The Language of Change

“Everything must change…Nothing stays the same
Everyone will change…No one stays the same
Yes, everything must change...”

—Bernard Ighner

In 1974, jazz singer and songwriter Bernard Ighner wrote and performed the popular song Everything Must Change. Its message—change is a necessary constant in life—corresponds with what countless contemporary national reports have consistently and urgently indicated in recent years—that change is the undeniable imperative that we must wholeheartedly embrace, even when considering STEM higher education reform. However, sporadic and incoherent attempts at change will not suffice. Rather, what is required is what Frederick Douglas describes for us as “…patient, enduring, honest, unremitting and indefatigable work into which the whole heart is put.”

Without a doubt, the landscape of higher education has shifted dramatically, and it is predicted to shift even more over the next two decades. Already, women—of all racial and ethnic backgrounds—comprise nearly 60 percent of all US college undergraduates. Further, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, in the 2008 report Knocking at the College Door, projects that by 2022 the number of high school graduates who are from minority populations will significantly increase, while the number of white non-Hispanic high school graduates will decrease. In fact, in The College of 2020: Students, Martin Van Der Werf and Grant Sabatier predict that these trends will result in minority students outnumbering whites on US college campuses by the start of the next decade. These projected shifts in undergraduate student composition make it increasingly likely that all institutions of higher education will experience significant growth in their underrepresented STEM student enrollments, and they emphasize the need for comprehensive change in STEM higher education that is grounded in research theories, relevant to diverse audiences, and informed by the principles of liberal education.

Strengthening our resolve for this kind of change requires the kind of systematic approaches that are often defined within organizational change theory and institutional context. In his 2012 book Leading Change, John P. Kotter noted that such approaches can accelerate the implementation of new initiatives, avoid unnecessary resistance, and overcome destructive inertia. This issue of Peer Review showcases explicit and highly ordered institutional practices and processes that not only frame the constructs of a model for institutional change, but also support a new language for STEM higher education reform that is shaped by words and deeds of action, reflection, and implementation. Successful integration of these domains sets in motion the kind of deep and pervasive adjustments to institutional policies, procedures, and processes that ensure STEM students, especially those from historically underrepresented groups, can persist in their chosen fields of study.

However, the complexities of change are such that our energies cannot be singularly focused. Ighner, through his lyrics, also reminds us that individual faculty and administrators are no less vulnerable to change than the institutions where they work. Indeed, STEM faculty have been increasingly called upon in recent years to implement new approaches to teaching, conduct research in an ever more competitive climate, and balance the demands of career that often conflict with personal wellness and wholeness. Hence, as STEM higher education reform simultaneously struggles with the inevitability of change and the intricacies of achieving it, our new language of change must also strategically include particular attention to workplace satisfaction, faculty incentive and reward structures, and career trajectories.

Regardless of the order of magnitude of our approaches, it is accepting the certainty of change—not change itself—that is perhaps the most pressing demand of our reform effort. Absent this, we are destined to fail in mitigating persistent disparities in STEM higher education, achieving collaborative leadership, and, most importantly, aligning what we do with who we serve and how we think.

‘Cause that's the way of time…Nothing and no one goes unchanged

—Bernard Ighner


Kelly Mack, vice president for undergraduate STEM education,and executive director; and Christina Shute, program coordinator—both of Project Kaleidoscope, AAC&U

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