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President Aoun discusses the future of higher ed with Council of Chinese American Deans and Presidents

Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern, poses for a photo with Hanfu Mi, professor of literacy, education and linguistics at University of Illinois-Springfield, during the 2022 forum of the Council of Chinese American Deans and Presidents held at Northeastern this year. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

In the wake of rising regionalization in the world, global higher education should be fostered and preserved, President Joseph E. Aoun told the Council of Chinese American Deans and Presidents last week.

“We want to double down on globalization at a time when the world is retrenched,” he said. “Students want to roam, and that is why we provide this opportunity.”

The world may be moving from a state of globalization to regionalization, Aoun said, but it is important to keep higher education global. A special role of the administrative leaders, especially those who are immigrants themselves like Aoun or a lot of members of CCADP, is in refusing to allow the world to close, he said.

Chancellors, provosts, vice provosts and deans of Chinese descent from 22 higher education institutions and 13 U.S. states visited Northeastern for a four-day 2022 annual forum of CCADP members.

“Our [CCADP] mission is to promote more diverse American higher education leadership, including Chinese American,” said Phil He, Northeastern vice provost of faculty diversity, who has served as the CCADP’s president for the last two years.

While Asian Americans constitute 12% of all professors in academia, they currently hold only 2% of top leadership positions in the higher education institutions in the U.S., he said. The purpose of CCADP is to move the needle, help each other professionally, hold workshops and allow inspirational speakers to talk to members to sharpen their leadership skills and boost their confidence, He said. 

Aoun stopped by to meet the participants of the forum on Friday afternoon and share a few thoughts on the future of higher education institutions.

The U.S. society is aging, he said, and only 36% of colleges and universities were able to fill their seats last year. It is time to look at life-learners, who constitute 74% of all learners and want to reskill, upskill and reinvent themselves, Aoun said.

“That’s an enormous opportunity for us in higher education,” he said.

Aoun also talked about taking risks, empowering early adopters and creating dedicated teams to avoid becoming obsolete, and focusing on high-end markets instead of mass markets. 

The CCADP members wanted to come to Boston for their annual forum because they admire Aoun’s leadership and Northeastern’s achievements in experiential learning, He said.

In an informal chat with Aoun, some of the forum’s participants mentioned reading his books. Hanfu Mi, former dean of the College of Education at University of Illinois-Springfield and professor of literacy, education and linguistics, said that he has an autographed copy of Aoun’s Robot-Proof.

“I really enjoyed the book,” Mi said. “I learned a lot and [it] helped me tremendously.”

He was especially interested in Aoun’s vision of bringing change to established practices, implementing new ideas on campus and dealing with nay-sayers, Mi said.

CCADP, founded in 2008, has grown from eight original members to more than 100 chancellors, vice presidents, deans and chairs. Although the founding members of CCADP held mostly dean positions, the organization has now opened itself up to chairs of departments, He said, to help more people climb the administrators’ ladder and become provosts.

The incoming president of CCADP has a connection to Northeastern as well. Hanchen Huang, provost at University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth was the chair of mechanical and industrial engineering department at Northeastern in 2013-2018.

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