There's lots wrong with some of the way Ben Nelson's ideas for Minerva University are framed in this interview in the Wall Street Journal: I, for one, am bored with the magic VC idea that corporate America can recreate the overpriced university (with tenured faculty as the straw men designed to attract naive VC's to come up with cheaper alternatives with little or no evidence of a sound business or intellectual plan). Example: tenured faculty are NOT the highest paid members of a university: football and basketball coaches and senior administrators are, and so forth. And the reasons for the high cost of education range widely, from withdrawal of state funding to the escalating wars, at elite private universities, for the comforts and commodities and amenities necessary to attract the tuition-paying global 1%. Plus the end of so much government funding and corporate research funding that paid for the expensive research facilities that now are paid for by tuition. And on and on. Blaming tenured faculty is ludicrous. Bad logic, bad data, but an easy attention-getting swipe that gets nods from those not thinking very much.
Still, with all that said, much of this re-imagining of the university is very interesting.
Ben Nelson advocates , an alternative, global, learn by doing, elite "university without walls"--not an online university, but a highly selective experience where about 150 students start out together in a major city such as San Francisco and take advantage of all that city offers, even as they are guided through a range of educational challenges that require not just rote memorization but application of their learning. For the basics, they learn what they need to online, and they have tutors and mentors from all over. No tenured profs, true enough. But also no basketball coaches or even basketball. Libraries are the great public libraries. And the scene keeps changing, San Francisco one semester, Sao Paolo the next.
The aim is not mass education, not MOOCs, and not US universities building expensive new campuses in rich 3rd world countries . . . . rather, it's an elite new way of re-imagining the best training for the world we live in now. It's ludicrous to think a student in Nelson's Minverva University will pay bargain basement tuition. Like MOOC's, Minerva is being sold to VC's ad a cheaper alternative to the problem of the expanding cost of higher education. I predict this will cost pretty much what Harvard does in the end. The profs they want to hire--whether top scientists or top business people or top philosophers--don't come cheap. This isn't about "adjuncting" or ripping off existing faculty but a whole new model of interactive teaching. . . But Nelson's idea is this will be better than Harvard, and better than his own undergrad training at Wharton School of Business at Penn. Not a cost saving, but a better way of training the elite for our world.
I think there are things to think about here, and not just for the elite. I dislike so many of the arguments here but I do think we have to rethink education from the ground up. True innovation. I'm not against this form or re-imagining. I don't know if Minerva is the answer but I like having an alternative to the Harvard we've inherited.
I've been reading a lot about Charles William Eliot, lately, the fifty-year Harvard president (1869-1909 as I recall) who transformed just about everything about Harvard. He took a university still rooted in the Puritan tradition of pre-ministerial classical training and transformed it into a scientifically-standardized institution designed to enhance technology training and to make manufacturing more American-based. In other words, his was the envisioning of the Industrial Age university, rooted in science and capitalism. Eliot's rich folks lost everything in the Panic of 1857 and he believed modernizing higher ed was the best route to prosperity, would make the US competitive with Europe. He, like his correspondent Frederick Winslow Taylor, hated unions. That is the history we've inherited. I wouldn't mind rethinking universities in positive, imaginative, constructive ways.
I'm not sure Ben Nelson's is the way . . . but it is a fascinating alternative and alternatives help us to reimagine a university that was designed for an age in which we no longer live. It took roughly fifty years to redesign the Puritan university into the modern one. It will take fifty years to redesign the Industrial Age university for the digital age---but we need to. We must. . (But why keep the semester? Think bigger, Ben!)
Here's the interview. What do you think? http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142412788732411040457862771222484501...