If you’ve had the faintest contact with management theory in the last 15 years, you’ve probably heard of Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator’s Dilemma and originator of the theory of disruptive innovation. A couple of years ago, he teamed up with a co-writer to look at K-12 education in Disrupting Class, and now he’s done the same for universities with Henry Eyring in The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out.
There are a couple of reasons you’ll want to read this book. One is because everyone else is doing it, and you won’t want to be clued out. For instance, le tout Washington seems to have read it; various worthies including Assistant Secretary of State Ochoa seem to be dropping bon mots from the book at will.
And two is because the first hundred pages or so are a very interesting look at Harvard’s historical development, the innovations it undertook under Presidents Eliot, Lowell and Conant from 1869 to 1953 (that’s right – three presidents in 84 years) and how they formed the blueprint for higher education across North America ever since. It’s as enjoyable a slice of educational history as we’ve ever read.
It’s also very instructive (if sometimes lacking in concrete detail) on how certain ingrained traditions in academia – notably the way new courses and programs are approved – have a way of radically escalating costs, and it shows some interesting ways in which institutions can reduce expenditures through better process. Even if you don’t buy the theory that online providers pose some sort of existential threat to universities (and we don’t, by the way), or that Brigham Young University – Idaho represents some sort of new paradigm in education (it’s an interesting case study but probably not much more), cost containment is still an important issue and on that score this books provides plenty of food for thought.