Phi Beta Cons

A Sizzling Summer Day

It’s the middle of July and higher education should be placid, on vacation, and quiet. But instead it is roiling. Just today, we received these reports:

I’m merely going to comment on the last one.

Clayton Christensen, famed author of The Innovator’s Dilemma, is being criticized for writing a letter distributed by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), an organization that tries to persuade trustees to take a more activist stance. Christensen and his associate Henry Eyring, authors of The Innovative University, told trustees some things they might not enjoy hearing: They must give up striving to move their universities up in rankings, athletic fame, and Carnegie classifications; they must instead figure out how to teach more students more effectively. If they don’t, they will be overwhelmed by cost and competitive pressures.

Because they used ACTA to distribute their letter to its large number of trustee contacts, the taint of ACTA is now upon Christensen and Eyring, according to an Inside Higher Education article that quotes two administrators. The thrust of the article is that Christensen and Eyring were getting attention and respect in higher education, but their apparent association with that dastardly group is “potentially destabilizing to their credibility.”

The messengers, Christensen and Eyring, are under attack because of their association with ACTA. That attack is easier than thinking about the message. One commenter, who agreed with the article, said: “Yes, I know that as academics we are supposed to consider the ideas, not where or who the ideas are from, but shortcuts are sometimes necessary, and even healthy.”

Jane S. ShawJane S. Shaw retired as president of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy in 2015. Before joining the Pope Center in 2006, Shaw spent 22 years in ...


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