San Jose State Rolls Out New Online Classes, Faces Resistance From Humanities.

Professors at San Jose State University are up-in-arms at attempts by school officials to introduce cheaper online-outsourcing of classes. In some cases, elite universities like Harvard and MIT would provide the instruction for SJSU; in other cases, the in-residence teacher would provide an online platform for their class. This development makes some of the professors upset.

As the San Jose Mercury-Sun reports:

“In a nationwide push to experiment with online university courses, San Jose State stands at the forefront, making deals with private sector startups to package lectures from Ivy League professors and opening some for-credit classes to the masses…
In recent weeks, humanities professors — feeling the withering of their departments and fearing virtual demotions — have begun to resist calls to abandon traditional teaching methods. In an open letter to a Harvard University professor who offered San Jose State his online social justice course, Cal State philosophy professors argue that momentum is building to dismantle college as we know it, a concern echoing through academic halls nationwide….

“The thought of the exact same social justice course being taught … across the country is downright scary — something out of a dystopian novel,” the professors wrote. ”

These professors are afraid that college is going to be “dismantled as we know it”. College, as I know it, is the place where most students drown themselves in truly insane amounts of debt (often obliviously), where numerous kids are turned into alcoholics and partying jackasses, where hopeful future workers pay out the butt for an over-priced, inflated degree and still face bad job prospects; all this might change. Say it ain’t so.

That last complaint interests me… “The thought of the exact same social justice course being taught … across the country is downright scary — something out of a dystopian novel.” It doesn’t have to be the only Social Justice class taught across the country. The concerned Professors of Social Justice can still teach differing courses; they just need to do it for less money. Surely, the ascetic scholars of Social Justice won’t let something as petty as money stand in the way of enlightening the baseless masses?

Are most professors concerned about the dismantling of college “as we know it” because they fear for the integrity of education and the dignity of the timeless and venerated profession of scholarship? Or are most of these professors concerned that dismantling college “as we know it” will impact their paycheck and job security? Take your pick. I pick the second one.

These professors see the writing on the wall. They understand what is happening in the world of higher-education: the Academic-Industrial Complex is being threatened. The student loan debt bubble is reaching critical mass; the proliferation of computers and high-speed internet allows more people to access classes online than ever before; people are beginning to realize that unless a degree is received from an Ivy League university, it is too much to pay anything more than $20,000 for a bachelor’s degree. The hegemony of the ever-more-expensive State institution is under attack. These dissenting professors will lose this battle. Such resistance will be ultimately futile. People are going to demand cheaper education. There will be other professors happy to oblige them.

“This spring, San Jose State announced it would soon become one of the first campuses in the nation to combine traditional classes with online courses from elite universities such as Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Through a handshake deal with the nonprofit online education startup edX, the university gained access to lectures and interactive quizzes that professors could assign to their students…

Asking us to outsource our expertise, it was insulting,” said Karin Brown, one of the philosophy professors who wrote the letter. “It was actually very humiliating”

Such talk fills me with giddy gleefulness. Ms. Brown thinks an online class is too low-brow for her expertise. She believes a proper philosophy class should cost thousands of dollars. These dastardly online-education startups want to compete and pull the rug out from under her. How dare they! Humanities professors of all colleges, unite!

If Ms. Brown was smart, she’d have been one of the very first teachers to get in line for such a program. She has a chance to carve out her market niche on the cutting-edge of the new wave; instead, she’s just a crusty “reactionary” fighting a losing battle. A revolution in the world of education is underway. The Old Guard of Academia is watching their dominance slip away before their eyes. For years, they have been nigh-immune from competition. Not anymore. The professors and college administrators who do not learn to compete and adapt will be swept, as Kruschev might say, into the dustbin of history.

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One Comment on “San Jose State Rolls Out New Online Classes, Faces Resistance From Humanities.”

  1. seashanty May 29, 2013 at 4:19 am #

    I can relate to the sentiment of the dissipation of a professor’s value when their administration feels that their class can simply be imported from MIT. At least give them the benefit of the doubt, there. At the same time, it is an issue of job security and hints at a further conglomeration of education.

    Of course, anyone else who has felt the sting of having their jobs automated (weather observing for example) may feel little sympathy for the next round of unemployed humans coming down the pike.

    W/r/t “momentum is building to dismantle college as we know it”, that’s probably true, and colleges need to get ahead of the game. It’s happening to everything from cable television to the age-old atlas. Professors as a whole tend to take themselves very seriously and often are able to express their concerns with eloquent distress. These qualities, I fear, will not absolve them of their fate.

    Ultimately, I believe many of our beloved institutions will require a radical reorganization in the mid-term future. And, hey, if you think this whining is bad, wait until the first virtual NCAA coach is unveiled… talk about entitlement!

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