Focus on the Future

I cannot predict future needs any better than anyone else. But one can look back 35-40 years to see how people thought then, to see how many were able to foresee with any accuracy what today's circumstances and objectives would be like. The impact of computers- especially of international computer networks- was virtually invisible. Just 10 years ago it was still an uphill battle to get college faculties to think of computers as more like telephones than as adding machines or typewriters. Who would have predicted the arrival of national standards for school education, and the discussion of national standards for higher education? How many would have predicted the average age of college students would rise to nearly- as it is now- or that 80 percent of students in undergraduate mathematics would be studying subjects commonly taught in high school?

Today's curriculum, even if revised just last year, is not a proper base for designing a permanent facility. The design goal of the facility needs to be flexibility, to permit easy and inexpensive conversions to uses not yet conceived. The questions should not be so much about ideal circumstances for the best of today's pedagogy, but about facilities that could serve a variety of styles, subjects, and approaches to education.

The impact of international computer communications will radically change the very concept of a college or university. Resources for learning- traditionally professors, libraries, laboratories, and texts- will soon become a "virtual university" available to any student anywhere. This will happen sooner in sciences and mathematics than in other fields, but it is coming everywhere. Science revolutions now come too rapidly to be held back by mere bricks and mortar.