People running universities should actually care about education.

6 04 2012

This post is a follow up on the Minerva Project, the “elite” online university I mentioned on Wednesday:

“We are in a world where knowledge is becoming more ubiquitous and free, so you’ll never seen a Spanish 101 or Economics 101 course at Minerva because it’s ridiculous for students to pay us money to learn stuff that they can go online and learn for free,” said [CEO Ben] Nelson.

Nelson’s qualifications to run an “online Ivy?” He used to be the CEO of an “online photo finishing company.” But who cares if he doesn’t know anything about education if he lets the people who do control the curriculum? What really matters here is that for all his talk, Nelson obviously doesn’t care about education.

Apparently, Nelson and I attended the same fine undergraduate institution. My late father was an economist. When I stopped taking economics after completing the entire four-course intro sequence there, Dad told me that those were the hardest courses because everything else is built upon them. Perhaps something that resembles introductory economics might pass by your eyes after “going online” and looking for it, but you’ll never really understand intro micro unless someone is right there with you to explain the concepts and help you through the math.

Caring nothing about education also explains policies like this:

California public universities, for example, will spend close to $9 billion on construction projects in the very near future. In a number of cases, these schools lack the funds to pay personnel to staff the finished buildings – meaning they will sit empty for weeks, months or years after completion. This is reflective of a larger problem with funding priorities in higher education, a problem that is hitting core personnel hard as they fight to retain jobs in the midst of cuts, trying to eke out a living on reduced pay and benefits (when benefits are available at all).

Ex-CEO or fallen faculty member, that kind of policy can only be made by a member of the permanent administrative class. If you aren’t willing to quit your administrative job on principle when necessary and go back to the faculty, then you shouldn’t be an administrator in the first place. [That principle, of course, being whatever is good for education.]

Maybe it’s power that turns good people into bad administrators. Maybe it’s money. In the case of the Minerva Project, despite all the talk about creating an elite educational institution, the lust for money is still palpable. After all, name me another college president who would ever make pronouncements about curriculum without consulting (or even hiring) faculty. Perhaps if Benchmark Capital had talked to some actual professors before deciding that this was a good idea, they would have thought twice about giving $25 million in seed money to someone who doesn’t care at all about the product he’s supposed to be producing.


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9 04 2012
What if students stop going to college? « More or Less Bunk

[…] down so that even his factory workers could afford the product that they’re making. I pick on Ben Nelson of the Minerva Project, but he is the first online higher ed entrepreneur that I’ve ever […]

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