Five Crucial Innovations: A Method of Studying Evolutionary Change in Small Colleges

In ‘Integrative Planning for the “Joint-Systems” of Society and Technology—The Emerging Role of the University’, Jantsch (1969) points out disruptive forces that are still found in higher education today, including student unrest, the degrading side effects of technology, and the lack of integrative planning for the future. Universities, he says, are deeply affected by these pressures for change through their three functions: education, research, and service. In 1969, he called on universities to lead the process of transforming disruptive forces to cohesive ones in a new leadership role, because ‘no other institution is equally well qualified and legitimized’ (p. 7). For higher education to serve in such a role, Jantsch hoped for the following institutional innovations:

  1. a new purpose of the university that enforces the pluralism of society by weaving creative and technological energies in society and education, helping to transform conversations from science and technology into long-range planning objectives, assessing possible futures, providing positive and productive leadership and educating leaders for society (pp. 10–11);
  2. shifting activities at the university towards ‘socio-technological system engineering’ (p. 11) and futures thinking in regard to the ‘joint systems’ of society and technology;
  3. altering the structure of the university into three types of interacting structural units: ‘system laboratories’ that plan and design systems, ‘function-oriented departments’ (function/mission of technology in the context of societal systems) and ‘discipline-oriented departments’ (custodians of basic disciplines);
  4. emphasizing operating principles to focus on training towards purposeful and useful work, diversifying engineering education, acceptance of the ‘essential role in lifelong education’, focus on technological and socio-technological research and ‘the active and integral engagement’ through ‘system laboratories’ (p. 11);
  5. a more active relationship between the new university and society (p. 13).

The disruptions that higher education has been adapting to over the past few decades are reminiscent of the disruptions in 1969. This suggests a use of Jantsch’s five crucial innovations for studying how small institutions have had to react to pressures for change over the past few decades.

Description

Educational researchers studying institutions of higher education typically study issues without historical context or concern for small institutions. In 1969, Erich Jantsch published a paper about the disruptive forces affecting higher education and society. He predicted (hoped for) five crucial institutional innovations in order to transform disruptions into ‘cohesive forces’. This article argues that many of these disruptive forces are still present today and therefore, Jantsch's five crucial innovations provide an informative option for studying evolutionary change in small higher education institutions. Drawing examples from the literature on the history of higher education and the work of Erich Jantsch, this article introduces a method for utilizing Jantsch's five crucial innovations for studying to what degree small institutions of higher education are evolving.