managers, and admission deans that what I suggest is iconoclastic and can never be implemented because it is simply too difficult to change entrenched academic and administrative practices, especially when the residuals of the pandemic present more immediate challenges. I understand.

And then I read Think Again by Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist who teaches at The Wharton School. What Professor Grant details in his book compliments many of the recommendations I have made about the need for colleges and universities to reimagine who they are and what they do and why they do it.

The basic premise of Think Again is the need to rethink and unlearn previously held beliefs. There is resistance to rethinking just as there is resistance to reimagining. Clinging to old beliefs is less difficult than embracing new ones. Too often chief executives surround themselves with colleagues and staff who never challenge thought processes and the status quo.  The author writes:

We favor the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt. Question the validity of past practices. Are they valid now or frozen in the past? Question best practices which imply an endpoint. We should be looking not for best practices but for better practices.

The author challenges the reader to become interested in discovering what we don’t know and embrace the joy of being wrong. He suggests why we should question certain practices that have always been done a certain way. Above all, Professor Grant urges the reader to embrace curiosity.

Rethinking and reimagining are mindsets.

If there is any leader who thinks we are going to go back to where we were a year ago, they are lying to themselves.

Terri E. Givers, Chief Executive Officer of the Center for Higher Education Leadership.

It’s hard to think hard.

How many of you, reading this bulletin, have heard the following:?

That’s not the way we do things.

It will never work here.

It’s too complicated.

We don’t have the staff.

We don’t have the money.

We can’t think from the end. We plan for the next academic year.

I understand the complexities of reimagining higher education and the difficulty of planning for a reimagined college or university while still grappling with an uncertain present.

But I also believe that unless some energy and effort is devoted to creating a reimagined higher education future, “calcified ideologies,” will remain entrenched. Making decisions based on past data cannot allow for new ways of thinking to emerge. There is a difference between what we think and how we think.

Higher education’s crosscurrents have changed. And rethinking and reimagining will be the currency of the future. We can either manage change or become victimized by it.

The editors of Covid-19 and the World, a publication of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, believe that the pandemic offers the opportunity to rethink and revitalize the current international system, and that includes higher education.

We do not yet know what the world will “look like” when the current threats of this pandemic ends. We do know that in its wake will be different concepts of normal in the national and international world order.

And in the world of higher education.

Progress is impossible without change and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

George Bernard Shaw

Think again.