The Business of Education

But this is the first time in my memory when our leaders — presidents and deans and boards of trustees — have so energetically opened the doors of the house of learning to commerce. It is the first time that they’ve shown willingness to insert the entrepreneurs directly into our day-to-day teaching lives. In the past they have stood between us and the market. Though the members of American boards of trustees often come from business, they have understood that the hunger for wealth is not compatible with genuine intellectual life.

The Internet Agenda,” Mark Edmundson

I hate to disagree with Mr. Edmundson. In fact, I think that his analogy to football is precisely right. Given that business people have an overwhelming presence on university governing boards, money is likely to have a very high priority as the great public tortoise lifts it slow head and begins to face the once fast-moving for-profit hares, now tripped up by their own excesses. It won’t be public service that wakes the administrative beast.

Universities get swallowed up by their football programs, as Mr. Edmundson rightly notes, and some are sure to get swallowed up by their online programs once someone demonstrates the money that can be made. That is, assuming that these programs get off the ground at all, which I believe they will, eventually. I’d qualify his arguments in some ways. MOOC’s are not as potentially profitable and so dangerous as general education courses, for example.

In the medium to long run, I think that the online equivalent of football is more likely to be general education courses such as Freshman English which have long been the steady breadwinners of higher education. That remains to be seen. My real quibble with Mr. Edmundson is his sense of history; the “entrepreneurs” entered our classrooms decades ago. Nothing has shaped higher education more than their labor cost cutting ideology.

In fact, it’s this very labor-saving agenda– the erosion of tenure and the casualization of teaching– that will be the foundation of any program that generates those game-changing revenues. The key to these funds isn’t only technology and ubiquitous broadband, it will be the cheap labor of adjuncts, on the one hand, and the historical blindness of the public, on the other, including, it seems, far too many tenured professors.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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