The Horizon from a System President's Perspective: An Interview with UNC's Molly Broad
by James L. Morrison

[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in On the Horizon, 1998, 6(6), 2-3. It is posted here with permission from Jossey Bass Publishers.]

Molly Corbett Broad was inaugurated as the fifteenth president of the University of North Carolina (UNC) this past spring. Previously executive vice chancellor of the California State University System, Broad served as the leader in developing the Integrated Technology Strategy for CSU and contributed to the development of the California Virtual University. She has served in numerous national and regional councils working on policy issues relating to the use of digital technologies in the university, and is currently a member of the board of directors of the corporation (UCAID) leading the Internet2 project.

James L. Morrison: Peter Drucker has stated that universities as we know them will not exist in thirty years. What is your view of how education, beginning at age five or six and continuing throughout life, will look in thirty years?

Molly Corbett Broad: I do not see the traditional university going away, despite the fact that innovative new approaches to education are being made possible by emerging technologies. I believe that we will see in both schools and the university continued emphasis on high-quality faculty and significant personal interaction between and among teachers and students. Educational institutions provide enriched academic environments. In K–12, I think we are going to see longer days, more days per year, and more technology use.

I believe we will continue to see high school graduates entering the university as full-time students with the goal of personal development as well as education. But the market for the traditional university experience will become a smaller and smaller fraction of the whole market for university-level education. Although other parts of the market will develop and there will be many new entrants, those American institutions that are not able to match their mission to the needs of the higher-education marketplace will suffer. We’ll see many new, strange-looking organizations, and we’ll see a dramatic expansion in the number and types of organizations providing educational services by means of technology.

JM: What kind of strange-looking organizations?

MCB: We are already seeing a growth in the numbers of charter schools and for-profit colleges and universities. The British Open University has incorporated in Delaware and is pursuing accreditation. Many corporations have expanded their offerings in advanced education. I believe we will see some suppliers to educational institutions, such as publishers and software developers, begin to offer educational programs. I would not be surprised to see major management consulting firms offering educational programs to their corporate clients that will enable them to update the skills and knowledge of their managers at all levels. Nor would I be surprised to see firms that already provide a wide array of computing and telecommunications products and services begin to add course offerings over their networks.

JM: A recent Chronicle of Higher Education issue focused on tenure in the academy, noting that in the United States, tenure has been increasingly coming under attack (Wilson, 1998). What do you see as its future?

MCB: I think tenure was under greater risk a couple of years ago when there was evidence that university faculty members were not engaged in sufficient undergraduate teaching and were not sensitive enough to the needs of undergraduates. Faculty were criticized for what was perceived by the public as low workloads. The truth is, faculty members work much more than forty or even fifty hours per week; their work just follows a different rhythm and pattern from that of the typical professional. I believe the academy has been generally responsive to complaints, increasing the time devoted to direct interaction with undergraduates and putting in place new programs that assist graduate students with both language and teaching skills. I felt several years ago that state legislatures might enact laws to modify or even terminate tenure, but that hasn’t happened. I think the chances of its happening now are much lower.

Some innovative approaches to addressing tenure as a property right have occurred in recent years. In some parts of the United Kingdom, they have followed a protocol whereby a new faculty member can aspire to be promoted or to gain tenure, but not both. Within the United States, many new mechanisms have been put into place that amount to buying out tenure.

We assert that tenure ensures academic freedom. But by and large I think academic freedom now is protected by the courts without reference to tenure. If we as faculty focus on tenure as protection against job loss rather than protection of academic freedom, we will begin to place ourselves at risk again; not many people in this society are completely insulated from losing their job. This is where post-tenure performance review has played an important role in assuring the public that we are addressing the issue most important to them, namely high-quality teaching.

JM: One concern faculty members have about virtual learning is the belief that online education does not have the same quality as classroom education. How do you resolve this issue for these educators?

MCB: Let me return to the fundamental importance of high-quality faculty and effective interaction, both between faculty and students and among students. Faculty rightly believe these are fundamental to good education; however, with the growing array of technology tools, it is possible to achieve those objectives online. In addition, virtual learning can also bring a very rich array of academic resources to the learning process—resources that address the multiple learning styles of students, and resources that greatly enrich the educational materials available to students.

In my experience, good ideas are very contagious at universities. Today, I see rapid growth in the use of the World Wide Web, software packages, and CD-ROMs by faculty members. Yet there remains this reluctance among some faculty. If the academy comes to be viewed by governors, legislators, business leaders, and students as intolerant to the use of innovative technology tools, we will have lost more than our market niche.

JM: There are now commercial educational providers developing multimedia learning packages, sometimes in partnership with university faculty members. What future do you see for such collaborations?

MCB: As mentioned earlier, commercial providers are entering the educational arena. Their success in widespread adoption will depend on ensuring high-quality standards in technology-mediated instruction and on placing the needs of the student at the center of the effort. Many believe that effective utilization of technology in the educational process will enable better response to students’ differing learning styles, allow instructors to track their performance at a detailed level, provide them with more immediate feedback, and allow for the use of assessment information to improve the teaching and learning process.

JM: There is an emerging trend of legislatures getting much more involved with the operation of universities, focusing on accountability issues and mandating course loads. Where do you see this going in the next decade or so?

MCB: College and university leaders need to anticipate and develop effective means of achieving accountability—getting out in front of this trend and keeping autonomy and accountability in the right balance. We must be carefully attentive so that micromanagement by government policymakers does not become the definition of accountability. Given the rapid rates of change and the external forces that are transforming the academy, college and university leaders need managerial flexibility.

JM: Western Governors University asserts that its degree certifies competency in a degree area. Do you see this as an emerging trend in higher education?

MCB: I think the concept of performance standards is an emerging trend. We see performance standards for students (and indirectly for faculty) being built into contractual arrangements with corporations in which university programs are offered to employees. We also see standards emerging in teacher education reform efforts wherein college and university programs place their status at risk if the overwhelming majority of their graduates cannot pass the examination for teacher certification. We have long expected lawyers, accountants, and health-care professionals to meet professional standards, but we have not directly tied eligibility for federal student aid to this (as recently proposed in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act) or imposed other sanctions on the academic program when graduates failed such tests.

JM: Thank you, President Broad. I look forward to future meetings, so I can report to Horizon readers on updates of your views on technology in education and technology developments at your new “workplace,” UNC.


Wilson, R. "Contracts Replace Tenure Track for a Growing Number of Professors." Chronicle of Higher Education, June 12, 1998, p. A12.

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