Nov. 11, 1996
A Statement by the University of Kentucky Chapter of the American Association of University Professors to the Governor's Task Force on Post-Secondary Education
We applaud Governor Paul Patton's recent initiative to study the Commonwealth's system of higher education. It has been almost two decades since the original Prichard Committee produced its landmark volume, "In Pursuit of Excellence." That report retains its relevance in the face of the new challenges and opportunities currently facing higher education. As the faculty and students of this University engage in the essential activities of all universities--teaching and learning; discovering and reflecting; producing, disseminating and applying knowledge; developing and expressing creativity--it is reassuring that others in the Commonwealth are devoting thought and effort to making Kentucky higher education the best that it can be.
It is important to keep in mind the desired end results of higher education when planning the introduction of new methodologies or organizational structures for learning. The Prichard Reports description of an educated person reveals some enduring goals of university life. The report lists nine broad competencies possessed by an educated person. Among these are the ability to reason, to solve problems, to understand one's intellectual, cultural, and social heritage, to be able to learn independently, to engage in artistic creativity, to critically assess new ideas, and to have the skills to contribute to the economic well being of society. For faculty to model such attributes and for students to develop them remains a crucial feature of our academic life, whether conducted on the Internet, in the classroom, or in the laboratory.
One significant aspect of the Governor's charge is to investigate the use of technology to spread opportunities for higher education. The Prichard Committee's work came during a time when modern communications technology began to play a role in delivering instruction throughout the Commonwealth. In competition with other universities, UK won a major contract to deliver instruction via satellite to sites throughout our state and others in the Appalachian region. The Appalachian Regional Satellite Program, as well as the delivery of doctoral programs throughout the state via compressed video technology and numerous other distance learning programs, has made us pioneers in the use of technology to broaden the impact of the University.
Our involvement in all these efforts has shown the power of these new technologies in educating students, but has also revealed that there are many problems, often unanticipated. Based on this considerable experience, there is much faculty concern about how the use of technology may change in the future and how it can be harnessed without compromising either the quality of education or the integrity of interactions among and between faculty and students. These are crucial issues which we feel must be carefully addressed.
The introduction of new technology is not the only road we can, or should, follow in attempting to improve our educational system. We are concerned that the dollars of the Commonwealth not be wasted in non-productive endeavors or unintended consequences of technical innovations. We are particularly concerned about increasing the standard of excellence of the research function of education. Practical assistance toward this end might well include better funding of endowed chairs and of graduate students, including a significant increase in the number of fellowships. An excellent research base is necessary to the achievement of a better life and better economy in the Commonwealth.
Technology is not a silver bullet. Neither buying a set of encyclopedias and putting them in your child's room nor giving her access to the Internet will make the child educated or wise. Understanding education and the scholarly process is the key to the intelligent, effective and productive use of new educational technology. Effective revisions in the educational system require the help of those knowledgable about the learning process, and especially about the effect of student-faculty inter-personal relations on the process.
While our prime interest in the university is in the production, evaluation and dissemination of knowledge, culture, and intellectual and creative skills, we know that a comprehensive system of higher education has far reaching effects on the community it serves. The Commonwealth's system of colleges and universities enhances citizens' lives well beyond the classroom. It is intimately related to the economic well- being of the state and to its potential for economic growth. It stimulates local economies and provides economic opportunities for its participants. Although a study of the system with a view to improvement is always welcome, we feel it is important to remember that universities are some of the most long-lived and resilient institutions in society. The core value of our universities, the value which epitomizes their contribution to society, is the scholarly process, a process best understood by faculty.
We wish the Governor's Task Force every success in its endeavors. The faculty of the University of Kentucky stand ready to lend their considerable knowledge, expertise and experience to the efforts to make the higher education system of Kentucky as effective and valuable as it possibly can be for the benefit of all the citizens of the Commonwealth. As faculty, we wish to contribute to this endeavor, and ask to be included in the process.