This Week’s Funniest Headline . . .
. . . comes from the New York Times. “Professors at San Jose State Criticize Online Courses.” Well, they would, wouldn’t they? Someone told me the story that Larry Ellison, genius loci of Oracle Corporation, was slumming recently. He was, the story goes, giving a talk at a big meeting of the American Association of University Professors, the guild organization that invigilates the protectionist rules that keep the professoriate in their tenured luxury. Ellison began with a little flattery. Teachers, he said, are one of the most important assets of our society. Applause and appreciative murmurs. Not only are teachers important, he said they are also drastically underpaid. Even more appreciative applause and scattered “Here, heres.” In fact, quoth this business giant, I think teachers are so important that they ought to be paid at least a $1 million a year. A standing ovation: who knew that someone from corporate America could be so insightful? Unfortunately, Ellison concluded, I’m only going to need about 100 of you. A shocked silence greeted that announcement. Whatever could he mean, wondered the assembled multitude as they looked about at the teeming mass of pseudo-independent thinkers that filled the room. Whatever could could he mean?
We all know what he meant. The technological tsunami that is online education is poised to rip through the educational status quo, performing for that fetid redoubt a service similar to that performed by Hercules for Augeas, he of the largest and untidy stables.
But what’s funny about the Times’s story is not so much the state of denial exhibited by the faculty at that educational backwater in California (San Jose State?), but the reasons given for their criticism. “The philosophy department,” the Times reports, "sent Dr. Sandel [a prominent Harvard prof. whose course is being offered free and for nothing online] an open letter asserting that such courses, designed by elite universities and widely licensed by others, would compromise the quality of education, stifle diverse viewpoints and lead to the dismantling of public universities.” Italics are mine. Online courses are dangerous because they would "compromise the quality of education” and “stifle diverse viewpoints.” Ha, ha, ha. As if “the quality of education” and genuine diversity were features of most colleges and universities these days. No, as the recent report from the National Association of Scholars about Bowdoin College has shown, the American educational establishment, despite its constant talk about diversity, is a stunningly conformist and intellectually un-diverse environment.