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Challenges of Pursuing Our Moral Imperative

The world grant ideal and you. Share your thougths and experiences.

A World Grant perspective reduces the demarcation between “yours” and “mine,” helping a university see the challenges looming in different parts of the world as directly related to local circumstances. World Grant underscores the need to improve universal well-being in a sustainable manner in order to build a growing sense of “ours.”

Not every university pursuing a World Grant Ideal is likely to respond in the same way to the challenges of the twenty-first century, and some within such institutions may feel the effect of these challenges more directly than others. Yet there is no institutional role that is not affected in some way by the increased permeability of boundaries between institutions, academic disciplines, and political and geographic borders in a flat world. In our time, the boundaries have been lowered in what were once regarded as discrete fields of study, just as the boundaries between higher education and society have become more fluid and interactive. The challenges of the present and foreseeable future will require different institutions and people in varied institutional roles to think across organizational domains and to find opportunities to link their expertise with that of others in addressing common issues and problems. A World Grant perspective reduces the demarcation between “yours” and “mine,” helping a university see the challenges looming in different parts of the world as directly related to local circumstances. The World Grant Ideal underscores the need to improve universal well-being in a sustainable manner in order to build a growing sense of “ours.”

Very often the contribution of a university engaged with the World Grant Ideal resembles that of assist leaders in an athletic contest or in an organization—members of the team on the court or in the places where they live and work who help create the conditions that make it possible for others to “score.” Assist leaders know that the primary credit for the achievement will go to the one who ultimately makes the “point.” The World Grant Ideal describes an assist-leader institution as one that confers added value to a given project and its goals without necessarily adding dramatically to its own reputational and financial bottom lines.

For the concept of World Grant to gain the traction necessary for creating meaningful and relevant impact, it must offer a compelling vision in which a university’s faculty, staff, and administrators can imagine a future of continued professional growth and engagement.

For the concept of the World Grant Ideal to gain the traction necessary for creating meaningful and relevant impact, it must offer a compelling vision in which a university’s faculty, staff, and administrators can imagine a future of continued professional growth and engagement. Regardless of the words or models used to describe a university’s direction, there are ways to pose questions to faculty, staff, students, and administrators to invite consideration of the relationship between present work and that of the future. For example, efforts at Michigan State University suggest such questions:

  • What core elements of my work—pertaining to my field of study or to the operational elements of my department or unit—are likely to change as my university meets the evolving challenges of society in the twenty-first century? What elements do I expect will remain constant?
  • As changing societal needs place different expectations on my university, what new relationships might my department or unit develop with others within or beyond the university? What new partnerships do I need to form? How might I work differently with others as changes occur in my discipline, in the populations we serve, or in the societal needs we help address as part of a university?
  • What steps should I be taking now to prepare for the changing mix of challenges and opportunities confronting my university and our society in the twenty-first century? With whom should I start working? How can I explore new directions in my scholarship? What tools should I be using to keep pace with public and scholarly discussions in my field of study?

Concerns that may arise for some faculty are that the directions that a university pursues as it strives toward the World Grant Ideal may not always be those that attract the greatest academic visibility and acclaim. Far too often, the greatest accolades in higher education go to those who produce highly visible and well-funded discoveries—for example, the seminal policy framework or publication in a peer-reviewed venue that gains wide acclaim, enhancing the recognition accorded to a research-intensive institution and its individual faculty members. Direct engagement with those in need is not generally regarded as a pathway to great reputation. Some argue that no matter how valuable and important a university’s contribution may be to those in a particular setting, working concertedly as cocreators of knowledge with individual states, communities, businesses, and citizens carries the risk of reputational obscurity. The World Grant Ideal challenges us to engage in both highly visible and well-funded discovery and direct engaged scholarship for the purpose of beneficial applications.

At its core, the World Grant Ideal is not about dominance or status. It is about comprehensiveness, caliber, impact, and the values of inclusiveness, connectivity, and quality. It is about helping people and communities—local, national, and global—to realize their dreams and to make their dreams better.

At its core, the World Grant Ideal is not about dominance or status. It is about comprehensiveness, caliber, impact, and the values of inclusiveness, connectivity, and quality. It is about helping people and communities—local, national, and global—to realize their dreams and to make their dreams bigger.

The World Grant Ideal is about intellectual rigor in all that we do—in teaching and learning, in discovery and creative endeavors, and in our outreach and engagement. It adheres to and advances the added value of peer review and a world-class standard of excellence that expects the same high quality of work in the laboratory, classroom, and the most remote community—in our face-to-face as well as our technologically mediated connections. Adhering to high standards of intellectual rigor must characterize all of this, regardless of short-term reputational effects.

Keeping centered on possibilities rather than becoming paralyzed by “buts,” the World Grant Ideal for the twenty-first century embraces the “genius of the and” as the fuel for forward momentum, even in the face of seemingly impossible circumstances.

In pursuit of the World Grant Ideal, a public, research-intensive university in the land-grant tradition would not regard the production of knowledge that changes ideas and influences practice in the field as antithetical to engaged outreach in the mode described above. A university in the World Grant Ideal is not bound by what James Collins and Jerry Porras call the “tyranny of the or” in their study Built to Last, which analyzes qualities of organizations that have sustained their vitality and relevance to society for more than 100 years. The World Grant Ideal for the twenty-first century embraces what Collins and Porras call the “genius of the and.”11 On the one hand, in pursuing the World Grant Ideal, a research-intensive university will very likely undertake hundreds of millions of dollars of sponsored research from the federal government and other sources. At the same time, such a university will be both directly and indirectly engaged with businesses and individual citizens—of its home state, the United States, and nations throughout the world. The World Grant Ideal does not consider research and publication as ends in themselves; they are the foundations of knowledge and thought on which to build in directly serving the needs of people in many settings. It is the combination of research and engagement that holds the greatest potential to address local and world challenges.

The inherent tension between core land-grant values and the quest for institutional prestige must itself become a source of creative energy for institutions pursuing the World Grant Ideal, motivating their drive for expanded solutions that empower members of a community or region to address and to solve their local problems, to create and realize dreams—and in so doing, to effect solutions to similar problems in settings throughout the world.

The World Grant Ideal is about thinking and doing. It is about creating a “tipping point,” much like Malcolm Gladwell’s epidemiological phenomena of societal change in which little things make big differences.12 Thinking and doing create potential for tipping points that enhance the contributions that major public, research-intensive universities with land-grant values can make in the twenty-first century.

There are inherent tensions in creating tipping points from new combinations of “ands.” At its core, the World Grant Ideal offers a means of reconciling what can seem to be insurmountable differences between quality and access, research and outreach, the liberal arts and applied knowledge, and institutional rankings and engagement with partners in the cocreation of knowledge. These tensions are no less pronounced in the twenty-first century than they were in the twentieth and nineteenth centuries. Any public university that pursues a research-intensive mission feels the attraction—and the obligation—to succeed in terms that the academy itself has defined. We cannot think that the standard metrics used to gauge the success of research-intensive universities do not apply to us. We must continue to measure our effectiveness by the amount of externally sponsored research our faculty conduct, the number of publications and citations they produce, and the national and international fellowships and awards they receive and by the caliber as well as the cultural, racial, and international inclusiveness of our student body. These are necessary frameworks of accountability, but they are not sufficient. New metrics are needed that give evidence to the value added by universities engaged in building sustainable global prosperity beyond their own bottom lines of finances, fame, and fortune.

The World Grant Ideal is independent of institutional type or societal sector. It is not place bound, nor is it biased by privilege without responsibility. It places the urgency of the now in the context of the future.

Not only are new metrics needed for considering the contributions of universities to the common good, but new paradigms for understanding the evolution of the nation’s different colleges and universities from their founding missions in the context of the twenty-first century must also be created. The paradigm of the World Grant Ideal recognizes that 90 percent of the core activities and the aspirations of any university or college in this country have evolved to be very similar. The new paradigm provides a framework for how an institution aligns the capacities of its remaining 10 percent, that is, the cluster of commitments and actions that confers its distinguishing features. It is about how an institution works and the unique balance of its different kinds of work that create distinction. The paradigm of the World Grant Ideal suggests that distinction will be created by where on the international spectrum an institution falls, what kind of a role it will play in economic development, what it will add, and what capacities it will develop as it continues to evolve.

Ultimately, the World Grant Ideal is not about institutional origins or pedigree; rather, it is a paradigm for how higher education institutions in the United States can prepare to meet the needs of the future. World Grant provides a set of ideals by which universities of all kinds can address the pressing societal needs of the nation and the world in the twenty-first century.

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