This blog post is coming to you from the west coast of the United States of America. It is an interesting place to be right now, as the US swings into election mode for 2012 and therefore looks more thoroughly into its soul. A good bit of the public discourse here follows similar patterns to those across the Atlantic: concerns about economic recession, public debt and unemployment – as well as criticism of the behaviour of bankers, property speculators and politicians. But what caught my eye was an article in the local newspaper here, reporting on an opinion poll that found most Americans feel that 2011 was a bad year; and yet they viewed 2012 with optimism.
Of course 2012 may turn out to be as bad or worse for all of us. Many commentators are predicting exactly that. But I cannot help feeling that the irrepressible American tendency to be optimistic gives them an edge, and a sense of purpose and energy that Europeans sometimes lack.
And here’s something else that attracted my attention. A local politician here said recently that the country will be in peril if everyone just focuses on what he called the three ‘R’s: ‘regulation’, ‘risk’ and ‘routine’. What was needed much more was a push for three ‘i’s: ‘innovation’, ‘information’ and ‘initiative’. Events over the past 3-4 years have pushed people to look for more regulation, when in fact there is not that much evidence that we had too little: rather, we had too little effective application of regulation, and not enough appropriate information. In the end increased regulation usually settles down as bureaucratisation, and a mentality in which caution stifles the drive for renewal.
Universities are in exactly this position: where some believe that more regulation and less autonomy is the answer. It almost certainly isn’t. More responsibility and a greater sense of community is needed, but that’s something quite different.
My hope for 2012 is that we don’t all become mesmerised by the problems we now face, and that we allow innovation and initiative to flourish, while also recognising that we need to do this as a community with a common cause.