Board of Trustees takes advice from Bald Futurist

The Bald Futurist comes to SOU. This headshot was taken from his website.

On Sept. 29, the Southern Oregon University Board of Trustees hosted a presentation by the “Bald Futurist” Steve Brown. As a futurist, Brown considers what forces will impact how the world will look in years to come. He worked for Intel for 28 years shaping how they strategize and think about the future.

The Trustees are nearing the end of their strategic planning process. Through this process, a strategy will form to direct the school towards opportunities and away from potential pitfalls. The Board’s Chair, Bill Thorndike had previously seen two of Brown’s talks and said he thought they “Really [had] a lot of relevance and consideration for higher education going forward.” Thorndike admitted, “Whatever plan we come up with I can guarantee will have to be modified.” However, he said, “We don’t want to get so stuck in discussing stuff that we don’t actually come up with an action plan.”

According to SOU’s strategic planning website the university’s goals should be finalized sometime during the fall or early winter term. ”Hopefully our strategic planning process represents a response to some of the opportunities and challenges that the future has posed to us,” said Thorndike.

On his website, Brown wrote “We should all expect more disruption from technology in the next decade than we have experienced in the last 50 years.” According to the futurist, there is a need to continue educating students after they have entered the workforce. “Instead of 4 years of their lives, now you’re going to have to [educate them for] 40 years of their lives,” he said.

Thorndike agreed that to be relevant, universities must give “…additional knowledge as students go through their careers,” and that schools must be more than “…just degree producing plants.”

To effectively teach life long learners Brown said, “We need to cut the cost of delivering education in half, and once you’ve done the hard work of cutting the cost of delivering education in half, you need to cut it in half again.” Though he acknowledged, “In public education, budgets are tight, you guys are already really lean.” According to Brown, the way forward is reimagining “…education for the twenty-first century instead of the eighteenth century” rather than trying to cut costs incrementally.

Sherry Ettlich, the Director of STEM, said it was interesting “…which jobs [Brown] talked about going away and which ones he didn’t.” She was surprised that “…the number of radiologists that we’ll need is going to go down” due to the “creation of artificial intelligence bots that can help with reading x-rays.”

Brown explained, “If your job is largely one task your job’s pretty much gone away.”


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