English: Portrait of Thomas Jefferson, founder...
English: Portrait of Thomas Jefferson, founder of the University of Virginia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There has been quite a lot of discussion recently (including a front-page article in the Chronicle of Higher Education) over the ouster of Teresa A. Sullivan as president of the University of Virginia. Some of the controversy has arisen from an email message that came publicly to light after Sullivan’s departure, one that suggested the possibility of distasteful behind-the-scenes machinations with the university’s Board of Visitors (BOV). But apart from the nasty academic politics that always swirl around the abrupt departure of a senior administrator, this incident seems to have arisen from a serious and substantive issue: by all accounts, the Board’s objection to Sullivan’s presidential style had to do with her philosophy of change management.

Sullivan’s approach is, by her own assessment, “incremental.”

“Sweeping change may be gratifying and may create the aura of strong leadership,” she wrote in a public statement released subsequent to her dismissal, “but its unintended consequences may lead to costs that are too high to bear.”

Sullivan was no reactionary — she had laid out a plan for substantial but gradual institutional change and, for the 24 months of her presidency, followed that plan successfully. But for a voting majority of the BOV, it was apparently not enough.

This was brought home rather alarmingly by the public release of an email message written by Peter D. Kiernan, chair of the BOV of another institution and characterized by the Chronicle as a “powerful Virginia alumnus” who seems to have wielded significant influence with the Board. In his message, he characterized Sullivan as “not sufficiently tuned to the dramatic changes we all face: funding, Internet, technology advances, the new economic model.” He went on to say that “these are matters for strategic dynamism rather than strategic planning.”

“Strategic dynamism” sounds like a generic phrase, but in fact it’s a term of art: it refers to a model of organizational leadership based on the idea of “strategic inflection points” that leaders may either recognize in their environment or actively create. As a leadership strategy, it maximizes flexibility and minimizes stability, emphasizing risk-taking, nimbleness, and a constant stirring of the organizational pot. The benefits of such an approach can be huge; the costs can be catastrophic. In her statement, Sullivan suggests that “disruptive . . . high-risk change” in an atmosphere of “corporate, top-down leadership does not work in a great university. Sustained change with buy-in does work.”

The more I’ve read about this and thought about the implications of these issues for the scholarly communication marketplace, the more I have felt as if two different lobes of my brain, the Chaos Lobe and the Order Lobe, are arguing with each other. The argument has been going like this:

Chaos Lobe: Kiernan is right. The environment in which academics, researchers, students, and librarians do their work is changing so quickly and unpredictably that responding to it with incremental measures is simply not feasible.

Order Lobe: Come on. How long have you been working in academia? The university simply isn’t like other work environments — it’s not realistic to think that a leader can just come in and dictate “strategic dynamism” to a bunch of tenured professors whose traditions and whose culture of decentralized authority have developed over a millennium.

Chaos Lobe: You assume that the academy has a choice. It may control the environment inside its ivied walls, but its circumstances are ultimately determined by events outside, over which the faculty have no control (even if they’re full professors). Isn’t it the university administration’s job to look outside the cloisters of the university and see what’s going on in the wider world, and position the institution to deal with what’s coming? In short, isn’t it their job to lead?

Order Lobe: Lead, yes, but not necessarily through the constant fomenting of chaos. I’m not saying there’s no need for deep and even painful change, only that it matters how you carry it out. Sullivan makes a good point about the surface charms and deep costs of “sweeping change.”

Chaos Lobe: She does make a good point there. But you could just as easily argue the obverse: incremental change may be easier for faculty and staff to absorb and may create the comforting aura of wise and prudent leadership, but it too has unintended consequences, and those consequences may lead to costs that are too high to bear.

Order Lobe: So is it better to actively impose chaos, or to try to manage change in such a way as to prevent or at least mitigate chaos?

Chaos Lobe: When your environment is changing quickly and radically, you may not get to choose whether or not you experience chaos. You only get to choose how you’ll participate in it. Chaos just doesn’t lend itself to incremental management. You have to jump in and flail around if you want to have any impact on its parameters. Pretending otherwise may soothe everyone and make you popular with the faculty in the short term, but serves everyone ill (including faculty and students) in the long term.

The Order Lobe of my brain has to admit that it doesn’t have a very good response to that argument yet.

What are the implications of this issue for the scholarly communication environment? All of the factors laid out in Kiernan’s email message (funding issues, the fundamental shift to a networked digital information environment, new funding models for the academy, etc.) have a direct bearing on scholarly publishers, professional societies, libraries, and academic authors in every discipline. Given the realities of this larger environment, do we have the luxury of responding incrementally? On the other hand, given the realities of the cultures in which we work, do we have the luxury of “strategic dynamism” (i.e. the imposition of radical, top-down, unpredictable change)?

A few years ago, when I was serving as president-elect of an international organization of serials publishers, vendors, and librarians, we were approaching end-of-life for our then-current strategic plan and had to decide what to do next. The obvious thing would have been to start a new round of strategic planning. But the more we talked about it, the more obvious it seemed to us that trying to predict the landscape of five or even three years down the road was just too foolhardy. As it turned out, we pretty much shared Kiernan’s assessment of that landscape: that it was changing too radically and too quickly for traditional strategizing to be effective. So instead, we opted for scenario planning and hired a consultant to help us.

How did it work out? So far, so good — three years later, the organization is stable, its finances healthy, its recent conference a success by all measures. Are things working out well because our planning was excellent, or because we’ve gotten lucky? That’s harder to say — and as a library administrator, it’s a question that kind of keeps me up at night.

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Rick Anderson

Rick Anderson

Rick Anderson is University Librarian at Brigham Young University. He has worked previously as a bibliographer for YBP, Inc., as Head Acquisitions Librarian for the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, as Director of Resource Acquisition at the University of Nevada, Reno, and as Associate Dean for Collections & Scholarly Communication at the University of Utah.


27 Thoughts on ""Strategic Dynamism" at the University of Virginia: Implications for Scholarly Communication?"

The order lobe’s response might be that the academic environment is not changing quickly and radically, nor should it. We seem to be in the grip of a form of millennial madness. The rhetoric of radical change is mistaken.

I agree that Academia is facing changes, but its internal workings should not change, or the quality of Science will suffer.

David, I guess it depends on how strictly you define “radical.” For those of us working in the trenches of academia right now, the changes that we’re experiencing seem to be striking pretty close to the root. Certainly everything about the work of academic libraries has changed fundamentally over a very brief period of time. Most professors may be lecturing today more or less the same way they did thirty years ago, but there’s a quickly-growing wave of free online educational models that pose at least a plausible threat to their security–not to mention a truly radical erosion of government funding support in the UK (which you can bet American state governments will be watching, from a safe distance, to see what the consequences are), the accelerating collapse of the traditional textbook market (my daughter did not buy a single new textbook for her first year of college), etc. I agree that it’s both possible and counterproductive to exaggerate the rate and depth of change in higher education. But there’s danger in underestimating it, too.

It is also important to beware of attributing to technology or “radical” change what is really just the cynical abandonment of the social contract by a pampered set of overindulged proto-aristocrats – guys who gladly take government bailout money when they are under financial stress, but then gleefully eviscerate public institutions under the aegis of “creative destruction” if it fits their fancy. There’s quite a lot of both going around and it is important to separate the wheat from the poisonous chaff.

I agree Rick, the issue is what we mean by radical change. Twenty years ago I drove into DC (also known as fantasy land) twice a week to pick up reports. Now I just download the reports. Is that a radical change? The reports have not changed; they are still sentence by sentence expressions of human thought. All that has changed is the transportation system.

By the same token, I now buy dog food from Amazon. Is that a radical change? It is still dog food, but I do not have to go and get it. I do not see either change as radical, but that is just me. Because the library is the document distribution center I am sure it is going through radical change, but the library is not the university. For that matter, if everyone learned online and no one body-ported to campus, would that be a radical change? That I might agree with, but we are not even close to it.

When I go into an organization that is suffering from rapid change the first thing I have to do is calm them down.The scholarly publishing industry is a good example of this kind of panic. It is not useful.

By the same token, I now buy dog food from Amazon. Is that a radical change? It is still dog food, but I do not have to go and get it. I do not see either change as radical, but that is just me… For that matter, if everyone learned online and no one body-ported to campus, would that be a radical change? That I might agree with, but we are not even close to it.

For you as a consumer, buying dog food online probably doesn’t represent radical change — it’s more convenient in some ways (home delivery) and less convenient in others (you don’t get it immediately), but the fundamental exchange remains the same. But you’re thinking like a consumer, not like a competitor. What if you’re the owner of a brick-and mortar dog food store? Would Amazon selling dog food online represent a radical change in the marketplace in which you’re trying to work? Maybe not. Maybe Amazon is just one more competitor that you must try to beat with selection and service.

But what if Amazon started offering to deliver dog food on demand at no charge?

As I discussed in my previous posting on the Udacity experiment, there are already entities out there demonstrating proof-of-concept for online university education at web scale, and many of them are doing so at no charge (for now, anyway). Since I wrote that piece, other examples have multiplied. At the OpenCulture website you’ll find a list of 500 free online courses, taught by professors from such institutions as Yale, Cal, Wisconsin, and the New School. None of these courses, taken individually, represents a threat to the traditional model of higher education. 500 of them together, I think (along with the rate at which they seem to be popping up), suggests that something may be happening here that is worth taking seriously. If I were a higher-ed consultant, I wouldn’t tell my clients that they should respond to this development by screaming and running around in circles waving their hands over their heads. But I’d be very hesitant to suggest that they dismiss it.

Millennial madness is a good way to term it. But there is also the age old belief that getting rid of workers in favor of technology will be a boon to the bottom line. Many of our recent millennial dreams are founded on this use of technology above all others, at least among elites.

Replacing workers with machines is the essence of human progress. As IBM put it so eloquently, machines should work, people should think. You do not agree?

This is the ultimate conundrum we now face as a society: I agree that replacing workers with machines should be progress, but we are approaching a point where our current organization of how the benefits of this productivity are shared ultimately undermines it as a system of broad human progress. Already our productivity in this society has far outstripped the wage growth to the people doing the remaining necessary work


We will ultimately have to construct other means of distribution than the wage-labor system if we are to have some form of sustainable growth over the long term. Here I think people like Andre Gorz or the more recent discussions from Peter Frase offer some alternative thinking on the matter.


In short, the only way this actually represents human progress is if it means more of us get to spend less time working – and still be able to survive. If the alternative is to find some pointless make-work employment to justify our existence (or to manage arbitrary rentier tollbooths, http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/phantom-tollbooths/) or that we are all forced to act as personal servants of one kind or another to the monied elite, this hardly makes tech replacing labor the ideal it is purported to be. And, since the fewer people with jobs in this system, the fewer people can buy goods, this amazing productivity will ultimately go to waste as the depressed aggregate demand for its products will ultimately undermine future improvements.

It is also worth remembering that there are many other ways technology can be employed in industry, for instance by making it more energy efficient or having it use fewer specialized or expensive resources. Since the labor is seen as the major hangup – and has been seen as such since at least the middle of the nineteenth century – far too much attention and energy is devoted to reducing the power of labor through technology rather than creating actually innovative uses of technology for the purposes of human progress. Since the latter is ultimately only an externality of our current system, this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

A welcome respite for a Charlottesville resident who has been submerged in the emotional swirl of local reportage. Thanks for training the spotlight on the substantive questions about the grounds for Sullivan’s ouster, rather than merely echoing the process complaints.

I think this is a false dichotomy. Just as the financial crisis was not an accident, and was completely predictable to anyone willing to ask hard questions about our economic model as a whole – the extreme inequality, wage stagnation, debt financed existence, shadow banking system, and moral hazard of securitized mortgages, CDOs and credit default swaps – the current “crisis” in higher ed is almost totally manufactured out of whole cloth. There are certainly new opportunities worth thinking about, but the “environment” in question is not some natural phenomenon – it is being guided by the very philistines who helped create the crash in the first place. “Strategic Dynamism,” as Siva Vaidhyanathan pointed out yesterday, is just one of the many MBA speak neologisms that are used to undermine public institutions in favor of privatization and financialization.


This is not wise leadership. It is treating a popular and effective leader of an academic institution as a pawn in completely uneducated, but fashionable, plans for renovating higher education – plans gleaned from people who have never been involved in higher ed nor have any interest in promoting its basic values, people like David Brooks, Thomas Friedman and other pundits who are constantly amazed by anything shiny, new, and neoliberal.

I am all for constructive engagement with technology – something UVA has a very strong record of doing, with its scholars lab.


It may be true that residential, face to face pedagogy faces some challenges from things like MOOCs, but eliminating the former in favor of the latter because a few upstarts attract the attention of the popular press is a distraction. The main crisis in higher ed today is not the rising cost of tuition per se (much of this is due to things like health care, not the salaries of the shrinking professorate) or with the rising debt burden of college grads. The latter is certainly a problem, but it would be less of a problem if those grads actually had jobs to go to upon graduation. Eliminating quality higher ed in favor of untested models with questionable demand and middling results would border on insane if there wasn’t a payoff promised.

I would love to have someone connect the dots here and see how many of the hedge fund or former investment bankers that have suddenly decided they know more about education than anyone with any training in the field are in some way also influenced by the investments they have made in some random VC funded startup like Udacity. It’s fine for them, but I think we should approach the situation with a certain amount of caution – and at the very least the ability to stay true to our mission.

A long time ago – ancient history in fact – there were a series of business books by Jim Collins, one of which was called Built to Last. The premise was that long-lasting companies were those that came up with a set of core values beyond their profit seeking pursuits – values that they would remain true to even if it cost them a bit of money or even goodwill in the short run. I can see a way that engaging with things like MOOCs or online learning can be constructive and fit within these academic missions, but there is no reason to believe that one should completely retool the university every six months in order to keep up with the next big trend. This is what the president of UVA was resisting, evidently, and I think she was right to do so. I’ll close with Vaidhyanathan’s closing as I think it sums up the situation nicely:

“The biggest challenge facing higher education is market-based myopia. Wealthy board members, echoing the politicians who appointed them (after massive campaign donations) too often believe that universities should be run like businesses, despite the poor record of most actual businesses in human history.

“Universities do not have “business models.” They have complementary missions of teaching, research, and public service. Yet such leaders think of universities as a collection of market transactions, instead of a dynamic (I said it) tapestry of creativity, experimentation, rigorous thought, preservation, recreation, vision, critical debate, contemplative spaces, powerful information sources, invention, and immeasurable human capital.”

I agree entirely with this point of view. What may be appropriate for universities in dealing with rapid change is not trying to retool the entire university according to some fashionable trend of the hour, as the BoV seems bewitched by, but rather the experimentation with new models and approaches in limited spheres where risks are involved but contained so that “unexpected consequences” do not end up ruining the whole enterprise. In responding to the SK blog about start-ups the other day, I gave the Office of Digital Scholarly Publishing as a joint venture of the library and press at Penn State as an example of such a confined but forward-looking experiment. Terry Sullivan, I feel quite confident, would be fully in support of such an approach. And, indeed, UVa has long been a leader in this respect, with its Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, for instance, or the Rotunda project at the press.

Amen, Sandy. It’s worth noting that this is also what a reasonable business would do – creating or buying up a subsidiary firm rather than going whole hog into every new endeavor. Contrary to the simplistic reading of how “disruptive innovation” works, this is actually a much more common and successful strategy, even in the business world – so much so that the primary example of “disruptive innovation” Christensen points to is actually more akin to this, a fact I pointed out when I first heard about the concept last fall:


Though he wants to say that there is some fantastic turnover in the disk drive industry, the firm he pegs as being behind the curve actually does really well even in his own narrative.

I would also point readers to this excellent post by Tim Burke at Swathmore. His #1 point is worth the cost of the clickthrough (which, incidentally, is free.)


I don’t think the events at the University of Virginia can be separated from what has been happening in Virginia politics. It’s not all about the business model. Last November, Republicans won control of the Virginia Senate; they already controlled the House of Delegates and the Governorship. Since then, UVA and many other public agencies have been under pressure to cut costs, often regardless of the consequences.

The Washington Post has been following this story closely, apparently using some of its still formidable investigative journalism skills. Watch for more to come.

Does anyone really believe that the members of the UVA BOV that orchestrated this coup were engaged in, and motivated by, the kind of analysis that is presented here? If Kiernan’s email had not become public, we might be taken in by the high-minded explanations floated by Dragas and others, but the email is a candid picture of what really drove the events. The fact that the public wasn’t meant to see it makes it that much more revealing. Kiernan is approached by two “important alums” that aren’t happy with Sullivan. What makes an alumnus “important”? In this case we know perfectly well – money. Kiernan and Dragas together begin a “project” to remove Sullivan. That sounds like something out of a CIA memo on a covert operation. In the memo, Kiernan brags to the UVA business school board about his role in the project. Why does he think this project is so interesting to the business school, but to no one else?

The earliest date that has been identified (by Dragas) for the beginning of the “project” is October 2011. Sullivan took office in August 2010. That’s fourteen months of service to provide the BOV with convincing evidence that she wasn’t providing the expected leadership. Come on, now.

There is absolutely nothing in the sequence of events that even remotely suggests a BOV that was engaged in serious contemplation of the future direction of American higher education. There is absolutely nothing in the BOV backgrounds that suggests that they are qualified for and capable of such contemplation. These are business people that have managed to garner considerable wealth, one way or another. The character traits that enable the amassing of wealth are not generally associated with people that spend their time in selfless contemplation of the greater good.

A more likely explanation of the reasons behind the coup would be that, sometime during her first year of service, Sullivan got in the way of one or more very wealthy alumni with some very self-centered ambitions. Either that, or she got in the way of someone with an eye on UVA as a lucrative market for some new money-making enterprise (like “on-line learning”). Or both.

In the hurricane of information and commentary that has been swirling for the past ten days, some chilling words stand out: specifically, references by Dragas to “changes in curriculum-delivery methods”. That is the language of merchandising, not education. I am one university professor that does not consider my job to be the delivery of educational product to student consumers.


How unbecoming of a representative of the professoriat to wallow in the cartoonish rhetoric of the Fox-MSNBC set. Shallow (but emotionally immediate) oversimplification and villification used to sell Mad Magazine; does it now earn tenure, as well? Truly, MJ, there is “absolutely nothing in the BOV backgrounds that suggests that they are qualified for and capable of serious contemplation of the future direction of American higher education?”

Your self-awareness is so stunted that you cannot hear the self-parody in proclaiming your vocation as “selfless contemplation of the greater good,” even as you pejoratize the basic earning of money with snide insinuation (“one way or another”). What place does this childish caricature have in truly “higher” education?

And while I’m using the quotation marks, your use of them to designate online learning as a suspect fad, akin to CB Radio or the Atkins Diet, suggests you are sadly out of touch with the tectonic shift ignited by the ubiquitous and irreversible ecosystem of universally networked information. Of course online learning will not replicate and replace real-time/real-space pedagogy; it doesn’t intend to. But it will compel providers of the latter to distinguish and sharpen their unique value. Ostrich punctuation won’t prevent this from happening.

With respect to the business language used by some of the parties involved, perhaps you’ll recall that guilds of every sort revel in specialized vocabulary. The scholarly class, of course, have made high art of it, an art whose achievements only accelerated as the academy was annexed by the armies of inscrutable “theory.” (Who knows, maybe the BOV confused the signifier with the signified when it deconstructed President Sullivan’s strategic plan?)

Rick’s post provides useful dialectic on the essential conflicts confronting the governance at UVA. Your reply, conversely, has all the nuance of a Sean Hannity monologue.

Mr Kerner,

Your proclivity for glib personal attacks does not exactly establish your objective credibility. Your hyperbolic prose and pseudo-intellectual cant does not exactly establish you as a person of calm, detached perspective. Perhaps you’ve got a dog in this fight? Regardless, this particular affair is not about the evolution (slow or otherwise) of the university. It is not about careful, reasoned discussion of how technological advances might (or might not) be incorporated into the educational process. I wish it were. Unfortunately, the (publicly-known) facts do not provide any evidence whatsoever of the kind of planning, deliberation, and thoughtful discussion that should precede any move that massively disrupts an educational institution. The board members themselves have told you as much.

Instead, this affair is about how decisions are made, who makes them, how they impact public institutions, and what might be the personal and ulterior motives of those involved in the process. If you think that you, or I, or anyone else, is driven entirely by selfless contemplation of the greater good, you are deluded. If I choose to use simple, obvious (and possibly sarcastic) language, it is to expose simple, obvious points. There is no deep, complex back story here. Businessmen (and women) in a position of public trust shot from the hip and, in the process, not only shot themselves in the feet, but caused serious damage with their recklessness in the process. The extent of that damage will only be known when it is too late to repair much of it. If you don’t believe that, you have not been following this story.

The discussion of educational reform and evolution belongs in an entirely different forum, and I am fully prepared to join it. Find me a businessperson that has invested as much time and has as much of a personal stake in these questions as the average university professor (they’re out there), and we will have a very interesting conversation. Sadly, your inflammatory response here suggests that you are not one of them.

Why is radical, top-down, unpredictable change the choice? Why not radical, bottom-up, unpredictable change? Those advocating for strategic dynamism are often those who want within the confines of their traditional, hierarchical power structure. Suggested/mandated by them = “You! Get it done!” Suggested to them = “Follow policy and procedure” (hardly dynamic). It is difficult to initiate radical change when there is not at least incremental change happening within the thought processes, methods, and philosophies of the institute. True, in my mind, whether you’re in business or service or education or …..

Name one American corporation that has been thriving for as long as UVA? Or for as long as the College of William and Mary? Or Yale? Or Harvard? Or U Oxford? Or U Paris? Name one corporation that has contributed as many innovations across the range of human endeavor as has UVA? Or added as significant value? Corporations (and their executives) need to learn from universities (and their presidents), not the other way around.

It is going to be very sad if this whole debacle has been caused by a rush to embrace some trendy new technological gimmick with which to “eddicate” folks. I’ve been flashing back to 1962, when the buzz was about “educational TV”. Big television sets were wheeled into the classrooms and the talk was all about watching the wonderful new shows that would soon follow. In that brave new world we would sit at our little desks watching educational TV, just like we would sit at home watching the Mickey Mouse Club show – basking for 16 hours a day in the warm glow of a cathode ray tube. There would be savings on many fronts – the teacher would no longer need to spend valuable time preparing for the science lesson, because the science channel would take care of it. In fact, the teacher would no longer need to prepare (or know) much of anything, which surely would save on salaries – babysitters are cheap. As it turned out, I don’t recall watching even one “educational TV show” in public school. When I arrived at college in 1969, inert TV monitors, installed years before during the same frenzy, hung like dead carcasses from the ceilings of the big lecture halls while professors and students when on doing their educational business the same old way, not because we were all a bunch of Luddites but because watching TV all the time just isn’t very much fun for a reasonably intelligent person. The only people that profited from that particular fad were the people selling and installing the TV sets. I can say exactly the same thing today as I try to find ways to reduce the amount of time I spend in front of a computer terminal and increase the amount of time I spend in the company of live human beings. On a final note, I don’t think we should take a lot of advice about the wonders of electronic communication from a hedge fund investor who doesn’t know how to operate his email program.

I had a good experience with “educational TV” (in 1964) and a bad experience (in 1959-60). The bad experience was in 9th grade general science class. In 7th and 8th grade I had visited Mr. F’s classroom nearly early day after school (Mr. F was the science teacher in that junior high school). I really looked forward to having him as a teacher for general science when I would be in the 9th grade. Unfortunately, the school district decided that general science would be taught by closed circuit TV.. In the 9th grade I sat in the darkened school cafeteria with all other 9th graders and watched Mr. F on the closest ceiling-hung TV set Monday through Thursday. On Fridays I went to a regular classroom with Mr. Huff for quizzes and discussion.

The good experience was in tech school in the USAF (basic electronics) where locally controlled TV recordings (typically 5 to 15 minutes in length) were used as part of the instruction process. Most often, the TV recordings involved animations with narration. The TV recordings were a substantial improvement over what would otherwise be blackboard drawings and arm waving by the instructor. Incidentally, the tech school instruction was the best teaching I have encountered in my life. Perhaps, because instead of paying tuition to be taught, I was being paid by the Air Force to learn, the Air Force had an incentive to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of the instruction process.

Mr Everett,
You got the point exactly right – technological innovations work when they supplement the basic educational process, not when they attempt to replace it outright.

This forum is for people involved in scientific publication. I apparently stepped on some toes when I implied that some novelties in the electronic dissemination of information (in research and teaching) might turn out to be less than the “very big deal” that is being promoted by some enterprising people. Sorry about that.

A fad is a large-scale rush to embrace a novelty or innovation. Novelties are fine, and can turn out to be very good things. The hula hoop is actually an excellent exercise tool. The rush to embrace things prematurely, though, can fail utterly, or worse yet, backfire. My anecdote about educational TV and closed-circuit classroom technology in the 1960’s is one example. Perhaps my experiences growing up in the 60’s – an era that rarely met a novelty it didn’t like – has hardened me to what Alan Greenspan might describe as “irrational exuberance” in promoting or embracing innovation.

I published my first scientific journal article in 1976. I’ve published many more, as well as numerous books, since then. I was using Arpanet before it morphed into the Internet. I am a regular reader of scientific publications and take an active interest in how they function. (I’m on the editorial board of one.) I also teach at the university level. That makes me both a consumer and purveyor of information. I’m sure that the scholarly publishing industry values input from that constituency.

I personally don’t think that the uproar over Teresa Sullivan’s ouster at UVA has much of anything to do with a debate over future directions in the academic use of information technology. I also think that if the board’s decision did turn substantively on that issue, then it was a rush to judgment that was more like a response to a fad than a reasonable and prudent step into the future.

Some of you may have read Nicholson Baker’s book “Double Fold”, about the rampant transfer of hard copies of print journalism to microfilm by university libraries, and the subsequent destruction of the original sources. It’s a bit of a rant, but is still a useful cautionary tale about the rush to embrace new information technology prematurely, and the consequent loss not only of important archival material but also of a significant element in the quality of life.

Regarding the order-chaos dichotomy, it seems to me that there is a middle road, which I have called “evolutionary” when I followed that path a few times as the first data processing manager in some small corporations in the 1970s and 1980s. In the evolution model, key concepts were “robustness” (as opposed to fragility), “adaptability,” and “reserve capacity.” Another important aspect of the evolutionary path was continuous incremental changes. “Order” seems to imply control by the change agent. “Chaos” seems to imply disruption by the change agent. “Evolution” (in my concept of organization change) implies guidance.

I know next to nothing about the situation with the ex-president of UoV. News stories are not a reliable source of information about such matters. But I venture to suggest that she was following something close to my “evolutionary” model, i.e., neither the order extreme nor the chaos extreme.

One set of ideas written by a fellow I worked with from 1969 to 1972 is available at

Tickler excerpt:
“We can see these problems better if we enlarge our simile, going beyond the problems of the motion and guidance of a single vehicle, to the problems of overseeing the progress and the collective guidance of a whole wagon train exploring new country. As we shall see, we need to explore the analogies to the problem of looking over the country ahead, sending out scouts, and mapping the alternative routes; and the analogies of making sure the vehicles are designed well and are working properly and are responsive to the steering mechanism, and have rules of the road so they do not get in each others’ way. We will need especially to explore the role of technical experts (scouts, repairmen, advisors) and managers (captains, quarter-masters, drivers) and the process of collective decision-making and agreement by all the parties.

“For this purpose, the wagon train analogy is better than the strongly authoritarian analogy of a ship, where the ignorant passengers have no choice but to trust their safety to the authority of the experienced captain and his crew.”

Universities are hardly new in this world. Depending on where you look, they go back a mere 900 years or so. This isn’t the first time that they have been asked to weather dramatic change. One may be sure that much the same hue and cry for strategic dynamism was heard at Cambridge University in 1710, when the Statute of Anne introduced the notion of copyright in England. Copyright, you may be sure, was a disruptive change in academic circles of the day.

Cambridge University did not succumb to the temptations of churn, and they remain strong today. Perhaps there is a lesson in that.

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