I know I’m late to the party on this, but that letter to Harvard’s Michael Sandel from the San Jose State (SJSU) Philosophy Department really is quite wonderful. I’m going to try to take up its implications with respect to academic freedom and shared governance over at the Academe blog as soon as I get my grading done, but what I want to discuss here is the way that those nice folks in California actually called out Sandel, not just their administrators.
You can see this most clearly at the very end of the letter:
“We respect your desire to expand opportunities for higher education to audiences that do not now have the chance to interact with new ideas. We are very cognizant of your long and distinguished record of scholarship and teaching in the areas of political philosophy and ethics. It is in a spirit of respect and collegiality that we are urging you, and all professors involved with the sale and promotion of edX-style courses, not to take away from students in public universities the opportunity for an education beyond mere jobs training. Professors who care about public education should not produce products that will replace professors, dismantle departments, and provide a diminished education for students in public universities.”
Sandel, to his credit, responds the way faculty everywhere would hope he would:
“The last thing I want is for my online lectures to be used to undermine faculty colleagues at other institutions.”
The question then becomes what happens when the rubber meets the road. I’ve observed a common attitude among superprofessors that they’re unquestionably providing a service for humanity by taping their lectures. I think it seeps down from the propaganda of the MOOC providers. For example, there’s a prime specimen of this in today’s Washington Post:
To be clear, Lander himself does not suggest that his videos should replace what biology faculty do from day to day. But MOOCs such as his might offer some professors elsewhere a chance to spend less time preparing and delivering lectures and more time working hands-on with students.
“Everything in education should be about the value that can be added by having the real teacher there,” Lander said in an interview. “The mistake is the idea that this [MOOC] replaces the teacher. That’s crazy.”
Yes, but your MOOC empowers crazy people. As the SJSU Philosophy Department niftily explains in that letter:
“Let’s not kid ourselves; administrators at the CSU are beginning a process of replacing faculty with cheap online education.”
So, Michael Sandel and other superprofessors, what exactly are you going to do about this? Are you going to stall and make believe that budgetary austerity does not exist anywhere in academia or are you going to stand on the side of the other members of your discipline and your profession? If the folks at SJSU are too distant for you, how about your own graduate students? Are you going to make them compete against your own taped lectures for teaching work long after you’re retired or dead?
Inquiring minds want to know.