It seems President Bud Peterson has decided to take another go at developing a 25-year plan for a major university, as he announced to campus Monday by email.
His first, the “Flagship 2030” plan for the University of Colorado at Boulder, referred to a goal of establishing a “new flagship university of the 21st century”. Tech’s current strategic plan contains similar wording: “the technological research university of the 21st century”. While references to the 21st century are textbook marketing-speak, in this case it represents an actual development that has to occur for Tech to remain not just an elite university, but relevant as a driver of progress in our society.
Some of the items in Tech’s new plan will be usual elements of such university strategic plans: improving education and research, promoting diversity, expanding financial aid availability, and so forth. These are worthy and necessary goals but these represent the current status quo. Tech has done a great job at being an excellent institution by the traditional standards of an engineering school. But to truly live up to being a 21st century technological research university, Tech will need big adjustments to its approach.
I strongly believe that, first and foremost, Tech needs to drop the notion that it is an engineering school by definition. Almost as a matter of policy, from the top to the bottom, it seems everything at Tech is supposed to be about engineering first and foremost, and then the other disciplines where there is room left over. Even the selection of Peterson as Tech’s president, depending on which member of the presidential search committee you ask, was based in part on satisfying a requirement of being an engineer. This does not represent much of a commitment to the success of Tech’s other programs on the part of those individuals having control over Tech and its future. For
too many, the primary measure of Tech’s success is how high U.S. News has ranked our engineering programs.
The problem with this is that technology is not just about engineering anymore. Technology is now intimately intertwined with every discipline, including all of the departments and majors at Tech, and it is technology that will carry those disciplines forward into the future. Therefore, in the future a technology-centered institution like Tech should be at the forefront in all sorts of fields, and Tech has the duty of carving new paths for these disciplines to follow. If Tech is doing its job as a technological research university, fifty years from now the institute will be renowned for its research in areas like public policy and computational media, and the success of its alumni in those fields.
Yet, right now non-engineering programs at Tech are often overlooked and discredited. Tech needs to bring these other programs up to the same level of excellence, and meanwhile work to fix their reputations and clear up people’s misconceptions. Such a move, even if it requires diverting resources from the beloved engineering departments, will in the end produce a more complete and better renowned technological research university. This benefits everyone, even the engineers.
Perhaps at this point, we all majors will no longer have a campus where students who aren’t studying engineering feel like they don’t belong here. A campus where students have mutual intellectual respect for one another will produce a more unified campus community and a more pleasant atmosphere. Suffice it to say, with regard to certain majors that intellectual respect doesn’t entirely exist at the moment.
It’s time for Tech to move out of the past. It’s time to forge new definitions of success while forging new campus traditions. I can only offer my own perspective of what that means and how it should be done, but I’ll be severely disappointed in any 25 year plan that doesn’t take very seriously our non-engineering programs and recognize how vital they are to Tech.
Peterson’s message to campus included a reference “directed discussion sessions” to be held this fall as a chance for students to be involved. My suggestion is to take these sessions very seriously and make time to prepare for and attend them. As students, our perspective is critical towards setting Tech’s course for the next 25 years. For most of us, the majority of that time frame will be spent trading on the reputation of Tech as an institution after having graduated, with a degree whose value will be highly dependent on the success of this 25 year plan.