Apart from the complete works of Monty Python and Annie Hall, “Jerry Maguire” may be my favorite movie of all time. It’s a sports story; it’s a love story; but it’s also a story of employment. To me, the scene where Jerry leaves his agency for the last time might just be the most amazing scene in the history of Hollywood. You don’t know whether to laugh, cry or cheer. If I remember right, the above scene comes from just before he exits. The catchphrase with which I titled this post has worn thin by now, but if you do click play you’ll see that Jerry screams it out of desperation to keep Rod Tidwell as a client because he needs some money himself.
Are major universities that desperate for money too? Aaron Barlow, comparing the coming obsolescence of journalists to the potential obsolescence of professors, doesn’t think it matters:
Beyond that, education has one thing journalism does not have:…Certification. The success of American journalism is based on lack of a certification process. This allowed the profession to grow on its own as the country grew, and to develop its own methodologies without interference. The ‘self learning’ movements grew (and shrank, and grew again) in much the same way. But, along the way, people started realizing something else was also needed. It wasn’t enough just to study, one had to prove one had learned something. All sorts of processes for certification grew—the bar exam for lawyers, college degrees, licensing exams, apprenticeships. Only journalism could not impose its own–or even allow one to be imposed on it.
I sure hope he’s right. However, what if the academic certification process gets so corrupted by the need to show someone (venture capitalists, taxpayers, Rod Tidwell, etc.) the money that universities become willing to give just about anyone credit for just about anything? After all, plenty of for-profit universities claim to be certified and that hasn’t stopped them from offering a terrible education at an outrageous cost.
Now read this and tell me it’s not a bad omen:
The new generation of online courses features interactive technology, open admissions, high-caliber curriculum and the ability to teach tens of thousands of students at once. The universities say the online courses are as rigorous as their campus counterparts.
Some schools, including the University of Washington and University of Helsinki, say they will offer college credit for Coursera courses.
Rigorous? Really? The Coursera history course from Princeton that I’m about to take has no required reading. I suspect that’s because reading is unpopular, and since the customer is always right then the reading had to go.
Perhaps the best thing about Jerry Maguire is to see him grow a conscience as he gets increasingly humiliated so that he eventually does the right thing by everybody. Do universities have consciences? [I won't even bother to ask if venture capitalists do.] Faculty need to play the Renée Zellweger role in this movie and shame Jerry into doing the right thing.
Our students can be the little kid who keeps asking, “Did you know the human head weighs eight pounds?”