DeGioia, Hockfield Discuss EdX
Published: Friday, January 31, 2014
Updated: Friday, January 31, 2014 02:01
Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia and former Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Susan Hockfield collaborated in the second discussion of the Designing the Future(s) of the University initiative, focusing on the changing roles of higher education in Lohrfink Auditorium on Thursday.
In her presidency at MIT from 2004 to 2012, as well as her previous role as provost at Yale University, Hockfield gained experience by leading universities through changing times. During her tenure, MIT and Harvard University created the edX online learning platform to provide free public access to their courses. Georgetown is currently a member of this partnership as well.
“The human brain in general resists change, and we have to all of us balance our change aversion with the extraordinary appetite for the new,” Hockfield said. “Managing change in an institution that is 150 years old — hundreds of years old if we think of the university in aggregate — I think is a very critical issue.”
Hockfield emphasized that one of the critical ways universities can solve current challenges is to take advantage of diverse faculty.
“We appoint and tenure our faculty because they’re the leaders in their field and they can see beyond the boundaries of the known. ... The way to work at the challenges of the university, the opportunities of the university, is to convene … unusual groups of faculty,” she said. “The last thing you want in a university is a kind of monotonicity in how you think.”
DeGioia connected this idea with the theme of the public good that runs through this Designing the Future(s) series.
“Part of what we do as universities is contribute to the public good. And the knowledge that’s created is shared — we give this out. We make it available, we share it widely,” he said. “Open courseware and now edX are different ways in which we can make the knowledge that’s created in our contexts more of a public good.”
Hockfield also commented on the university’s role in contributing to the public good, particularly as it relates to how a university fosters the essential relationship between education and research.
“We create new knowledge through research, we disseminate new knowledge through teaching and publications, we preserve knowledge in our collections but also, frankly, in our scholars, in the heads and the activities of our scholars — and these are all to the public good,” she said.
Despite all of the emphasis on change, the two speakers highlighted and questioned the role of tradition.
“We know that there’s only one way we’re going to get to where we need to get to and that is together. But our normal rate of change, our normal pace of change, in the university context may be a mismatch right now for some of the threats that we’re confronting,” DeGioia said.
While the speakers acknowledged the importance of formation, they noted that not all traditions need to be carried into the future.
“It is a difficult conversation to have, deciding what part of the culture [or] what part of tradition it’s time to leave behind. And we don’t want to be trapped in the past, we don’t want to look and act and be exactly the way we were five years, ten years, fifty years ago,” Hockfield said.
The event drew predominantly faculty and alumni; a few students, including two student teaching assistants for “The University as a Design Problem,” attended as well.
“Dr. Hockfield is probably the foremost person I would want to hear from about how to reimagine the purpose of a university,” Hilary Cohen (COL ’14) said. “Having the two divergent institutions that she did, Yale and MIT, can really help calibrate Georgetown’s ability to reimagine its own purpose in an authentically Georgetown way.”
Students recognized the importance of discussing these educational changes.
“I think that it’s very helpful for Georgetown to think about the future,” Alex Freeman (COL ’14) said. “I think that too many colleges are not seriously considering the change that’s happening in this educational space right now, so I think that bringing in the thinkers [is] the cornerstone of how we can advance ourselves.”