Professor Duderstadt is the author of The Chicago Council’s forthcoming Heartland Paperreport on “A Master Plan for Higher Education in the Midwest: A Roadmap to the Future of the Nation’s Heartland.” The report will be released at an evening public program on Thursday, March 31, in Chicago where a panel featuring Professor Duderstadt; Michael Hogan, president of the University of Illinois; and Jerry Sue Thornton, president of Cuyahoga Community College, will comment on the findings and recommendations. This event is open to the public, and registration information is available online here.
by James J. Duderstadt, President Emeritus, Professor of Science and Engineering, and Director of the Millennium Project at the University of Michigan
In his recent book, Caught in the Middle, Richard Longworth portrays the challenge to the Midwestern United States in a compelling way:
Today, the Midwest region is in transition, struggling to retain the best of its social, cultural, and economic traditions while at the same time trying to reinvent itself for success in a very different economic milieu. Much of its current malaise reflects the passing of an agrarian and industrial economy that supported the region for a century. Part of it is the arrival of globalization and three billion new workers, most from Asia and Eastern Europe, each ready to do the heavy lifting and low-skill assembly-line work that once put bread on Midwestern tables. Part of it is the dawning of the knowledge economy in a region where a high school diploma used to buy a ticket to the middle-class life—and today is only the fare to poverty.
To achieve prosperity and security in a hypercompetitive global, knowledge-driven economy, the American Midwest faces the challenge of transforming what was once the farming and manufacturing center of the world economy into what could become its knowledge center. Put another way, while the Midwest region once provided the muscle for the manufacturing economy that powered the twentieth century, now it must make the commitment and the investments necessary to become the brains of the twenty-first century knowledge economy.
For the past four decades, I have experienced (and endured) this wrenching transformation at ground zero as a faculty member and then president of the University of Michigan. From this experience, as well as many others at the national and international level, I have become convinced of several imperatives of the brave, new world facing the Midwest: First, knowledge and innovation are the drivers of the global economy today, and their importance will only intensify in the future. Second, and as a consequence, educated people, the knowledge they produce, and the innovation and entrepreneurial skills they possess have become the keys to economic prosperity, public health, national security, and social well-being. Third, while the characteristics of the American culture—a diverse population, democratic values, free-market practices, a predictable legal system—provide a fertile environment for innovation, history has shown that significant public and private investment is necessary to produce the key ingredients of innovation: new knowledge (e.g., research), world-class human capital (e.g., education), infrastructure (e.g., institutions, facilities, and networks), and policies (e.g., tax, investment, and intellectual property). And finally, I agree completely with Longworth and many others that while action at the state and national level will be important, the vision, power, and opportunity is shifting rapidly to the regional level driven by major metropolitan areas.
Hence when Richard Longworth approached me to prepare a report for The Chicago Council’s Heartland Papers series on the role of higher education could play—indeed, must play—in the transformation of the Midwest region into a learning- and innovation-driven society, I was pleased to respond. My first inclination was to approach this task very much in the spirit of the California Master Plan, developed by President Clark Kerr of the University of California and his colleagues during a period of extraordinary economic and demographic change in 1960. Yet, my own experience with both that state and the University of California made it clear that while a “master plan” focused on higher education made sense in the mid-twentieth century, today one must broaden considerations to include all stages of education—K-12, higher education, workplace training, lifelong learning—indeed, “cradle to grave” learning needs, opportunities, and experiences. Furthermore, such a study would have to encompass all of the missions of the contemporary university—education, scholarship, engagement, health care, economic development, innovation, entrepreneurial activities, and, of course, traditional roles, such as preserving and transmitting culture and serving as a social critic. Finally, while the California Master Plan was an extraordinary success, setting simple albeit challenging and compelling goals that would guide public higher education in the state for decades, today it is likely that a “strategic process” will be more important than a “strategic plan.” Here my experience with the Bologna Process that is currently transforming higher education in Europe would be invaluable.
This report, then, should be viewed as one effort to develop not only a vision and plan to utilize the Midwest’s rather considerable higher education assets to enable its transformation into a learning and innovation society, but as well to suggest both tactics and a process required to sustain this effort for the long haul.