What does the future of higher education look like? Especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with nationwide protests against systemic racism?
The Aspen Institute has strived to answer those questions with a recent online presentations “The Future of Higher Education: How Universities are Responding to COVID-19.”
The discussion was the first of 11 scheduled for both the 2020 Hurst Lecture and McCloskey Speaker Series.
The powerhouse roundtable included three leaders of the country’s major universities: Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California, Dr. Kristina M. Johnson, chancellor of The State University of New York and Dr. Julio Frenk, president of the University of Miami. Aspen Institute Chief Executive Officer Dan Porterfield served as moderator.
In a wide ranging format, topics included how scientific research can impact and hinder the pandemic and how each institution is responding to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Academic health and medical centers, Porterfield said, are playing a major role in combating the virus.
Miami’s Frenk reminded everyone, “We have to be mindful to get ahead of the game and make the safety of frontline medical professionals our top priority.”
And California’s Napolitano added, “One of the greatest things for me to observe was the hard work of doctors and nurses.” However, she cautioned, “Our state is surging again in the number of virus cases.The government needs to slow the process of re-opening.”
The financial challenges for each institution cannot be overstated. According to Napolitano, the California university system expects to lose $800 million. She remarked, “We need to better communicate with the federal government to help more with research support.”
Johnson reported, “Scientists are trying to figure out how better to understand the virus and how to prevent testing false negatives or false positives. Research will get us to the other side of the pandemic.” She expressed pride that the university has shown “the ability to bring people together and focus on important problems.”
The discussion then switched to racial inequality.
Porterfield began by referring to the police killing of George Floyd as a moment of reckoning.
He stressed, “We need to respond to the question, ‘what can we do?’”
”We need to weed out the troublemakers,” Johnson concurred. And responding to the question, “How can we defeat racial inequality?” she said, “We need to diversify our faculty.”
Frenk explained, “We are a community which is outward facing and works hard to find the causes of racism. Our goal is to help illuminate the problems and set an example.”
He noted in the university’s region, “We face the challenge of finding Black faculty and students.”
Napolitano said the University of California has its own police force and “We want to make sure it’s a 21st century operation.”
“Let’s never forget the eight minutes and 40 seconds Floyd suffered before dying,” said Napolitano. She implored, “Let this not be just an episode. There’s so much more we need to do.”
The Aspen Institute has earned a reputation for gathering diverse, nonpartisan thought leaders, creatives, scholars and members of the public to address some of the world’s most complex problems. But, as stated on the website, the goal of these convenings is to have an impact beyond the conference room. They are designed to provoke, further, and improve actions taken in the real world.
All speaker series events will be virtual and are free. Registration is required for all events and can be accessed on the institute’s web site. All events will take place virtually on Zoom. Registration is required for all events and can be accessed here on the institute’s web site.
Event details are subject to change. For more information on the Aspen Community Programs virtual events which are open to the public visit aspeninstitute.org/community or call 544-7970.