Thursday, April 03, 2008

David Dodds Henry lecturer speaks on higher education

By Courtney Westlake

Dr. David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, presented the 26th David Dodds Henry Lecture at 2 p.m. Thursday, April 3, in Brookens Auditorium.

The focus of Ward's presentation was "Higher Education and the Global Knowledge Economy: Affordability and Accountability Redefined." Following his presentation were responses from Judy Erwin, executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, Naomi Lynn, Chancellor Emerita at UIS and Gary Plummer, president and CEO of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce. There was also a reception held after the program.

The David Dodds Henry lectures were established in 1971 by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees and the U of I Foundation to honor President Emeritus David D. Henry, who served as chief executive officer of the University for 16 years, from 1955 until his retirement in 1971.

Ward, who is a chancellor emeritus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, spoke about the major changes in higher education over the past decades especially in terms of affordability.

"It doesn't really matter whether we talk about five, 10 or 15 years, but that the role and how we view the role and how funding is made up has changed dramatically," he said. "There is a sense that higher education, like many other sectors of the economy, is now in a global setting. Higher education is being seen by more people as critical to our future, and in that sense, our role has changed."

Tuition for public universities and colleges has increased tremendously due largely in part to lack of state funding, Ward said, but the challenges that plague higher education now have happened so gradually that many aren't aware at "how radical the changes are." It is hard to find a university president in the public sector who isn't concerned with providing the capital to find a way to "keep the excellence flourishing," he said.

"The problem is that I think in addition to these challenges and fears of global competition is we forget that over the past 25 years the role and funding of higher education has also changed," Ward said. "It doesn't mean to say that the money should come from the government, but it does mean to say some renewed funding will be needed."

Ward likened higher education's affordability to a swinging pendulum. He said many people believe that higher education and government are simply swinging back and forth between good times and bad.

"I say to those people 'the pendulum fell off its pin', " he said. "That doesn't mean we should lose our values. We now have to redefine that context through which we can fulfill our values. That pendulum's not just going to swing between good times and bad times now; they're different times."