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A series of book conversations held on Zoom

Academic Innovation for the Public Good

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Join us in 2024 to think about the future of higher education

Stanford Digital Education and Trinity College organize a virtual author conversation series on how higher education can affect the public good, exploring how institutions can lead and support efforts to make higher education more accessible, equitable, and meaningful. In three online events this winter and spring, we turn alternately to authors who imagine future forms of higher education, and to one who looks back to examine her own surprising path to university leadership, itself an index and harbinger of higher education's potential to enhance lives and promote social mobility. 

Authors will be interviewed by expert moderators via Zoom, with the discussions focused on new ways that academic innovations and partnerships can strengthen the impact of higher education. Now in its third season, the conversation series is co-sponsored by more than 20 colleges and universities.

January 24 
The Synthetic University: How Higher Education Can Benefit from Shared Solutions and Save Itself 

James Shulman

A conversation with author James Shulman
Wednesday, January 24, 1-2 p.m. Pacific Time 

 View the January 24 recording and transcript

How can the spiraling cost of college tuition be contained? In his book The Synthetic University, James Shulman, vice president and chief operating officer at the American Council of Learned Societies, argues that colleges and universities can address it by partnering with mission-driven, market-supported organizations. 

Shulman will be interviewed by Mitchell Stevens, professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education.

March 20
Up Home: One Girl's Journey 

Ruth Simmons

A conversation with author Ruth Simmons
Wednesday, March 20, 1-2 p.m. Pacific Time

View the March 20 recording and transcript

Ruth J. Simmons received her master’s and doctorate in Romance languages and literature from Harvard University and went on to serve as president of Smith College, Brown University, and Prairie View A&M University. Her memoir, Up Home: One Girl’s Journey, is an intimate, unsparing work of memory that conveys the transformative power of education.

The book begins with Simmons’ girlhood under Jim Crow in rural east Texas, as the twelfth child of sharecroppers. It continues in segregated Houston in the all-Black Fifth Ward, where her family moved before she started second grade. It ends with her experiences as a scholarship student at Dillard University and at Wellesley College, where she spent her junior year. 

Simmons will be interviewed by James Campbell, professor of history at Stanford, who was on the faculty at Brown when Simmons was president. During that time, Simmons appointed Campbell to lead the committee that produced a groundbreaking report on the university’s historical ties to the slave trade and slavery. It was the first instance of a major university taking such a step to come to terms with its past.

May 15
The New Global Universities: Reinventing Education in the 21st Century 

Bryan Penprase
Noah Pickus

A conversation with authors Bryan Penprase and Noah Pickus
Wednesday, May 15, 1-2 p.m. Pacific Time

A recording will be available soon. Please check back!

In their book The New Global Universities, Bryan Penprase and Noah Pickus explore how eight new universities across the globe were planned, funded, and launched, offering lessons both for future founders and for existing universities seeking to create new opportunities. Penprase is a visiting scholar at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and vice president for sponsored research and external academic relations, as well as professor of physics and astronomy, at Soka University. Pickus is associate provost at Duke University.

Empty benches lining a path leading toward the Main Quad, wet with rain

What we talked about in 2023

Part 1 of our 2023 series focused on strengthening and extending the sense of belonging in higher education, with books by Geoff Cohen; Julia Freeland Fisher and Matthew Jackson; James Koch and Omari Swinton; and Natasha Warikoo. Part 2 examined how universities facilitate and distribute the sharing of knowledge, with books by Peter Kaufman; Tamson Pietsch; Justin Reich; and Olatunde Sobomehin and sam seidel.

See recordings and transcripts of our 2023 events

What we talked about in 2022

In 2022, the authors we invited probed the obligations of universities to democracy, to society, and to their immediate communities. Watch our ’22 compilation video for excerpts of conversations with Davarian Baldwin, Ronald Daniels, Sekile Nzinga, Emily Levine, ‌‌Sarah Stein Greenberg, ‌‌William Kirby, Ethan Ris, Marybeth Gasman, Van Ton-Quinlivan, Tia Brown McNair, and Lindsey Malcom-Piqueux.

See recordings of our 2022 events

Thank you to our program partners

Badavas Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning (Bentley University)
Brown University School of Professional Studies  
Dartmouth College
Mount Holyoke College
Notre Dame Learning
University of Pennsylvania Center for Excellence in Teaching, Learning, and Innovation
University of Michigan Center for Academic Innovation

Thank you to our co-sponsors

Carnegie Mellon University
Center for Social Innovation at the Stanford Graduate School of Business
Cornell University
Duke Learning Innovation
Georgetown University Center for Design in Learning and Scholarship
Harvard Online
Jay Hurt Hub for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Davidson 
Johns Hopkins University
Minerva Project
McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning at Princeton University
North Dakota State University
Northwestern University Women's Center
Stanford Pathways Lab
University of Wyoming

If your institution is not represented on this list, and you would like to become a program partner or co-sponsor, please e-mail Program partners contribute financial support. There is no cost to co-sponsor; you simply post the events on your local events calendars and newsletters and we will include your institution on the list.

Banner photo (top): The interiors of the Lathrop Library and East Asia Library. Photo credit: Linda A. Cicero.