Learning Matters: Disruption, Innovation & Equity

Chancellor Carrell

This global pandemic needs a remedy. Even as we care for each other by keeping our distance, masking, and more, we call out to scientists in a unified voice: we need a vaccine.

As we endure and hope and wait, many are speculating about what’s next. Will we work remotely, living where we wish? Will we continue to behave in ways that restore the planet, finding renewed meaning and sustenance in nature? Will learning and teaching successfully leverage new modalities, revitalizing antiquated approaches? And importantly, will the disruption of COVID-19 serve as a catalyst for transformation across sectors, including higher education?

When I imagine what can be learned in this historic period and thus what can be changed as we move forward, I turn to the faculty and staff of my campus – some of the most imaginative thinkers and educators I know. Just a few years ago in an era that now seems quite distant, a group of these creative campus citizens convened an Innovation, Visioning, and Design team. They listened and explored and conversed. They designed a future campus based on what we’ve learned as a start-up. High-touch. High-tech. A place with community and belonging. They wondered, can we scale what we’ve created? What will be next?

Now, paused from our usual routines, we have been enduring and as possible, pondering the future. Sadly, some of us have been sick. More than 120,000 have died across the country. And others, including University of Minnesota Rochester alumni, continue to heroically serve the rest of us.

And then, within this crisis, tragedy -- pointing us to a long-festering, open wound: systemic racism. Homebound, we collectively experienced George Floyd’s murder. We know viscerally that this too needs a remedy, long overdue. Now much of our thought and attention has turned at last to antiracist action, all while the virus continues to wreak havoc with the health of many and with our collective future.

In this fog of anguish, anxiety, and ambiguity – one thing is clear to me. I’m learning that we need to pivot, redefining the very concept of innovation. I call to my campus community and others seeking transformation in higher education – let’s decide right now that any next generation model or practice we create must be characterized by equity to even be considered an innovation.   

Given the disruptions of both the global pandemic and the societal response to the murder of George Floyd, this incredible season is providing ample opportunity for crisis management, collective reflection, and changed behavior – and yes, that’s learning – and Learning Matters. What remains to be seen is how higher education as an enterprise and the University of Minnesota Rochester campus in particular, will use these tragic and historic experiences as a catalyst to accelerate innovation characterized by inclusion and equity.

Read more of Chancellor's Blog -Learning Matters, linked here