At the State of the Faculty address today by Dean Lesley Cormack, members of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta were told that the new chair of the Board of Governors, Doug Goss, and the University’s President, Indira Samarasekera, were
daring — er, challenging — faculty at the University of Alberta to read Clayton Christensen and Henry Eyring’s 2011 book The Innovative University. Goss has purportedly bought a copy of the book for every member of the Board of Governors, as well as each Faculty’s Dean. It seems he has thrown himself into the beginning-of-the-semester spirit, and wants to join the professors in assigning others reading.
The question here is not whether faculty will read the book, and offer the Chair of the Board of Governors and the President their views on it (which is what the Dean is requesting). My guess is that faculty will be more than happy to do that. The question is, how willing will the Chair and the President be, in turn, to read the books that we put forward to them, for piling up on their bedside tables? For academics know only too well the dangers of limited reading, and one-book cultures.
Goss’s choice of book confirms that he thinks it of immense importance that faculty listen to business thinking on how to run universities: Christensen is the Kim B. Clark Professor of Business Administration at Harvard, and Henry Eyring is VP Advancement at Brigham-Young. Universities are not, however, businesses, no matter how many business thinkers would like to insist that they are. Assuming, however, that our Chair and President are asking us to read Christensen and Eyring’s book because they would like us to return the favour, and suggest what they in turn might read with the aim of developing a complex perspective on the issue of how to shape the twenty-first century university, does it not behove the faculty to offer Mr. Goss and President Samarasekera our suggestions for what they ought to read? So that they might think about the issue of what is best for academic culture from academic perspectives? They’re on top (it seems) of the polemics of a former management consultant and a man who styles himself, on his website, as the “world’s foremost authority on disruptive innovation.” But what, in our view, are the must-reads that would permit them to immerse themselves in the most important thinking from the humanities and social sciences? Suggestions, please!