I’m not afraid of snakes. I’m not afraid of heights. I’m afraid of unemployment. Despite all my rantings, I don’t think I’m going to be replaced by a MOOC anytime soon. Barring serious misconduct on my part, tenure makes a direct assault on my job difficult.
An indirect assault on my job, however, is well within the realm of possibility. Unwilling to stop at obscure departments like German and Classics, Peter Cohan at Forbes wants to cut every humanities department everywhere that doesn’t get enough of its graduates employed in their field:
Having said that, for students, lenders, and parents it makes no sense to send a child to college to study humanities if they do not have a chance at getting a job that uses the skills they’ve developed. If colleges cut those humanities departments, their costs would drop because they could stop paying teachers and administrators in those departments and slash the related overhead.
Contrary to Cohan’s later straw man argument, I think employment is a reasonable expected outcome for a college education. As I’ve mentioned before, my daughter starts college in the fall and as much as I love her we as a family would never make such an expensive investment in her education if we weren’t convinced that it would be returned many times over the course of her lifetime. Indeed, why would anyone pay so much for college if it wasn’t a good longterm investment?
Which is exactly where Cohan’s argument falls off the rails in a purely economic (as opposed to the obvious cultural) sense. The Labor Department statistics he uses only consider the employment situation of college graduates under the age of 25. How many people find their dream job by the age of 25? How many people find their dream job by the age of 25 DURING A RECESSION? Cohan’s not trying to help students, otherwise he’d find better statistics. He just likes the idea of firing humanities professors.
At a time when free online courses are enticing students with the opportunity to learn from star professors at prestigious colleges, P2PU, as it’s known, is questioning whether instructors are needed at all.
Read the whole article and you’ll see that this is my first appearance in the regular pages of the Chronicle of Higher Ed. Once again, I’m told to calm down:
“People feel threatened because it feels like they’re being replaced,” [Jan Philipp Schmidt of P2PU] says. “But I think they should be thrilled by this. For me, the role of the professor isn’t to be the guy who stands in front and talks for an hour, but the person who asks interesting questions and helps me discover my interests and passions.”
Ultimately, my problem with any form of online education is that as cool as it might be when done right, the forces that have declared war on professors will inevitably try to use it as a tool to destroy us. In fact, they don’t even have to control the courses in order to use technology as a weapon. For example, what happens if UVA’s Board of Visitors decides that funding the Classics and German departments is unnecessary because interested students can just take them free online elsewhere? I think you know the answer.
I wish things were different, but life during wartime is hard.