Author and colleague Jeff Selingo is Visiting Scholar at Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities. Jeff and I recently sat down with Rick Clark to answer the question “Is College worth it?” As you might have expected, there is no pat answer. The question itself is surprisingly complicated, as these interviews show.
The videos will be available in early December.
Welcome back! “Revolution in Higher Education” was released by Amazon and other booksellers a few weeks ago. There is also an audio version in CD and online formats. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Fans of “Abelard to Apple” will recognize this as a continuation of the story of how higher education got to its current state and where it is going. However, Revolution is edgier and I think it will promote more spirited debate. There are already reviews that call it depressing and others that call it inspiring. The one thing that everyone notices is my emphasis on the social contract with universities. It is the unifying thread.
I want to give special thanks to Ambassador Andrew Young for a wonderful Foreword that focuses on the role of American universities in providing access to quality education. Ambassador Young and I will be taking this message to audiences over the next several months.
I’ll be blogging about the three themes of this book: affordability, access, and achievement. A lot has happened since the manuscript was completed earlier in the year and I want to update you on where the revolution stands.
The mobs I talked about in “When Mobs Roam the Halls of Ivy” are real, and they–among other scary things–are a threat to academic freedom. Whether it is political pressure on boards or self-appointed bands of vigilantes policing the boundaries of politically correct speech, the forces that stifle open and unfettered inquiry on college campuses undermine everyone. It is not the exclusive province of one political stripe to protect the rest of us from the assault of the other side whose ideas are–axiomatically–unacceptable. The campus civil rights movements of the 1960’s would probably not have withstood the determined attacks that would be mounted today.
The real point of the Henry Drummond (the Clarence Darrow character in the 1955 Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee play Inherit the Wind) defense of academic freedom (“the right to be wrong“) is revealed when with Matthew Brady (William Jennings Bryan) takes the witness stand and Drummond goes on the attack: “I’m trying to stop you bigots and ignoramuses from controlling the education of the United States.” Lawrence and Lee wrote ITW at the height of Senator Joe McCarthy’s crazed hunt for Communists, a purge that viciously pursued academics and intellectuals whose ideas and writings placed them outside the Senator’s narrowly defined strip of acceptable thought. It was a parable for its time, but the 1925 trial of Tennessee teacher John Scopes for violating the Butler Act was one of literature’s most inspired dramatic backdrops.
Henry Drummond was on the side of progressives for whom bigotry meant barring the teaching of evolution, but he would have been just as comfortable defending campus civil rights protests or anti-war demonstrations in the 1960’s. Or Columbia President Lee Bollinger’s decision to host Iranian President Ahmadinejad. Bollinger introduced Ahmadinejad with a blistering attack on the very fabric of regressive Iranian theocracy. Bolliinger, it could be argued, was not a very gracious host, but he at least enabled the kind of politically unpalatable speech that academic freedom is designed to protect. But what about the other side? Would Drummond have been equally passionate about the pressure brought by progressive Rutgers faculty members to rescind the invitation to Condoleeza Rice’s to deliver the 2014 commencement address, “because of her role in the Iraq War.” If not, it would have been a missed opportunity to point out that academic freedom is a two way street, and the door that leads to it is either open or closed. There is nothing in between.
We have talked many times about the demise of colleges, comparing higher education to other industries that believed they could resist the advance of technology. Borders book stores, Blockbuster Video, and a whole raft of local newspapers are just the easiest examples of revered enterprises that simply went out of business. From this discussion comes an interesting essay by C21U visiting scholar Michael Haggans, who argues that campuses close all the time. Sometimes it is temporary:
Whether by snow and ice, wind, fire, flood, civil disorder or bankruptcy, you may be certain that your campus will be closed. It is just a matter of when and how long the closure will last. Even a brief closing provides a glimpse of higher education without the comfortable assumption of shared space and time – the familiar functionality of a campus.
Sometimes, institutions–like the dozens of colleges and universities near Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactor–not only survive catastrophe against all odds but are the only place where communities can gather and rebuild. Sometimes they close forever:
‘Forever’ is an unstated part of every institution’s mission statement. Over the last century, hundreds have winked in and out of existence. [Westminster’s Ray Brown maintains the most comprehensive list.] A few such as Antioch College have been well known, their demise widely reported. Most are long forgotten. They close and disappear through merger, acquisition by for-profit consortiums, and from simple bankruptcy.
The World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on the future of universities was absorbed earlier this year into several other councils–a mistake, in my view, since none of the other councils have institutional focus–but several of the white papers live on. This one on the privacy issues inherent in learning analytics generated some interest in 2012, but the big data aspects of higher education seemed like an abstraction to many council members. Over the past year it has started to loom large (see here and here, for example). I happen to be a big fan of analytics. Data from the 700,000 students enrolled in Georgia Tech’s Coursera MOOCs have already had an impact on the quality of residential instruction. However, one of my day jobs is cybersecurity, which has made me sensitive to new technologies that have not paid sufficient attention to security and privacy. This white paper is a note of caution.