Leveraging an incumbent's sustainability

It's easy to assume that colleges and universities will be around forever. They've endured the phenomenal changes when the Medieval era was replaced by the Renaissance. They've existed under monarchies, dictatorships and democracies. They've continued to do what they do while we have advanced technologies beyond the wildest imaginations of visionaries a century ago. Academia appears very resilient and sustainable, like a climax formation of a hardwood forest on a mountainside that benefits from uphill runoff. The quantity and magnitude of changes during the long history of academic institutions have not disrupted their perpetual existence thus far.

Yet it's possible that this strength is academia's greatest weakness. It happens in ecosystems as I explored in The collapse of efficient forests. The sustainability may be achieved by a loss of redundancy, diversity and inefficiencies which enable radical adaptations and innovations. The system may become overly-dependent on particular environmental conditions that rarely fluctuate or disappear. The system may become extremely close-coupled -- which then transmits devastation throughout it's boundaries without buffers, disconnects or barriers. The adaptation to ongoing favorable conditions may become very short-sighted, presumptuous and susceptible to unforeseen developments.

If academia has gone this route, we would be hearing proclamations from college administrations and faculty like:
  • "Students are not customers and should not expect to be served"
  • "Instructions cannot be learned appropriately without instructors certified in the field of study"
  • "Legitimacy of preparations cannot be proven without diplomas and grade transcripts"
  • "Knowledge cannot be advanced unless it's achieved by professional authorities, experts and empiricists"
These statements assert that colleges and universities will be around forever. They assume academia will continue to be as sustainable and resilient as it has always been. They depend on students remaining as passive, ignorant and dependent on authorities as always. They presume that expertise will continue to be scarce while ignorance remains abundant. They reflect a close-coupled efficiency for the perpetual production of assignments, tests, grades and diplomas.

As I see it, very sustainable academia has left the door wide open to innovators outside the box to assume:
  • Students are customers and should expect to be served
  • Instructions can be learned appropriately without instructors certified in the field of study thanks to archiving expertise online, tutoring via webcams, and other e-learning approaches.
  • Legitimacy of preparations can be proven without diplomas and grade transcripts as games, simulations and immersive scenarios become proving grounds for competencies
  • Knowledge can be advanced by breakthrough insights into personal experiences, creative mash-ups and chaotic changes without the reductionist outlooks of professional authorities, experts and empiricists

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