Further Thoughts by Peter Manicas
Go to Manicas on Higher Education. See also more GRD files.
1. I had argued that we can expect a radical revolution in the structure of higher education on
three grounds: Higher ed is too expensive, it no longer serves purposes which justified its
existence in the form which we have, and new technologies provide new means for
restructuring Finally, I suggested that the only force which might prevent a disastrous version of
the restructuring is the recovering of faculty governance, something which, for me, is not likely.
2. Higher education is expensive--if it is done well. Thus, maintaining a student faculty ration of 20-1 requires a 7-1 infrastructure. It is true that administrative growth now represents (on average) some 10% of current budgets as against 5% two decades ago. Ironically, this shift was prompted by the idea that professional managers (instead of faculty) would run universities in cost-efficient ways. They have not. But these people are very capable of reproducing themselves.
Crises, such as our current one, provide opportunities. But if such opportunities are to be seized,
then faculty must be involved. Again, ironically, faculty happily abrogated their roles as
governance bodies so that they could they get on with their research and publication. (The Chair
of the Mass Board of Higher Education recently asserted that "at least 50% of all non-hard
sciences research on American campuses is a lot of foolishness." Ah the imperatives of tenure.)
And unions filled the gap, becoming a mediating institution between faculty and administration.
But unions, good at bread and butter issues, have not been willing to tackle governance issues.
Indeed, administrations can use them as weapons against faculty governance.
3. There is nothing in the new technologies which necessarily stands in the way of quality
education. That is, there are technologies (such as the one exploited by Jaishree Odin in her
CAS475 which are marvelous for teaching.) But these are still highly labor intensive and
require small student/faculty ratios. Murray Turoff has estimated that one could run a purely
virtual university for about 2000 students with a tuition of about $15,000 if faculty were paid a
flat $150,000 and student-faculty ratios were in the 25-30 range. The initial funding would be
about fifteen million. This is relatively cheap: A quality education now costs around $40,000.
(Keep in mind that the physical plant is a costly asset.) Under current arrangements, the use of
new technologies--as supplements to the conventional modes of delivery -- increase expense.
What Turoff calls the "dark side" is much more likely. This involves maximizing the number of
students and minimizing costs by: employing multimedia material to replace lectures/seminars
teaching assistants and adjuncts to answer questions Software to allow students to conduct skill
building. Canned courses which students can start at anytime.
This is cheap. Moreover, it satisfies demand for universal access and, not to be forgotten, our
students are just not motivated to do what we think counts as a quality education. (I was asked
by a KHPR interviewer just what was the justification for teaching European languages. Why
not do a canned Berlitz?)
4.. The old Carnegie schema for classifying institutions is an anachronism (already). The National Center for Postsecondary Improvement (based at Stanford) argues for a new trichotomy:
We are caught in between. We cannot compete with Harvard (despite the Governor's efforts to
make us do so) and we have been failing to compete with HPU. (We now effectively have no
CCECS and it is very unlikely (if I am right) that we could recapture this market--even if we
wanted to (which, on the evidence, we don't). We are in for very hard times.
To keep this short, I take it that two recently announced efforts are both sensible responses--at least in the short term--to this impending transformation.
For me, the bottom line is the faculty. The University as a collegial institution was a good idea.
Has its time come?
Peter T. Manicas
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