7 Keys to the Founding of the Purdue Polytechnic Institute

Written by  //  April 23, 2014  //  Alumni, Faculty, Staff, Students  //  No comments

As a college, we have been working on the Purdue Polytechnic Institute (PPI) since last summer, and as I talk to faculty, colleagues, students, alumni, corporate partners, and friends of Purdue Technology, a number of questions have arisen.  Over the next few months, I plan to write about the PPI, where it’s going, what it has accomplished, what needs to be done, and what you can do. In this installment, I talk about the origins of the PPI, its history and cultural setting, the reasons why this is a special moment, how the PPI respects faculty governance, and what’s in it for you and for all of us.

In particular, I believe there are seven keys to understanding the founding of the PPI:

#1: We love Purdue Technology. Faculty and students are passionate about tech. If we disagree, it is a lover’s quarrel. Let no one doubt my commitment to this college, its students, its faculty, and its traditions and history. Bottom line: Let’s always remember that we care so much because of this love and that this love unites us, even when we disagree.

#2: Tech has not always been appreciated. There have been unfunded mandates, those who wanted us to disappear, those who wanted us to be more like traditional programs in computing and engineering, those who wanted us to forsake our role in practical, real-world technology education. This effort is not one of those efforts. This effort is not a “flavor of the month” effort but a truly transformative initiative that will lead to distinction for the college and Purdue. The forces causing us to try this will not go away. You cannot outwait this future. Bottom line: We have the quiet confidence to know our value and to move ahead and build upon our strength.

#3: This is a special moment. Our new epic (World is flat, creative era, Whole New Mind) is brought about by forces of technology (the web, computers, and communications) and economics (transaction costs & network effects).  Thus, we live in a special moment in history when the 10-century consensus about the university is breaking down. We have a President of Purdue who understands this, and he has asked Technology to step up and lead Purdue and Indiana, not because we are broken, but because we are closest to being aligned with the new world. Bottom line: We are leading from strength, not weakness, and it is Technology’s turn to shine.

#4: I accepted the challenge. Last summer, on short notice, I accepted the President’s and Board of Trustees’ challenge to try a bold experiment in educational transformation. This is the Purdue Polytechnic Initiative (PPI). At the time, I believed if I didn’t step up and accept the challenge that I would be passing by an opportunity to help grow and strengthen Technology at Purdue. I also believed at the time that we had the best programs on campus, and the best faculty and student body, to try this. I stand by that decision. I think it would have been irresponsible of me to turn down this opportunity.  Bottom line: I believe in the Technology faculty and students to accept and seize the opportunity and excel at its implementation.

#5: We will innovate & then together decide what Technology becomes. Although, as Dean I believe it was right for me to accept the President’s challenge, it is not mine to decide what Technology will become. Nor will any of the good stuff of the PPI come to pass without the faculty and students of this college. Moreover, faculty governance is an important part of the American university, and the Polytechnic does not change this. As we experiment and try bold initiatives, I promise that Purdue Technology will respect faculty governance and decision making. Having said this, we can’t let normal modes of faculty governance prevent us from innovating. To expect full faculty agreement or votes prior to trying something is a prescription to preserve the status quo. Thus, we will try many experiments, even over many years, as pilot programs. Not every one of these experiments will succeed. Not everyone will agree that all the experiments are worthwhile. No matter. This is a time of change. During it, we will try many things. We will continually improve, we will learn, we will assess, and we will fail, and then we will succeed. And after we fail and after we succeed, we will then take faculty votes to determine whether the pilot experiments are to be continued. Bottom line: We will do experiments on a pilot basis and then use faculty governance to determine what stays and what goes. Faculty effort in the PPI is essential and faculty governance will be respected.

#6: What’s in this for you? For some faculty and students, this is a golden opportunity to try experiments in more student-centered and student-led education and research, and we invite them in to be a part of the early development team to help bring this to fruition. For each one of you, this is a special ground floor opportunity to try ideas that you didn’t believe would ever be acknowledged or rewarded and see if you can get them to work. Others have been very successful in more traditional ways, in the classroom, in the lab and in the meeting room, and I want you to be assured that as we pilot experiments we will remain committed to you. We continue to value excellent teaching, research, and service as always. Some experimentation in doing things a bit differently does not change this, and not everyone needs to be involved in everything for the PPI to be a success. Having said this, as we try these new things and as we try to motivate students through their passions and interests, we also must work hard to create a culture that values different motivations among faculty as well.  Bottom line: Different faculty and students will find different ways in which the PPI effort resonates with them. Not everyone is expected to play a central role, and many are needed to play a traditional role.

#7: What’s in this for us? As a college, this is a special moment for us, with special resources and special support. For many years, the special applied mission of the College of Technology was not considered particularly central to the future of Purdue or the future of Indiana. For the most part we disagreed with this assessment, but we were not in a position to challenge it. As a group, we are now in a position to challenge these views. Today, with the PPI, we can build on the strength of the College of Technology and create a new model of technology education for the rest of this century. In this way, we can work together and help lead Purdue and Indiana in an unprecedented fashion. Bottom line: As a college, let’s grab this opportunity and have each of us bring our special talents to the table to make the PPI as successful as we can.

Returning to point number #1, we all love Technology at Purdue. I have taken the steps I have taken out of love for the College. Some reading this may disagree with some of those steps. Some reading this may disagree with my assessments in this blog post. I hope this is the case, because if we all agreed, we probably wouldn’t be doing anything very interesting, or anything really worth doing. As we go forward, I hope as lovers of Purdue Technology that we can use the PPI as a reason to have many honest, heartfelt conversations about what Technology should become, and for us to experiment with new ways of doing things and then evaluate those things together. Please write to me (bertolig@purdue.edu) with your comments and thoughts.

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