January 7 2019

From Mark Lombardi, "PIVOT" co-author and President of Maryville University. 

"I fell in love with the academy the first day I walked into an international relations class as a graduate teacher in 1982. Like most graduate instructors, we were thrown into the breach to teach introductory classes that tenured faculty were too busy or otherwise occupied with their research to teach. With no training save our love of the discipline, our ideals, and our desire to feed ourselves, we taught and taught and taught some more.

That was also the beginning of my subtle awareness that the academy had more than its fair share of incongruities. We were teaching thousands of students whose parents were paying large sums of money, but we were never trained to teach. Classes were structured solely around content, not student-learning theory. We assigned texts and crafted lectures that reflected our own undergraduate experience. The exams we gave usually tested only one method of learning. We graded them in the wee hours of the morning and then moved on to the next class. Those of us who fell in love with teaching and put a great deal of effort into it were labeled “non-researchers” by our faculty. Those who placed greater focus on research with their faculty mentors were deemed stars, destined for disciplinary greatness.

As a tenured faculty member at the University of Tampa, my love for the academy deepened. As with all great loves, though, familiarity exposed me to its underlying flaws, inconsistencies, and downright absurdities. I observed two deeply entrenched forces. The first was the academy’s historic resistance to change. The second was self-preservation. An undercurrent of peer pressure told you at every turn that if you questioned the fundamental elements of the academy, the wrath of your colleagues would leave you ostracized at best and unemployed at worst. As I gradually turned to the “dark side” of education administration, the absurdities only grew, especially amidst the societal winds of change ushered in by the computer chip and all the transformations that have poured forth as a result.

Today, higher education is in the midst of a revolution as profound as the renaissance. It can and must reinvent itself around dynamic principles of mobility and flexibility, with student-centered engagement rooted in learning theory and data science. It must enter the twenty-first century, removing the shackles of stasis and cultural defense. Essentially, it must think and act in a wholly different manner.

The choice is clear. We can lead a revolution that makes higher education truly the centerpiece of an innovative and vibrant civil society, or we can defend our culture and methods and suffer what I fear will be a long and painful death. Universities around the country faced with this are stymied by a lack of courage, choosing inaction over urgency—with dire consequences for their ability to continue to serve their students well into the future.

This book is a call to my old first love. The revolution upon us is one that can revitalize the academy, making it central, relevant, and vibrant in service of all students. The tactics and strategies are right in front of us—all we have to do, as Lincoln said, is disenthrall ourselves of the quiet dogmas of the past. All we have to do is act."


Learn more about Dr. Lombardi here and stay tuned to our PIVOT blog series to find out more about why the authors chose to write about this important topic.

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