Engineers in charge?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a piece on an interesting development at Georgia Tech. The argument here is that we should deploy the skills of the engineer in running our universities in order to properly to address the problems we face:

So what if engineers tackled those problems using their reasoning skills and tested various solutions through simulations? Perhaps then we will truly design a university of the future.

That’s the basic idea behind Georgia Tech’s new Center for 21st Century Universities. The center is officially described as a “living laboratory for fundamental change in higher education,” but its director, Rich DeMillo, describes it in terms we can all understand: higher-education’s version of the Silicon Valley “garage.” DeMillo knows that concept well, having come from Hewlett-Packard, where he was chief technology officer (he’s also a former Georgia Tech dean).

Applying the garage mentality to innovation in higher ed is an intriguing concept, and as DeMillo described it to me over breakfast on Georgia Tech’s Atlanta campus Wednesday, I realized how few college leaders adopt its principles. Take, for example, a university’s strategic plan. Such documents come and go with presidents, and the proposals in every new one are rarely tested in small ways before leaders try to scale them across the campus. After all, presidents have little time to make a mark before moving on to their next job.

The details of the “living laboratory” make it look really rather interesting. However, I’m not sure that the analysis of university strategic planning is entirely valid. Nor that this is a compelling argument for having engineers in charge. After all, it does also rather suggest here that they would rather be in the “garage”.