The Innovators Dilemma
I’ve always been fascinated with the innate fear of a future state that is different from the one in which we currently reside. I pursued my doctoral degree in higher education and organizational behavior in part for this reason, choosing the study of academic entrepreneurship and the innate tension between what we should provide as a societal good (i.e., free) and a private good (i.e., not free) and the forces that impact this.
Clayton Christensen, one of the most influential scholars of change, proposed in his seminal 1997 book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, that large businesses can become entrenched in a paradigm approach to what constitutes value to whom they serve and discover that what seemed like a fringe, often higher cost, “inferior” innovation by someone else suddenly eclipses them. Think mini mills in the steel industry (recall my message a year ago on that when visiting Bethlehem, PA), digital photography (remember Kodak?), and personal computers (IBM vs. Apple). In 2011, he followed up with a new book focused on the higher education industry, The Innovative University. Coming on the heels of the great recession and an unprecedented jump in college enrollments for many, especially community colleges and regional state universities, however, the threat, he argued, of online competition and personalized learning seemed overblown. His proposal to embrace new business models with industry and to foster a culture of innovation did have some adopters, but even that has been pursued in fits and starts.

As you well know, we embraced online learning and now reap the benefits. Number enrolled Spring 2020: 0. Number enrolled Spring 2023: 3,126. And, none of these students are traditional aged. Furthermore, having adopted the Quality Matters framework, students have a consistent experience across their courses, and metrics such as retention are trending at or above on-campus students.
What I now challenge us to consider are Christensen’s personalized learning and business partnerships points. Regarding the former, as you know from my February message, we confront a paradigm-changing innovation in the form of artificial intelligence. The dilemma is whether we should embrace it—something that will make the traditional classroom lecture dinosaur-like given its assumption that all students learn the same—or reject it given AIs potential for cheating or perceived threat to one’s livelihood. I’ve come to feel that we have no choice but to embrace it—it will not go away—and suggest its responsible pursuit. I have had a number of conversations with faculty and have been pleased to hear about ways they are redesigning teaching and assignments with AI in mind, integrating tools like ChatGPT to enable students to evaluate their own work, and even using it in the artistic creation process. Academic Affairs, as part of its annual May Workshop Series (this year on May 17 and the morning of May 18), will be convening faculty to engage how they have been, and are considering, integrating AI for learning.
With respect to business partnerships, Christensen suggests that these are more important than ever, particularly as an alternative revenue source in light of state funding that has not kept pace with institutional costs and to ensure saliency in the marketplace. Our certificate-based strategy, when there is intentionality of consultation with external businesses and other organizations with need, can be especially valuable in this regard. Another way business partnerships has been and can be valuable to us is where we confront a supply problem for faculty. In nursing, for example, the pipeline for new nurses can be expanded (a societal need) when we are more intentional about integrating nurses from the field who have an interest in teaching, perhaps as part of their retirement transition, something that we have started to engage more actively.
In yet another of Christensen’s books, Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, he offers this insight: “Motivation is the catalyzing ingredient for every successful innovation. The same is true for learning.” We live in a tumultuous time. Fear of the unknown can be paralyzing; let’s be motivated together to make this moment consequential for this University and the communities we serve.

Academic News
Academic Affairs May Workshop Series. Faculty and professional staff are cordially invited to the third annual May Workshop Series. On May 15 and 16, the annual Diversity and Justice Workshop will occur, with a focus on the subject of inclusive teaching. If you have not participated before, we urge you to consider it. More information can be found by contacting the director, Danielle Wallace. The Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) components of the series will be held on May 17 (9 a.m.-3 p.m.) and May 18 (9 a.m.-12 noon) and feature sessions by the first class of CTE’s faculty Ubuntu Fellows, sessions on AI, and, back by popular demand, a session led by students entitled, What Great Teaching Looks Like from a Student’s Perspective. More information can be found by contacting Liz Brown, director of the CTE. A full program will be posted to the Provost’s Office website shortly.
Workshop for Student Success Teams. Faculty mentors, professional advisors, financial aid counselors, and career counselors will participate in a morning workshop on May 23 in the University Commons Ballrooms. These persons make up what we have branded to our students and the external community as a student’s “success team.” The workshop will lay the groundwork for teambuilding and coordination on this important effort. Department chairs, deans, associate deans, and other key campus leaders will also participate. More details can be found on the Provost’s Office website under the faculty as mentor link.
Academic Program Assessment Reports. As the Provost discussed at the Faculty Senate Meeting on April 25, the annual reports (by college) on program vitality are posted to the Provost’s Office website. In addition, his letter to the Faculty Senate, and metrics document, are also posted to the site.
University Student Academic Awards Ceremony. This annual event in which our colleges and departments honor our students’ achievements will be held on May 15 at 7 p.m. in Shea Center. Faculty attendees should come in regalia. Line up is at 6:30 p.m. Please RSVP ASAP to [email protected].
Facts & Figures
  • 3,310. Total number of continuing students re-enrolled for Fall 2023 as of May 1.
  • 6,500. Fall 2023 goal for total re-enrollment of continuing students.
  • 51%. Progress as of May 1 toward continuing student re-enrollment goal with 137 days to go.
This is a critical moment before current students leave for the summer to guide them to re-enroll for the fall, or to enroll in the summer. Please help them to do so!
What ChatGPT returned when asked, “What are the most impactful quotes that shaped U.S. higher education?

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
— Nelson Mandela
“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”
 — Martin Luther King Jr.
“The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.”
Herbert Spencer

“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”
John Dewey
The Provost’s Office is Brenda, Claudia T., Claudia C., Jonathan, Kara, Rhonda, Sandy, and Josh. You can reach us at 973.720.2122 • [email protected]
Office of the Provost | 973.720.2122 | [email protected]