Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Chancellor Plans to Build Bridges between Campuses and Private Industry

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

New Chancellor Plans to Build Bridges between Campuses and Private Industry

Article excerpt

DAVID SCOTT has covered a vast distance from his upbringing on a 20-acre farm, or croft, in the Orkney Islands off Scotland to his present position as chancellor of the University of Massachusetts (UMass) at Amherst. But his early life on the sparsely populated Orkneys has always been a factor shaping his academic career.

The storm-blasted northern islands were a rich preparatory school for a youth fascinated by the natural world. That interest eventually took him to Oxford University to study nuclear physics, then on to such posts as director for research at the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory at Michigan State University.

The soft-spoken Orkney islander held various teaching and administrative positions at Michigan State before moving last July to the chancellorship at UMass Amherst, where 26,000 students make it the core of the five-campus University of Massachusetts system. His own experience of working from humble beginnings to the upper reaches of scholarly life gave Dr. Scott a firm commitment to the "democratization of privilege" in the academic world.

That commitment may explain his favorite way of describing the current state of public higher education in America: as evolving toward "the land-grant university for the next century." The land-grant colleges and universities, instituted by an act of Congress in the mid-19th century, marked a radical departure. These publicly supported schools were to reach beyond the traditional disciplines of education, law, medicine, and divinity and start generating and dispersing the latest in agricultural and mechanical knowledge. It was a huge step in the democratization of learning.

Land-grant institutions, including the University of Massachusetts, were designed to serve a wider public and support economic growth - two goals that top the agenda for today's colleges, Scott says. Rapid social and technological changes call for "a different type of education, different ways of reaching students," he says. The strong criticism being leveled at higher education - calls for greater efficiency, fiscal responsibility, and revamped curricula - boils down to the need to "break through and become more responsive," in Scott's view.

What needs "breaking through," he says, are the "barriers" between disciplines, between campuses, and between the university and the outside world.

That's hardly a perspective unique to Scott. Charles Lenth, director of policy studies for higher education at the Education Commission of the States in Denver talks, for instance, of the need "to do things better than in the past.... We need to rethink the way we're doing higher education and look horizontally at how to link institutions with off-site instructional centers."

The University of Massachusetts is finding some ways to form those links. The Amherst campus recently started a mentoring program with middle-school students in nearby Springfield, Mass., which has the second-largest school district in New England and a big enrollment of minorities. The goal is to nurture the students academically and guarantee them admission to UMass on completion of high school. …

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