This week, our conversation continues with Steve Robinson, interim President & Vice-Chancellor at Brandon University in Manitoba. We tackle one of the toughest questions for today’s higher ed leaders: how to encourage a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship on campus.
Many academics, Steve explains, regard the drive to innovation with a great deal of suspicion, as part of modern trends to neoliberalization and commercialization of the academy. But really, innovation means “thinking creatively, and finding solutions to new problems” – which is exactly what academics have always done in their own research. Now, universities and colleges are simply trying to apply some of that same creativity to the way we operate as institutions. Higher ed has the opportunity now to be intentional and strategic, “leading the way” rather than being driven by external forces when we have no choice.
Campus leaders need to reassure staff and faculty, dispel anxiety about innovation, and encourage innovators to step forward. Steve identifies 3 ways to incentivize innovation, starting with making funding available for new projects. The president’s office needs to send the signal throughout the institution that we are willing to consider new strategies, programming, processes and infrastructure – even when we may not be sure it will pay off. Incentive funds for innovation would be ideal, whether carved from existing budgets or raised through foundations and donors.
Even more important than money, administrators need to make it clear that they are willing to “go out on a limb a little” and experiment with new pedagogies, program collaborations with other institutions, and more – and assuming some risk, although still being careful stewards of public money. With most innovations, there is not absolute certainty of success from the beginning.
Finally, colleges and universities need to recognize the contributions made by innovators, even if only to learn from their failed experiments. Existing criteria for promotion and tenure need to be expanded.
Steve concludes by observing that “most innovation means discomfort for somebody,” but “the discomfort is worth feeling.”
Steve Robinson became interim President and Vice-Chancellor at Brandon University in August 2017, after serving two years as VP Academic and Provost, and several terms as Associate Dean of Arts, Acting Dean of Arts, and chair of the Philosophy department. Steve previously taught at the University of Guelph and University of Regina.
Shot on location at Brandon University in April 2018, by campus videography staff – thank you again!
We’ve tackled this topic multiple times in past episodes of 10K – check out the “Culture of Innovation” playlist
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