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President Aoun says universities must innovate to meet new challenges

Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.

Citing the American railroad industry’s failure to grasp changing transportation trends, Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun said that universities must innovate amid changing times and evolving demands.

“They thought of themselves as being in the railway business; they didn’t think of themselves as being in the transportation business. So what did they miss? They saw the airplane revolution, but they didn’t make a move,” Aoun said during his annual briefing to the Faculty Senate yesterday. “We cannot isolate ourselves from reality. Reality is saying we need your knowledge, we need your expertise, we need to be versed in the fields universities are creating.”

President Aoun said that Northeastern is at the forefront of a shift in higher education by launching a new system of regional campuses. Last month, the university opened a regional campus in Charlotte, N.C., the first of several locations across the United States that allow Northeastern to align the needs of the regions’ emerging industries with Northeastern’s teaching and research strengths.

The new campuses will allow Northeastern to partner with regional businesses on research that aligns with the university’s strengths, particularly in areas of health, security and sustainability.

The graduate degree programs, Aoun stressed, will be taught by Northeastern faculty – both online and in the classroom – according to the same standards of excellence as courses offered in Boston.

“There’s no difference and that’s critical, because quality is not negotiable. No matter what we do, it has to be at the highest level,” Aoun said, emphasizing that Northeastern is bringing the full force of the university to the regional campuses, including a wide range of disciplines and faculty.

In addition to the opportunities afforded through new regional campuses, President Aoun said Northeastern is beginning its Institutional Master Plan process, an exciting opportunity to chart its future in Boston.

“The Master Plan is really not driven by the city, it is not driven by regulations,” Aoun said. “It is driven by our aspirations: How far do we want to go and how will we accomplish our dreams?”