Visit Modern Campus

Disruptive Innovators Stir Pot with Critique of Higher Education

Clayton Christensen and Henry Eyring, two of biggest names in disruptive higher education, have stirred up a discussion on the roles of trustees which has caused institutional administrators to question their relevance and influence on the higher education debate.

In a letter distributed by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni to the approximately 13,000 trustees on its mailing list, Christensen and Eyring called for trustees to play a bigger role in holding administrators accountable. It further argues that institutions need to pay less attention to rankings and focus more on developing new learning technologies, cutting inefficient programs and reducing investments in inter-collegiate athletics.

The pair encouraged trustees to continue pushing for innovation at their respective institutions, regardless of the toes they step on.

“You’re effectively telling your administrative and faculty colleagues to abandon decades of effort to enhance the school’s prestige and reputation. But that’s what you need to do, no matter how unpopular it may be,” the pair wrote in their letter.

However, upon finding themselves in the crosshairs of the disruptive learning movement, which has seemed to join forces with the business-minded trustees, administrators are firing back.

“The picture of colleges and universities painted in the recent letter from Clayton Christensen and Henry Eyring is, frankly, a caricature of how most places actually behave,” Brian Rosenberg, president of Macalaster College, told Inside Higher Ed’s Kevin Kiley.

Rosenberg took particular issue that the note was distributed only to trustees—without the knowledge of the administrators—when it was calling for institutional change.

“If the ACTA were genuinely interested in fostering productive dialogue among trustees and the faculties and administrations with which they work, they would send their periodic and unsolicited missives to all those constituencies and not only to trustees,” he said.

Georgie Nugent, the president of Kenyon College, agreed with Rosenberg.

“What ACTA is calling for is simply an imposition of the views and values of those outside the academy,” she told Kiley.

However, Anne D. Neal, the president of ACTA, told Kiley the fact that the focus of most critiques of the letter were on its distributing body rather than its message is indicative of the tenuous relationship between administrators and their advisory boards.

“We would hope that they would view additional information and perspectives for trustees as a plus rather than a negative.”