CSUN Faculty Take on Task of Exploring the Future of Higher Education
(NORTHRIDGE, Calif., Mar. 23rd, 2011) ―
It is a simple question, but its answer has ramifications well beyond the walls that define California State University, Northridge. What is the future of higher education in California and the rest of the nation?
State legislatures across the country are slashing funding for public universities and colleges while at the same time tuitions and fees at those same institutions keep climbing, putting a college degree further and further out of reach for many Americans. The situation is no different in California, once hailed as a model of what public higher education should be for the rest of the nation.
Cal State Northridge’s faculty have formed a Committee on the Future of Higher Education in hopes of bringing together various interested parties, not just academics, to start a dialogue on what higher education might become in the 21st century.
“There’s been a lot of talk, about the future of higher education, but no place, no center, for facilitating dialogue,” said cinema and television arts professor Michael Hoggan, one of the principals behind the committee’s formation. “We’re hoping to become that center.”
Hoggan said a lot of hard decisions are being made in Sacramento and other state capitals around the country that could dramatically impact public universities and colleges, “and it seems that not a lot of thought is being given to what those decisions will mean five, 10, 50 years down the road, not just for academia but for the rest of the nation as well.”
To that end, the committee, with the support of CSUN Provost Harry Hellenbrand, is organizing a conference, “CSU: The Next Fifty Years,” to explore the future of higher education in California. Students, faculty, staff, members of the California State University Board of Trustees, elected officials and their representatives, business leaders and members of the public have been invited to take part in a daylong discussion on April 22. Among those who have already agreed to take part are CSU Chancellor Charles Reed and state Sen. Alex Padilla. For more information about the conference, visit the website http://www.csun.edu/csufuture/.
Steven Stepanek, chair of the Department of Computer Science and chair of the Faculty Senate, said the April meeting is the second in a series of conversations the Faculty Senate, which created the committee, hopes to have about higher education.
“The first meeting took place last January during the faculty retreat, where we focused on CSUN,” Stepanek said. “The upcoming one takes a look at the CSU, and we hope to have one in the fall addressing nationwide higher education issues. We’re hoping to inspire a dialogue among important stakeholders, not just among faculty, about the issues facing higher education.”
` Hoggan said the issues facing higher education do not just involve economics, “though economics is driving the engine at the moment,” he said.
“For instance, we just received an indictment from the Academy Award-winning documentary, ‘Inside Job,’ that clearly states that the hallowed halls of academia have a lot to do with the economic situation we are in,” he said. “That raises moral issues about our role in society and our complicity and accountability as institutions.”
Hoggan said some people have argued that the role of universities is to fill the employment needs of the business community.
“But there’s also a feeling in America that we lack people with imagination, with ingenuity. How do we fill that gap?” he asked. “For the benefit of our fledgling democracy and the nation we are so proud of, we have to be in front of what is happening and address the issues that arise amidst all the changes and challenges that are occurring right now.”
Stepanek and Hoggan said the faculty are hoping that April’s conference will spark a serious conversation about higher education.
“We need to get people from all walks of life to seriously consider the questions: What do we want the future of this county to be like? And what role higher education plays in the answer?” Hoggan said.
The committee’s creation, he said, was inspired by student protests last year against state budget cuts to education.
“We’re a university. We have a whole brain trust here. Why are we not offering solutions?” he said, adding that the solutions should not just come from the “hallowed halls of academia.”
“Everyone has a vested interest in our future,” Hoggan said. “What we can do at Cal State Northridge is provide them with a place to bring people together to talk about solutions to the problems we face, and to share those solutions with others.”