The Drake Compact for the 21st Century

Inaugural Address - President David Maxwell
October 9, 1999

I'd like to begin by offering my profound thanks for the wonderful week that culminates today. There are too many people responsible for bringing it all together for me to even begin to mention them by name without making an Academy Award speech seem succinct, so let me simply tell you collectively how grateful I am for your efforts, your support, and your many kindnesses. I will do my best to express my gratitude to each of you in the coming weeks.

I. The New Era

In 82 days, we will enter a new millennium. I'm sure that comes as no surprise to most of you. But in spite of the apocalyptic visions promulgated by the media in pursuit of greater market share - images of plummeting elevators, malfunctioning ATM machines, and navigationally-challenged airplanes - it's highly unlikely that there will be any meaningful difference in our lives one minute after midnight on January 1, 2000. Yet, as human beings, we do seem to have a need - psychological, social, and spiritual - to delineate segments of time in our personal and collective histories, and to mark with ritual, rhetoric, and hopes and expectations the passing from one segment to another. The bigger the segment, the greater our celebration - and the greater our hopes for the future. That's why we have birthday parties, anniversaries, millennium celebrations - and inaugurals (I'm not suggesting that this inaugural ceremony has parity with the millennium, but I am going to draw a few parallels!).

Our collective anticipation of the new millennium has been cause, as one might expect, for an examination of where we have come as human beings - what we have accomplished, where we have failed - and of our hopes and fears for the next thousand years. Similarly, our marking of the passage of time in the history of Drake University is cause for reflection - an examination of where we have been, where we are, and where we want to go as a community and as an institution.

In recent months, we have begun the process of developing a strategic vision for the next ten years of Drake University - a community-wide discourse that addresses the following questions: What does Drake look like in the year 2010? What are the characteristics of a university that serves the learning needs of the 21st century while preserving the most vital and valued traditions of an institution that was founded in the 19th? What do we do as a university? How do we do it? For whom?

As we focus our deliberations on the University itself, it is important that we recognize that our ability to realize our mission and goals is intricately tied to a complex web of interrelationships with the world around us. The accuracy of our understanding of that external context, our appreciation of its fluidity and dynamism, and our capacity to assess and evaluate its movements in an accurate and objective manner, are critical to our continued relevance and success as an educational institution. While we may not be able to predict, with any degree of reliability, the specific characteristics of our operating environment in 2010, we can say with some considerable confidence that there will be substantive changes that will have an impact on our individual and collective lives. The confidence of that assertion derives from the extent to which the past can suggest the future; consider some meaningful (and a few not-so-meaningful, but interesting) differences in our lives between 1989 and today:

On October 9, 1989

  • The Soviet Union - and the cold war - still existed

  • There were two Germanys and one Czechoslovakia

  • There was no World Wide Web

  • There were 19.5 million immigrants in the United States, comprising 8% of the population (compared to now - 25.2 million; 9.3 percent)

  • The home run record for one season, held by Roger Maris, was 61

  • No one outside of Seattle knew what a latte was

  • The stock market was at 2791 - 7500 points lower than it is now

  • Relations among the peoples of the world, at least on the surface, were defined by ideology, not by ethnicity and tribalism

  • There was no

  • Cell phones were the size and weight of a brick, and 3.5 million people used them - today, 69,000,000 people have cell phones

  • You couldn't buy stocks on the Internet; you couldn't buy anything on the Internet

  • There was no University of Phoenix - there were no national, on-line, for-profit educational enterprises - you couldn't get a degree on line

  • Students in a "web course" studied duck feet and spiders

  • There were no global positioning systems in cars

  • The term "personal digital assistant" referred to your own private manicurist

  • There were almost 4 million fewer millionaires in the United States than there are now

  • There were also 1/3 million fewer people below the poverty line.

  • Colleges, universities, and libraries had a near monopoly on the discovery, analysis, and transmission of knowledge and information

What all of this suggests, of course, is that change is the only constant - it is a defining feature of our daily lives, and the one certainty of our future. The consequences of that assumption for Drake University are far-reaching:

  • We must prepare our students for a dynamic, rapidly changing world. They must have the skills, perspectives, and knowledge to manage change in their personal and professional lives, the learning skills to confront and master the new and unfamiliar, and the leadership abilities to instigate change where necessary and appropriate;

  • at the same time, we must transform ourselves as a university, structurally and culturally, into an organization that can anticipate change to the greatest degree possible, respond to it in appropriate ways, and - ultimately - we must transform ourselves into a institution that can manage effectively its multiple relationships with a dynamic and often unpredictable external environment.

II. The Strategic Vision

The first stage in addressing the issue of institutional transformation has been the development and articulation of a strategic vision for Drake University that must command broad-based community support - a clear picture of what Drake can and should be in the next ten years that represents our collective aspirations for the University. In its final form, that vision will serve as a guide for strategic planning, as a reference point and context for decision-making, and - we would hope - as a catalyst for continued enthusiasm for and commitment to Drake University's future. Our discussions over the summer months have led to the creation of a draft strategic vision document that has been shared with the governing boards this week, and that will be submitted to the scrutiny of the campus community on Monday.

The vision is an attempt to synthesize the best of what Drake has been historically - those characteristics that define us as an institution - with the desired features of an institution that can meet the challenges, both internal and external, that we have identified. To put it simply, it is an attempt to combine the best of what we have been with what we want to be. Most of all, it is intended to be a vision of an institution that can attain the goals that we collectively have set for ourselves.

In this vision, we have defined Drake University as a community of learners. The term, and the concept that informs it, emphasizes that learning is the core activity of the University - all efforts, activities, resources, and structures are focused to the greatest extent possible on enabling the discovery, acquisition, application, and transmission of knowledge, and on supporting the development of abilities and perspectives that enable members of the community to make meaningful contributions in their personal and professional lives. In operational terms, this means that we have responsibility as a community for the creation, implementation, and management of a broad range of learning opportunities consistent with a well-defined educational mission; for the provision of guidance and support from recognized experts, and; for the assessment and certification of learning outcomes.

The concept of community as a defining characteristic of the University emphasizes the critical importance of common purpose, sense of identity, collaboration, mutual support, and a set of shared values to the achievement of our collective goals. It also emphasizes that all members have a shared responsibility for the success of the common endeavor: for the effectiveness and health of the institution in carrying out its mission, for the quality of life in the campus community, and for our relationships with external constituencies.

An equally important defining characteristic of Drake University in the 21st century is the absence of barriers. Intellectually, we must transcend Americans' innate cultural myopia and be global and inclusive in what we learn and what we teach. Programmatically, we cannot be constrained by the traditional disciplinary tribalism of academia, nor by traditional models of teaching and learning. We must ensure that the University is free of obstacles that impede access to learning, from financial to logistical. Our learners will not be limited to any particular group as defined by demographics, learning styles, educational needs, or learning goals. Finally, our notion of community must extend well beyond the physical boundaries of the Drake University campus.

III. The Challenges Ahead

The vision presented in our draft document is far more complex - and provocative - than my brief description allows, and we look forward to the Drake community's response in coming weeks. As we look toward the next stages of the planning and implementation process, however, we must recognize collectively that we will have to unravel some extremely complex issues. But it is equally important to recognize that nestled within each of these issues is the possibility of institutional transformation that can enrich our personal and professional lives in substantive ways, as well as the potential for Drake University to serve as an important model for the transformative process that must take place on a national scale.

  • Challenging our Assumptions: Our collective aspirations for ourselves require, first and foremost, that we rethink who we are as a university, and how we do things. Comprehensive, private universities such as Drake are a synthesis of two distinctly American models: the colonial liberal arts college pioneered by Harvard, and the American adaptation of the German research university implemented by Johns Hopkins. The first of those models is more than three centuries old; the second derives from the 1890s. Those models have given us a legacy of excellence and achievement, a higher education system unequalled anywhere in the world, but it is not clear that they can sustain us without change in the next century.

    I don't mean to suggest that the assumptions that have informed the behavior of Drake University for nearly 120 years are invalid; we have a proud and accomplished history and an equally proud present. I do assert, however, that we must ensure that each of our operating assumptions withstands the scrutiny of the demands of the next century, and that we must replace those that do not.

  • The Meaning of the Degree: The other day, one of our physicists, Klaus Bartschat, held up a scientific calculator and asked whether or not it is educationally acceptable that the ability to press the right buttons is in many cases replacing knowledge of mathematics (he might well have asked about the extent to which spelling check and grammar programs have replaced knowledge of language). His question represents a fundamental dilemma: simply put, do we want our students to be able to do things, or to know things? Are those two goals mutually exclusive? Historically, our mission in higher education - particularly in private institutions - has been informed in large measure by an emphasis on knowing, and on education. A number of recent studies suggest quite strongly that the public whom we serve is far more interested in doing, not knowing, and in training, not education. We need to understand, to decide, and to articulate as clearly as we can what a degree from Drake University will mean in the world of the 21st century. Will a Drake degree mean that a graduate knows something? Or that he/she can do something? Will it mean, most importantly, that he or she can continually acquire new knowledge and do new things? Will it mean all three (as I'd suggest it must), and - if it does - how will we know that? How do we measure it in ways that are meaningful both inside the academy and without?

    I would also suggest that in looking at the synergies between liberal arts & sciences and professional education we must continue to focus not only on the what - i.e., on areas of knowledge that we believe define what it means to be educated - but on the how, and I applaud Drakes considerable successes in this direction. Liberal education as a methodology - as a way of learning and teaching - rather than the antiquated taxonomy of breadth requirements (which Drake, thankfully, abandoned some time ago), transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries and is not bound to any particular subject matter. If we want all of our students in all of our programs, as I believe we do, to possess the skills and abilities historically viewed as liberal education outcomes - critical thinking, judgment, analytical skills, communications and computational abilities, creativity, intellectual risk-taking, appreciation of human diversity, and so on (and I'd note here that these so-called "liberal arts skills" are particularly valued in the workplace, so the education vs. career preparation dichotomy may not be as acute as we think it is) - we must recognize that these attributes derive not from what our students study, but from how we teach them and from how they learn. These attributes rarely develop as the result of divine intervention, or from taking courses in specific content areas; they come from the kinds of learning experiences that we provide to our students, the kinds of tasks with which we challenge them, and the ways in which we evaluate, reward, and certify learning - regardless of discipline, program, or school.

  • Technology and Access to Knowledge: the telecommunications revolution of the past two decades, combined with remarkable advances in research in nearly all fields, has resulted in the wonderfully uncontrolled explosion of information and new knowledge, and the equally uncontrolled proliferation of access points to that information. The consequences of this historic proliferation of knowledge for the academy are profound, and we are only beginning to understand and appreciate their complexity:

    • The wealth of information on the Internet has incredible potential as a learning and teaching resource, and as a research tool. No longer constrained by the finite boundaries of the campus and its physical resources, we have the technological capacity to create new, exciting, and more effective learning opportunities. At present, however, it is not clear that we know enough about the ways in which human beings interact with technology in a learning environment to take full advantage of its potential. Much of learning technology is still talking heads or text-based, and we need research, imagination, and effort to realize all that technology can contribute to our endeavor.

    • Technology also enables a set of competitive challenges that every institution must sort through: are computers challenging the traditional place of the teacher in the academy? Will distance-learning challenge the importance of face-to-face interaction, and the importance of physical location to learning? Does technology enable institutions to compete for students and resources with other institutions that may be thousands of miles away?

    • Technology raises the fascinating - if troubling - question exemplified in Klaus Bartshat's remarks: how does the application of technology change what it is that we need to know? Can - and should - technology replace knowing? Is technology a time- and brain space-saving instrument to which we can relegate "elemental" knowledge so that we have the capacity to know more complex knowledge and process ever more complex problems?

    • Finally, perhaps the most important challenge that technology presents is that it represents an outright eradication of the hegemony of the academy over knowledge and learning. I have a wonderful friend at Tufts University named Zella Luria, who once told a group of students that she went to college "because that's were the books were." We in America's colleges and universities are, historically, used to a privileged position in which we had a near monopoly on the discovery, preservation, and transmission of knowledge - to state it with somewhat deliberate hyperbole, we decided what was important to know, and who got to know it. But now we no longer have an exclusive hold on "where the books are" - technology has enabled the democratization of knowledge. The world is literally swamped with information - some of it important and useful, much of it trivial, and much of it incorrect and misleading. The consequences for us are twofold: first, if our physical campuses no longer serve as the primary access points to information, what are the implications for our role as mediators of knowledge in the 21st century? Second, it is clear that the knowledge explosion intensifies exponentially one of our primary - and historical - obligations to our students: they must emerge from their educational experience at Drake University with highly sophisticated abilities to make judgments about information: to know what is truth and what is not, what is important and what is trivial, what is relevant to their tasks and what is not. They must have the ability to sort through the mountains of nonsense to find the gems that they need, the skills to bring together and synthesize disparate packets of information into a meaningful whole, and the competence to communicate their knowledge, ideas, and perspectives to others in substantive and articulate ways. Given the extent to which they will be increasingly inundated with information, what might have in an earlier time been considered the luxurious attributes of a liberal education have now become essential tools for survival in the information age.

IV. The Drake Compact for the 21st Century

As we consider our aspirations for ourselves as a university, and reflect on the challenges - and opportunities - that lie before us, it is important that we acknowledge that as a community of learners we can achieve neither our individual nor our collective goals without collaboration, cooperation, mutual support and respect, trust, and a shared enthusiasm for our future. If we are indeed to become a paradigm for the 21st century university, I suggest to you that we must do it as the centerpiece - the hub, if you will - of a constellation of carefully-crafted partnerships - both internal and external - among people, institutions, and organizations. It is in that spirit that I propose today The Drake Compact for the 21st Century - that we identify, define, implement, and manage a series of strategic partnerships for the future of Drake University, and I would identify those partnerships as follows:

  • An internal partnership among the constituent parts of Drake University - our departments, programs, schools, and colleges - that transcends our structural boundaries and recognizes the unifying forces of clearly-defined institutional mission, goals, and objectives; a partnership that overcomes the traditional tendency of the academy to define ourselves by categorizations that divide - departments, programs, schools and colleges - rather than by the common purposes and intellectual connections that unite us.

  • A partnership with our students that recognizes that they are collaborators in the learning process and - ultimately - managers of their own lifelong learning careers.

  • A partnership with our alumni that recognizes that they are indeed engaged in lifelong learning (as we told them they would be when they graduated), and provides an infrastructure in which they are lifetime members of the Drake Virtual Learning Community (I hope you find that notion enticing - there isn't time to elaborate here).

  • A partnership with our neighbors, with the city of Des Moines, and with the State of Iowa, that recognizes that we have a moral obligation to the health of our community, and that our own future is in great part dependent on the vitality of the city in which we live.

  • A partnership with the schools that recognizes that we must collaborate with the public school systems to prepare students for higher learning, and that we must find the resources to ensure that academically qualified students are not denied access to a Drake education for financial reasons.

  • A partnership with the business community and political leadership that recognizes that Drake University is the largest, most complex educational resource in Des Moines, and that we have both the ability and the responsibility to respond to a broad range of learning needs in the community in ways that contribute to economic health, the quality of the workforce, personal enrichment, and the quality of life in the city.

  • Our ongoing partnership with the institutions of the Associated New American Colleges, an innovative collaborative focused on the interface between liberal arts and sciences and professional education, that enables Drake to be an institution that is at one and the same time committed locally and connected nationally.

  • A partnership with funders - foundations, corporations, organizations, government agencies, and individual donors - to ensure the University's long-term financial stability and to enhance Drake's ability to fully realize its mission and goals.

  • Finally, appropriate partnerships with other educational institutions and organizations - both locally and nationally - that recognizes that complementary strengths and resources can in many cases be combined to provide unique learning opportunities of benefit to community and to the participating institutions alike.

V. Concluding Remarks

It is through this web of collaborative relationships, I believe, that we can best realize our collective goals as a community of learners. I am anxious to learn your response to the ideas you've heard today, and to the strategic vision document that you will see this coming week. I look forward to the prospect of working with you to further define and implement those partnerships. I have immense confidence in our future, and great expectations of all of us. I am profoundly honored by the role that you are allowing me to play in addressing our hopes for Drake University.
Thank you.