Our Mission in a Time of “Disruption”

My old Provost, who is now Chancellor at Washington State University at Vancouver, gave a speech yesterday which contained a paragraph that should be, I think, in every state university leader’s speeches this year. Talking about MOOC-proliferation, he says:

“And it’s not just that we will compete with alternative delivery methods. As an institution that was built to serve its community and that is committed to social justice, fear we run the risk of creating haves and have-nots with regard to students seeking a higher education. Those who can afford the traditional face-to-face experience will get it, and many many will be forced to rely on online-only experiences. I believe our mission as an institution of public higher education calls for more than that.

This is very much the issue. If we don’t find ways to mesh these worlds together we are going to to end up with a world less democratic than what we have now, where online education is the “right”, and face-to-face experience is the luxury good.

I don’t believe access to face-to-face education is luxury any more than face-to-face friendships are a luxury or face-to-face coworkers and colleagues are an extravagance. A balanced life requires all these things, arrayed in synergistic relation; yet reading the education press one can’t help but feel the main unbundling the press is in love with is the separation of our students into those worth the campus experience and those not quite. We will solve the educational access problem by defining access down!

That’s not equitable,  but it’s a solution with a ton of money and momentum behind it. And so one of the highest priorities of any state education system at this point must be to articulate the synergistic vision (yes, the “bundled” vision) and aggressively pursue it. It means, ultimately, taking these technologies into the heart of the academy and using them to stabilize or reduce cost so that type of education we value can be preserved for future generations. I’m glad Mel’s leading the charge on that, and I hope more leaders join him soon.

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