Ten years after the financial meltdown: what did it mean for education and the future?

Ten years ago this month the American economy suffered its worst financial crisis in nearly a century.  Problems had been building through the previous year, but in September 2008 things came to a head with the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the onset of the Great Recession.  These events changed the world in ways I think we’re still struggling to understand.

With this post I’d like to share some reflections about what that titanic event meant, especially for education and the future.  I invite readers to share their thoughts, including their personal reflections, in the comments box.

There are many good accounts of the crash in all of its complexity, so I will refer the reader to those.  I am especially fond of the documentary Inside Job, which is very lucid, powerfully critical, and at times hilarious.  John Lanchester has written powerfully about then events, although to little American readership, as far as I can tell; let me commend his recent essay reflecting on the crisis and its aftermath.  Adam Tooze offers an internationally-focused account; his new book on the subject looks excellent.

On a personal note, in 2008 I was working for a nonprofit.  We chose late August to roll out a new and more expensive membership plan for our campuses.  Needless to say the timing wasn’t good.  I don’t think the nonprofit ever recovered from that misfire; it disappeared six years later.  This was the recession/recovery environment in which I decided to risk everything on launching a business.


For years the American economy struggled to recover, first in clawing its way out of the recession, then trying to rebuild what was lost.  Americans also struggled to understand what happened.  Determining the causes of the crash and assessing the policy reactions are all still controversial to this day.  (Which confirms my intuition that a big chunk of economics is better understood as a branch of history.)

On the plus side of the ledger, unemployment gradually dropped, year by year, and is now at historically low levels.  Wall Street is doing well. The financial sector, that caused and was trashed by the crash, recovered very nicely even after some new, mild, and much-resisted regulation.

However, the recovery hasn’t been accomplished yet.  Home ownership is down, below even 2006 levels.  This makes it harder for some people to take out loans.

The generation of people who became adults during the crisis suffered a serious financial hit, and haven’t recovered from that loss since.  As Kim Gittleson puts it,

Americans born in the mid-1980s have accumulated 34% less wealth than predicted based on previous generations, the St Louis Federal Reserve found. One reason? We started out with less.

One reason for that drop is that most of the jobs created since 2008 have paid less than $50,000 per year.

jobs since 2009_Axios

For one commentator the combination of rising inequality and declining home ownership spells doom for the middle class.

People had fewer children than usual in 2008-2010.

One key detail of the crash and recovery: nobody was prosecuted for the crisis, neither by the Bush(2) nor Obama administrations.  No Congress set up anything like the 1930s Pecora Commission.  This dog that didn’t bark – and still hasn’t – has become something of a folkloric truth for us, building up the conviction that the powerful are immune to accountability, and that the game might be rigged.

Economic class and inequality reappeared as major themes in American politics, starting with Occupy, then reappearing through Bernie Sanders’ presidential run and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ Congressional upset primary win.  Economic inequality and general economic anxiety also reappeared as an explanation of political behavior, from arguments over explanations for Trump’s 2016 victory to new research about the rise of Sweden’s right-wing party.

Education in and after the crisis

What happened to higher ed as a result of the meltdown?

How the financial crisis hit higher ed_cover

No, I haven’t been able to read it yet.

Many colleges and universities were clobbered.  Some saw investments shrink and a few had their cash reserves dry up.  State funding, including scholarships, fell off a cliff as tax revenues dropped and some state expenses shot up.  Hiring freezes, salary cuts, layoffs, furloughs, reductions in force occurred.  Careers were blocked, blighted, set back.  Published tuition and fees rose.

Charitable giving took a big hit as the investments philanthropy and the wealthy depend on were shocked.

Family investments, including home values, shrank, so they tended to prefer spending less money even on the great good of post-secondary education.  It took time – years, in some cases – for families and institutions to progress past this point.  Some have not as of this writing.  Borrowing for higher education shot upwards.

More students took classes overall, as higher ed is often counter-cyclical to employment (with high unemployment people head to school to re-skill).  The recession boosted enrollment.

The curriculum shifted, too.  It seems that students voted with their feet to major less often in the humanities, and more often in a mix of STEM and professional programs.  Interestingly, business is still riding high as a major.

The alt ac movement was kicked into high gear by the 2008 financial disaster.  The reasons are obvious, if rarely discussed: college and university budgets hammered, tenure track jobs declined.  So a cadre of freshly-minted PhDs and near-PhDs had to carve out new worlds.  This is a heroic story, in fact:

I suspect the economic woes that started hitting us in 2008 help explain the steady growth of open education.

I’m fascinated by how the academic discipline of economics responded to this enormous challenge. While many economics both academic and non-academic failed to anticipate the crisis (again, see Inside Job for some hilarious stories of this) it’s not clear that the economics profession has responded effectively.  Bernanke, Geithner, and Paulson just published a column praising their grasp of and efficacy in handling the crisis, suggesting their understanding was just fine.  “Although we and other financial regulators did not foresee the crisis, we moved aggressively to stop it.”  Dean Baker begs to differ, criticizing their thinking and actions on multiple levels.

I love this 2008 photo and can’t get enough of it.

For some the crash was a textbook example of a black swan (Taleb’s book appeared in 2007), a highly unlikely yet very influential event.  At this point I’m still not sure how academic economics has changed in response, beyond interest in behavioral economics and a sudden popular comeback for Keynesian economics.  Readers are welcome to supply news.

Was 2008-2018 a lost decade for higher ed, or was it a period that began with a terrible shock, followed by growth?

Towards 2018-2028

So what comes next?  What will we be reflecting on in September 2028, on the 20th anniversary of Lehman’s fall?  How will academics think about the epoch?

We know that people had fewer children in 2008-2010.   K-12 schools will be continuing to cope with that shrinkage, balancing class sizes and appropriations.  Higher ed will be on the hook next, as Nathan Grawe has shown that this means a major drop in the 18-year-0ld population for the mid-2020s.

Looking ahead, we should think more about two populations, Millennials and GenZers.  Separated by history from the Cold War’s anticommunism, their experience of modern capitalism approaches that of the Gilded Age’s youth, either caught up in ascendent wealth or in the majority below.  Recall John Lanchester’s observations on how many adults’ lives are shaped by their youthful worldview at 20 years of age.  As John Warner describes in a new book review,

Today’s typical age college freshmen were eight-years-old when the global economy cratered in such a way that even rich people got scared for a little while. The resulting “recovery” has only exacerbated our sense of scarcity and precarity, as the fruits of that recovery have accrued to smaller and smaller groups.

The relatively well-to-do, but not quite rich folks that populate the bulk of the “paranoid parenting” demographic understand the needle their children will be required to thread has grown smaller by the year, and any slip in achievement may result in falling out of the ranks of the economically secure.

How will their career choices change?  How will their politics differ from their predecessors’?

Institutionally, public colleges and universities might suffer continued pressure from state legislatures. At least one observer notes that years of low interest rates will now shape state spending patterns:

the bailout’s policy of Quantitative Easing to re-inflate asset prices has reduced rates of return for pension funds, insurance companies and employee retirement savings. This means that more state and local government income must be diverted to meet retirement commitments.

Something has to give, and it is not likely to be the savings of the donor class at the top of the economic pyramid.

So public universities will often see funding shifted away from them and towards public pensions.  Private colleges and universities may experience something similar if their own retirees’ costs rise.  Either way, that’s a lot of pressure on tuition to rise.  In May of this year I tentatively forecast the first six-figure tuition bill to land in 2029; maybe it’ll be even sooner than that.

…and now back to September 2018, and over to you.  What did the 2008 meltdown do to your life and world?  What do you think it meant for education?  And what does it tell us about the future?

(thanks to Tom Haymes and many others for their thoughts)


Posted in economics | Leave a comment

My class, two weeks in

Teaching for the first time in sixteen years continues to be exhilarating and fascinating.

LDES-703 is an interesting experiment, a hybrid on several levels.  Our live sessions take place one night each week.  For those most of the students gather in a face-to-face classroom on Georgetown’s campus.  One student, based in California, joins via videoconference.  I, based all over the place, follow suit.

The classroom has multiple cameras and microphones.  An Owl camera captures a wide range of views, and also rotates to face whichever student is making the most noise.  As instructor, my experience looks something like this:

At the top you see me, an overview of the whole thing, the remote student, and our class name.  The second tier shows the Owl view, around 270 degrees of the class (maybe more).  The bottom row offers glimpses of students, including one speaking on the right.  Sometimes the second and third tiers offer two different glimpses of the same person, which is pretty neat.

(There’s a chat box, but only for students who aren’t in the Georgetown classroom.)

In practice… it’s really smooth.  I can hear students speaking, which is essential.  I can also get a sense of the room’s vibe or gestalt.  Students can see and hear me, so long as I score places with sufficient bandwidth.

In terms of course material we have moved into looking at futures, so we’ve covered a series of methods.  We have fun crafting a four-scenario quadrant set.  Some students were familiar with the Horizon report from last year, and several had actually built their own versions, so discussion went well.

We had one major reversal when it came to asynchronous technology.  Readers may remember that I offered a set of technologies for the students to choose from:

Canvas (the official campus LMS)
Discourse (nice discussion board tech; would plug into a WordPress instance)
Domain of One’s Own (Georgetown already has this set up)
Email (for communication and also Google Alerts)
RSS readers (thinking of introducing Feedly and Inoreader)
Instagram (will need a class hashtag)
Twitter (” ” ” ” “)
WordPress (either a single class blog or each student with their own blog)

I presented each one with its affordances, advantages, and limitations.  On the sly I built up a quick little WordPress site for them to use.  I was surprised to hear a class consensus in favor of… the learning management system.  Some saw it as more private, and they valued their privacy.  Many others liked its integration into calendars and workflow.

So I had to very quickly stand up a Canvas instance, which I’d never done before, despite having followed the LMS scene closely from the start.  That entailed a rapid dive into online tutorials, ruthlessly exploiting a friendly Georgetown technologist,  and applying all of the online pedagogy I’ve developed and studied in my career.  Canvas was by far the easiest LMS I’ve used.  I did hit some odd blocks – modules didn’t work for my purposes, and discussion thread organization was iffy – but managed to build and roll the thing out.  Students requested formal Assignment pages for each assignment, which was fair, so I wrote those up.

Again, note that this is my taking classroom democracy seriously.  The students got to make informed decisions that practically shaped and reshaped the class.  I want them to own this, and have to be ready to change my plans and do more work as a result.

So far the students approve.  They’ve been using the discussion items well.

Also in terms of democratic pedagogy, we continue to share our respective experience of higher education.  The combined population is pretty diverse this way, so our conversation yields a broader picture of higher ed than if we just hewed to a single view.  I’m fascinated by their individual trajectories and excited about where they’re headed over the next several months.

Next week they will wade into Brian C. Mitchell and W. Joseph King’s How to Run a College: A Practical Guide for Trustees, Faculty, Administrators, and Policymakers.  The idea here is to deepen the students’ understanding of how an American college or university actually works.  We already began on the first week with an exercise that shared their pre-class knowledge of academic institutions.  Now Mitchell and King will take them further.

Also up for Wednesday: they are to check out current news stories from Inside Higher Ed, the Chronicle, blogs, and Twitter content that they find.  This is their start in conducting environmental scanning, which we introduced last week.

Previous posts on this class adventure: introduction; week one.

Posted in teaching | Tagged | 3 Comments

Did the European Parliament just hit the internet with a big, dumb stick?

The European Parliament just voted in favor of several new copyright policies.  It’s just one step in a long and complex process, but it could have powerful effects on the internet.

Specifically, the Parliament approved two articles.  One (article 11) would require certain technology platforms (think Google News) to pay intellectual property holders when they display snippets of the latter’s content.  Some call this a link tax.  The other (article 13) requires digital platforms (think YouTube and Facebook) to implement filters that would check for copyrighted content in uploads, and block accordingly.

Debates seem to follow a classic split.  On the one hand, IP holders and some of their allies think this is great, because it means more pay for them creators.  Some of them think their opponents are spreading FUD from Silicon Valley giants.  There’s also a touch of Euro-centrism against arrogant Yankee companies. On the other, tech companies, copyright activists, some of the internet’s founders, and the EFF think this is terrible as it will chill people’s online expression.  This group also sees a scale problem, with larger entities better able to follow the law than small ones.

Here’s a sample:

In remarks following the vote in Parliament this morning, MEP Axel Voss, who has led the charge on Articles 11 and 13, thanked his fellow politicians “for the job we have done together.” “This is a good sign for the creative industries in Europe,” said Voss. Opposing MEPs like Julia Reda of the Pirate Party described the outcome as “catastrophic.”

So what does this tell us about the future?

In the very short term, the Euro Parliament has to work on these articles a bit more, leading to another vote in January.  So the policies could die, be strengthened, mutate, or remain.

It’s another sign of the long-running friction between copyright law and the internet.  To paraphrase Anonymous, we should expect them. (I don’t have time to write more about this, as I’m between planes)

This also reiterates the tension between (some) large content owners and (some) individual creators, a tension that’s been in play for two generations of computing.  It’ll be interesting to see how this angle plays out.  The “nationalist” side of the EU debate is telling.

Where do you think this will head?

Posted in economics | 10 Comments

The stark geography of America’s digital divide

Many factors shape America’s digital divide.  The access we have to broadband – or even just to the internet – depends in part on our income, our race, our age, and our education.  (I’ve written about this.)

Perhaps the strongest driver of digital inequality is geography.  Simply put, the more rural one is, the worse the internet access is.  The more urban, the better.  Yes, there are exceptions, obviously, with some urban poor folks lacking access and some country people enjoying broadband.  But the pattern remains.

You can see it clearly in this week’s new Pew Research memo by Monica Anderson. To be clear, in this research they didn’t poll internet speeds, but Americans’ attitudes towards their internet access of lack thereof, so this measures subjective rather than objective responses.  But unless we want to view rural Americans as unusually cranky, and suburban/urban people as unnaturally cheerful, this should be a good guide to attitudes and probably their underlying reality.

To begin with, your attitude towards broadband depends on where you live:

roughly six-in-ten rural Americans (58%) believe access to high speed internet is a problem in their area.

By contrast, smaller shares of Americans who live in urban areas (13%) or the suburbs (9%) view access to high-speed internet service as a major problem in their area… [A] majority of both urban and suburban residents report that this is not an issue in their local community… [emphasis in original]

Interestingly, some non-geographic factors don’t seem to make a difference for rural people’s internet attitudes:

20% of rural adults whose household income is less than $30,000  a year say access to high speed internet is a major problem, but so do 23% of rural residents living in households earning $75,000 or more annually. These sentiments are also similar between rural adults who have a bachelor’s or advanced degree and those with lower levels of educational attainment.

Age and race do shape attitudes:

Rural adults ages 50 to 64 are more likely than those in other groups to see access to high-speed internet as a problem where they live. Nonwhites who live in a rural area are more likely than their white counterparts to say this is a major problem (31% vs. 21%).

Related to these attitudes towards broadband are access to two technologies:

adults in rural areas also are less likely to own mobile devices or to use the internet. While around two-thirds of rural Americans have a smartphone, those shares rise to around eight-in-ten among those living in cities (83%) or the suburbs (78%),

And listen to this part:

some rural Americans do not use the internet in any capacity: 22% of adults living in a rural area say they never go online, a share that is more than double that among urban or suburban residents.

More than one fifth of rural folks don’t go online, period.  Not “we don’t have broadband” or “we don’t use cell phones,” but they don’t do the internet.  Think about what that means in 2018, that separation from so much socialization, news, government services, education, businesses…  Think about how much “legacy media” is front and center in their lives.  What is this population’s presence in American culture?  How are they connected to higher education?

Now, nothing in this report should shock anyone.  The geographical divide over internet access has been a thing since the 1990s.  This study doesn’t reveal a new trend, but offers a datapoint on an established one.

I wonder about the politics.  If this many country people are unhappy with their poor broadband access, is there a constituency politicians can respond to?  Can state-level politicians bridge urban and rural populations with this issue?

At another level, Anderson’s research might also give us pause.  Why are we so accepting of this digital divide?  Mitigating is is clearly not a major priority for governments or businesses.  And what does it tell us about how we use technology, and about education’s future?


Posted in technology | 1 Comment

Heading into my new class

This week I started teaching my first class since 2002.  I’d like to blog about the experience.

In this post I’ll describe what I hope to achieve with the class: how I’m organizing it and what I expect.  I’ll add the syllabus at the end.  (Here’s a post introducing the class.)

The topic is the future of education, so we’ll approach this from multiple perspectives.  Readings cover education (of course), economics, demographics, technology, and futures work, along with science fiction visions of the future.  Classwork will be discussion heavy, since it’s a seminar.  Students will also create a future campus of their own devising.

One principle I hope to establish is classroom democracy.  I plan on giving the students a lot of say in how the class will work.  I set up the syllabus, but have given them room to pick readings and one week’s topic (see below).  Together we’ll craft a set of norms for class interaction.  As ever, I want to honor student views, experience, and interests, as they are not only contributors to class, but its co-creators.  Students will also help determine our technology setup.  (Our reading of Freire and Horton is definitely in my mind)

Speaking of technology: the default situation is that I will lead one live class per week over video from wherever I am (Vermont or traveling), while the students gather in a conference room on Georgetown’s campus.  I may make it to campus once or twice, depending on logistics.

Kennedy Brothers conference room

The space from where I’ll be teaching.

More on technology: the asynchronous part of the class can draw on a wide range of tech, so I’ve picked out this set for students to choose from:

Canvas (the official campus LMS)
Discourse (nice discussion board tech; would plug into a WordPress instance)
Domain of One’s Own (Georgetown already has this set up)
Email (for communication and also Google Alerts)
RSS readers (thinking of introducing Feedly and Inoreader)
Instagram (will need a class hashtag)
Twitter (” ” ” ” “)
WordPress (either a single class blog or each student with their own blog)

I plan to present the use case for each, along with advantages and disadvantages, then see where the students would like to go.  I prepped a class blog, just in case.

One technology theme for them to explore is openness, both as a general idea in education as well as a practical one for their own work.  How much I can share about the class – including here, on this blog – is going to largely be up to them.

OK, here’s the syllabus.  I’ll follow up in another post with how the first class actually went.

September 5

Topic: introductions and models

  • What are our backgrounds and interests?
  • How should this class best proceed? Class norms and practices.
  • How does higher education function?
  • Our current information and technology practices.

September 12

Topic: higher education and the future


  1. Tressie McMillan Cottom, “The Education Gospel” (introduction to Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy)
  2. Alexander, “Apprehending the Future: Emerging Technologies, from Science Fiction to Campus Reality” (https://er.educause.edu/articles/2009/5/apprehending-the-future-emerging-technologies–from-science-fiction-to-campus-reality)
  3. “Horizon Report: 2018 Higher Education Edition” (https://library.educause.edu/resources/2018/8/2018-nmc-horizon-report)

Forecasting method: Delphi

September 19

Topic: how higher education works


  1. Brian C. Mitchell and W. Joseph King, How to Run a College A Practical Guide for Trustees, Faculty, Administrators, and Policymakers, Introduction, chapters 1-6
  2. the past week from Inside Higher Ed, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and selected blogs and Twitter feeds

Forecasting method: horizon scanning

September 26

Topic: the state of the art


  1. Brian C. Mitchell and W. Joseph King, How to Run a College A Practical Guide for Trustees, Faculty, Administrators, and Policymakers , chapters 7-9
  2. Vernor Vinge, “Fast Times at Fairmont High”
  3. the past week from Inside Higher Ed, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and selected blogs and Twitter feeds

Forecasting method: horizon scanning

October 3

Topics: narrating the future of education


  1. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, “Scenarios for the Future of Schooling” (https://www.oecd.org/site/schoolingfortomorrowknowledgebase/futuresthinking/scenarios/38967594.pdf)
  2. Stanford 2025 (http://www.stanford2025.com/; scroll down)
  3. Nathan D. Grawe, Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education, chapters 1-3

Forecasting method: scenarios

MID-TERM PROJECT DUE: Trends analysis, 700-1000 words.

October 10

Topic: the impact of population changes

Reading: Nathan D. Grawe, Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education, chapters 4-11

Student readings: two TBD

October 16

Topic: education and technology

SPECIAL CLASS FORMAT: joint meeting with Learning and Design – 502.01, Technology and Innovation in Higher Education class (NOTE THE DATE CHANGE)


  1. Isaac Asimov, “The Fun They Had”
  2. Martin Weller, 25 Years of EdTech (http://blog.edtechie.net/category/25yearsedtech/)
  3. Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz, The Race between Education and Technology, I

October 23

Topic: education and technology

SPECIAL CLASS FORMAT: joint meeting with Learning and Design – 502.01, Technology and Innovation in Higher Education class (NOTE THE DATE CHANGE)


  1. Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz, The Race between Education and Technology, II
  2. Karl Schroeder, “Noon in the Antilibrary” (https://www.technologyreview.com/s/611829/noon-in-the-antilibrary/)

Student readings: one TBD

October 31

Topic: education and technology

Reading: Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz, The Race between Education and Technology, concluded

Student readings: two TBD

MID-TERM PROJECT DUE: A strategy recommendation to a college or university of your creation, 700-1000 words.

November 7

Topic: race, gender, and profit in higher education

Reading: Tressie McMillan Cottom, the rest of Lower Ed: The Troubling Rise of For-Profit Colleges in the New Economy

November 14

Topic: determined by student discussion and interest

Readings: Maria Sachiko Cecire, “Massively Open” (https://medium.com/@mscecire/massively-open-1f705cc61e70)

Student readings: four TBD

Final project discussion and planning

November 21 (Thanksgiving)

November 28

Topic: imagining higher education’s futures


Forecasting method: science fiction

Final project discussion and planning

December 5

Topic: our futures of education

Final project presentations

Posted in education and technology, teaching | 8 Comments

The FTTE report is now a paid subscription publication

FTTE logoToday the September Future Trends in Technology and Education report will appear.

I have a major announcement about that.  This is the last free issue. From now on FTTE will only be available by paid subscription.

If you would like to subscribe, there are now two options.

  1. You can sign up through the FTTE site.  The cost is $5 US per month (which is a pretty good deal, the price of 1 or 2 cups of coffee).
  2. Alternatively, you can support the work through Patreon by joining the “On the living wall of credits” tier for $10 per month.   That gets you the FTTE report each month, plus the addition of your name to that credit wall (a big graphic listing supporters) which will then appear in all future FTTE reports, my face to face presentations, on this blog, and in Future Trends Forum session.  Supporters on this tier also get access to early and sometimes exclusive looks at my content, including video.

Whichever method you choose, new FTTE reports will arrive in your email inbox every month.

So why the transition from free or pay-as-you-like to paid access?

I want to be very open here, as I have been about my work for years.  I also want to be clear and direct.

The first reason for the change is the report’s content.  FTTE reports have gradually grown into rich publications.  How rich?  A quick glance through some of the past year and a half’s run shows each report running 18, 15, 17, 18, 15, 19, 15, 14, or 20 pages. Word count per issue ranges around 3054, 3637, 2987, 3361, 3747, 3754, 3040, 4170 words.  The number of end notes per issue?  83, 72, 63, 59, 66, 86, 66, 57, 90 (and please know that these aren’t just links by themselves, but carefully and regularly formatted bibliographic references).  The pdfs range in size from 1 to 4 megs each, thanks in part to the inclusion of many graphics.  September’s issue has 23 pages, 4589 words, 89 footnotes, and 6.3 meg in .doc format (2.3, squished down into .pfd).  These aren’t quick blog posts or link dumps, but substantial research publications.

FTTE chart, Campus Technology edit

The trends we follow.

Put another way, I think this content is worth something.

The second reason for the transition?  Time.

Producing FTTE is now a serious part-time job.  The end-of-month production process takes about 12-14 hours (prosing out each point carefully, double-checking cites, identifying which trends did and did not get support that time, building the ToC, rearranging the issue’s flow to be more sensible, editing graphics, changing page layout for legibility and to avoid big white spaces, proofing several times, pdf creation, Mailchimp wrangling…).  Meanwhile, I conduct at least 1-2 hours of research every single day (yes, weekends too) throughout each month, hunting accounts of trends that I assess and sometimes include into the current report.  I send some of those out through social media or direct content with experts for fact- and reality-checking.  Roughly that amounts to about 10 hours per week, on average.

That’s time I can’t spend on other work, a/k/a opportunity cost.  It’s hours I can’t spend making other stuff: writing books, making videos, or cudgeling the podcast towards its long-delayed appearance.  FTTE now represents a class I can’t teach or a client I can’t support.  It’s time that I’m not spending on paid work – and please remember that BAC is a standalone small business, independent of any institutional backing.  Every single hour counts for sustainability.

Recall, too, that I will turn 52 in several months.  I currently work 60-70 hour weeks.  Biology is increasingly likely to put in scheduling requests that my professional passion and work ethic won’t be able to refuse.

Now, there are steps I could take to save time in FTTE production, but none are viable.  For example, I could simply cut down the amount of content, producing lighter issues.  FTTE lite? This just galls me professionally.  I could hire staff to conduct some of the work, but a) it’s actually hard to outsource most of this, b) it would add to my business costs, and c) it would add some extra time for organization, management, and logistics.  I could just shut down the thing entirely, but I don’t want to do that.

Another option would be to return to FTTE’s original purpose.  You see, it first appeared in 2012 when I was working for the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE).  I created FTTE as a benefit to paying members (in 2013 I carried it over to my own enterprise).  So we could imagine some new membership framework within which the report would be a benefit, but to put it mildly the startup effort there is of an order of magnitude greater than simply transitioning to subscription.

Tag cloud from the early days of FTTE.

In short, I’m committed to producing a rich, high quality publication that I don’t want to shortchange.  Shifting it to a paid subscription model is the best way forward.  It is the only way I can see to make the thing sustainable.

Meanwhile, none of the other Future of Education Observatory offerings are changing at this time.  This blog, the Future Trends Forum, the book club, the book store, all my other social media outputs (Twitter, G+, LinkedIn, Facebook) remain open and free.  That’s a lot of free content.  FTTE is the only Observatory project that is moving behind a paywall.

I expect that this transition will likely cut down the number of FTTE subscribers from the current population of 2,029.  I know some of you won’t be able to afford this, and I’m truly sorry; please contact me if you would like to talk.  I suspect many have enjoyed the price point to date, and will be unhappy with the increase.  It’s hard to change from free to paid. I get that.

This change may also elicit public criticism.  Some may object to what they see as a decision motivated solely by commercial logic or greed.  Others may deem this move a betrayal of openness, and a hypocritical move to boot, given my passionate and public support for open.  I understand all of that and am sympathetic to the last point.

On the other hand, perhaps the openness of this decision and the quality of FTTE will inspire support.  Maybe old and new subscribers will decide that it’s worth supporting this work.  Perhaps new sponsors will step forward. I sincerely hope so.  Some people might celebrate the idea of supporting a creator making stuff, rather than paying for a platform. Some may chime in to agree with Bruce Sterling’s line (somewhere; still can’t find the source) that information doesn’t want to be free – it wants to be paid.

To sum up: from here on out FTTE is available only to paying subscribers and supporters.  If you’d like to join, you can sign up through the FTTE site for the basic subscription. Alternatively, you can support the work through Patreon by joining the “On the living wall of credits” tier.  We will welcome each and every one of you.

My thanks go to all the many, many people who have supported FTTE over the past six years with your comments, ideas, suggestions, constructive criticism, graphic design input, editorial assistance, and general support.  My thanks as well to my Patreon supporters, many of whom worked closely with me on this decision making process.  And more thanks still to my wife and business partner, Ceredwyn; hopefully we’ll hear from her soon.

As ever, please share your thoughts in the comments box.

Posted in About, FTTE report | 15 Comments

When campuses start matching each other’s prices to snatch students

Competition between campuses is naturally heating up as the many stresses pressing down on American higher ed increase.  A recent Wall Street Journal article by Melissa Korn explores one new developments: competitive tuition matching.

This plays out in several ways.  One involves private colleges and universities offering the tuition local public institutions charge.  (The published tuition for American private campuses is often higher than that of public universities.)  For example,

Oglethorpe University near Atlanta will match the tuition of any state flagship university for high-achieving students, and Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh said last week it will charge Pennsylvania residents the same price as local public universities, plus a $3,000 scholarship to boot.

Another sees public universities cutting tuition for out-of-state students to that charged to in-staters.  (“Public schools regularly charge two or three times as much—or more—for non-residents,” as Korn explains)

Public universities in Michigan, South Dakota and Nebraska now let students from other states pay as if they were locals. The University of Maine in Orono matches neighbors’ in-state rates.

There’s a Vermont version of this, as “[a]ny out-of-state student who lives in a county that abuts Vermont can now attend Castleton [University] at in-state rates.”  That’s aimed primarily at New York, I suspect, given that state’s recent free tuition program.

Korn observes that this tactic is a “price-match guarantee, a sales tactic borrowed from retailers…”  For example.

Why does this matter?

First, such cutthroat competition illustrates how seriously campus leaders take the ratcheting-up crises over demographics, enrollment declines, and general economic sustainability.  This kind of aggressive hunting for students and cutting revenue in its pursuit might not be the sign of a healthy nonprofit sector.

Second, as competition heats up between campuses collaboration will likely become more difficult.  i.e., the odds of reaching out to a peer institution for a joint venture being deemed “trading with the enemy” are rising.

Third, college price-matching can make tuition pricing even more opaque.  Previously I’ve compared American academia’s price transparency to that of American health care, which is to say not very clear at all.  Korn observes concisely that this tactic “adds to the confusion over how much college really costs, especially at private schools.”  Note the helpful graphic attached to the article, including its caption:

college prices 1990-2016_WSJ

And note this bit about Oglethorpe, whose “published tuition and fees are $39,830 this year, but scholarship programs mean students generally pay far less. The average net price for tuition and fees is $13,700.”

Fourth, recall the fond hope of some that states will somehow return to 1970s levels of public university funding aren’t being realized yet.  Until some state legislators approve of their state universities using price matching, and want to reward them, we aren’t seeing it.

(thanks to Jeff Benton for the link; neutron star pair photo from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

Posted in economics | 3 Comments

I am profiled as an ax-wielding futurist

Ozy magazine just ran a profile of me.  It’s a generous article, covering my career, my current research, and also my homesteading.

You can see that combination in the opening image/title (photo by my wife, Ceredwyn):

I might use “ax-wielding futurist” as my new tag line.

George Lorenzo did a tremendous job of writing here.  First, he had to translate my rambling conversation into clear, well-organized prose.  George also had to wrangle a seriously wide range of topics into an accessible, 1090-word article.   Second, he hunted down two great thinkers about ed tech, Howard Rheingold and Stephen Downes, and coaxed them into adding their kind perspectives (agreed, Stephen; institutions are vital for me).

It’s still strange to be written about and depicted.  It’s always defamiliarizing for me, seeing myself represented from the outside, and by professionals.  It can be flattering to the point of embarrassment, at times.  But it’s also so satisfying to see the ideas I work on move forward into the world.

Thank you Ozy, George, and all.

Posted in interviews | 2 Comments

Another scenario for higher education’s future: the triumph of open

Let me offer another scenario for academia’s future.  As is usual with the scenario forecasting methodology, this is based on extrapolating from several present-day trends – here, several trends around open.

A silo.In the past I’ve called this “The Fall of the Silos.”  It’s a sign of our urban- and suburban-centric era that this rural metaphor doesn’t get a lot of traction.  It’s also possible that contemporary American politics leads many to embrace silos.  So I’ve renamed the scenario “The Triumph of Open.”

(Four years ago I blogged the opposite, a scenario where open fails.  The reader is invited to compare outcomes.  That’s a much shorter post, too.)

tl;dr version – In this future the open paradigm has succeeded in shaping the way we use and access most digital information, with powerful implications for higher education.

The triumph of open occurred  not just in higher education but across other segments of civilization.  Journalism, information technology, entertainment, business, religion, and government are all effected.  Individual and group behavior have been altered as well.

In this scenario we understand “open” to describe at least three different types of information management.  First, it refers to open education resources (OER), materials for learning that one may access* easily, for free or for low cost, and with the possibility of reusing and remixing them.  Second is open access in scholarly publication, the practice of publishing scholarly content (articles and monographs, along with datasets and associated materials) that is accessible to any interested person, available for free or a much lower cost than is presently charged for these materials. Remixing is also possible.  A third aspect is that of open source software, computer applications whose underlying digital structure is accessible to, and therefore capable of being copied and reused, remixed by, any would-be observer or user.

How did this triumph occur?

These different forms of openness succeeded by 2030 partly by virtue of incremental change and persistence.  OER and open scholarship grew steadily for years during the 21st century, accreting open content bit by bit and winning over more adherents every quarter.   Open source software took off in the 1990s, scoring major successes with some projects, standards, and businesses, then became simply part of the software landscape from then on.  Some governments offered public funding, licensing, and grant structure support and encouragement.

Growth by quantity played a key role; quality improvements were also crucial in open’s triumph.  To an extent this was an effect of reputation and cultural cachet, rather than most measures of quality, as proprietary publishers continued to released very elaborately produced books and multimedia artifacts, while a good number of faculty remained committed to familiar brands.  Open projects gradually competed with this challenge through improvements in appearance as well as by growing the reputation of key projects (PLOS becoming known as a signal leader in this).  Government sponsorship helped build open’s reputation.  For OER increasing concerns about income inequality helped convince faculty to turn to open, as did rising anxiety about the poverty of students (Sara Goldrick-Rab’s work proved decisive on this point).

Activists played a major role in criticizing proprietary content and encouraging academics and others to participate in the open world.  Libraries were crucial in the transition to open, as they were early adopters of scholarly material repositories, encouraged faculty to adopt open access publishing mandates, and negotiated with publishers. Meanwhile open quality improved on other measures through several processes: peer review, marketplace competition, successful commons-based peer production (as per Yochai Benkler), and continuous development.  OER co-creators gradually applied instructional design and human-computer interaction principles to their work.

The transition proceeded unevenly by geography and institution.  Certain governments led the way in pushing for open through policies, grants, and their own practices, while others took no steps or actively resisted.  Some nations, universities, and activists in the developing world advocated for open as a way to win equitable access to materials largely enjoyed by developed countries, as well as a creating channels for their scholars to contribute more fully to the overall human research enterprise.  The OA2020 initiative drove Europeans more rapidly towards the open flip, while the Association of College and Research Libraries championed the digital literacies librarians deemed necessary for a more open information world.

At some point in the 2020s each of these movements flipped its domain from closed to open, depending on which metric and which study one used.  The majority of textbooks used by students were OER in 2021.  The majority of scholarly articles were available through open access in 2023, most monographs in 2025, and the bulk of software by most measures in 2028.

Along the way each form of open faced opposition of all kinds, from the self-interested to the ill-informed and the scaremongers.  Battles and arguments took place in the mass media, social media, courtrooms, private offices, legislatures, and classrooms.  Many open efforts failed, including software projects, content archives, and businesses based on open.  Yet the net outcome year after year was more openness until the flip was achieved, and no retrograde movement occurred.

The resulting world is somewhat different from that of 2018.  Some major businesses – think of movies, software, music, book publishing, scholarly publishing – have died, while others have transformed radically.  New firms have appeared, along with nonprofits fulfilling some of these functions.  More information and creative content exists than before, and more of it flows across all kinds of boundaries.

There are more conversations worldwide as networks carry communications over those boundaries.  Some filter bubbles pop as companies that filtered users fade or mutate.  There is more creativity as people respond as they often do to the rising amount of accessible, reusable content: responding to content with commentary, remixing it into new content, building new structures to navigate the ever-growing amount of stuff, and creating new information and stories through inspiration, parody, and critique.

This plethora of content has made data analytics more important, since good use of data allows people to better understand the many paths through the open ecosystem.  For some people the value of content has collapsed, while the ability to use data to work with content has become valuable, leading to new businesses and practices.  Software, largely open source, helps people in this future work with these materials. The complexity of such analytics helped drive the development of intelligent software to better apprehend them.  Artificial intelligence tools give insights into the reliability of materials, how they proceeded over time, how they relate to other content streams, and more.

How does this change higher education?

Some developments are generally seen as positive.  The price of information drops, so students are pleased to pay less for course materials, while libraries and researchers delight in spending less for scholarly journals, articles, and monographs.  Consumers around the world enjoy more access to scholarly content, now that the majority of it has escaped from paywalls. Autodictats and professional researchers who previously lacked access to both learning and scholarly materials can now progress in their work, which leads to improved cultural and economic outcomes for their regions.

Faculty members and librarians display more creativity in using this expanded amount of content, wrangling or making more multimedia materials of their own and generating new practices for research and learning.  Librarians and IT staff similarly respond productively to this surge in digital information.  Libraries publish new finding aids, teach new classes, and explore the history of information to look for inspiration in how previous ages responded to upsurges in content.

Pedagogies changed as a result of open’s triumph.  To begin with, more students experienced more content, as class materials and scholarly research became more affordable.  More classes took advantage of remixing possibilities to edit and produce new versions of OER.  Students increasingly played a role in co-creating content, both textbook materials and scholarly research. Student-authored materials became more popular.  A shift towards student-centered learning and constructivist pedagogies occurred, driven by these changes in content availability.  Instructors increasingly taught “in the open,” sharing more of their practice to the open web, boosting professional development possibilities.  Students can learn in the company of more learners, both in terms of absolute numbers and diversity, once fellow students can be connected with from far beyond a given classroom’s walls.

Meanwhile, many surviving companies that serve academia have shifted their operations to respond to open’s triumph.  Some scholarly publishers are essentially data analytics specialists, providing value by helping researchers see links between documents, tracing patterns of discovery, and generating insights about articles and monographs through data mining and AI.  Textbook firms offer instructors ways of better understanding student progress, while promising students better learning results.  Further, some companies position themselves as open enablers, guides to the wide-open world of sometimes chaotic-seeming content, assistants to campuses trying to integrate these materials into systems and curricula.

Nonprofits also work in this intermediary space.  Established associations like the Creative Commons, the OER Commons, and the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) contribute resources to help people navigate and contribute to the sprawling open world.  Others offer the kinds of support services companies provide, but without the profit motive.  Pre-open-triumph academic nonprofits and associations help their members as well.

Other aspects of open’s triumph appear problematic or outright harmful to contemporary observers.  The collapse of certain businesses has had negative humanitarian and economic consequences.  Some technologies fail to realize good open source software solutions, so their user experience degrades.  With the collapse of some barriers, including walled gardens, comes an increase in the circulation of malware; the reduction of some filters means an expansion of abuse.  Privacy, already challenged by state and business surveillance, becomes even more frail in this situation.  Older students, having been socialized by class experiences strongly bounded by multiple enclosures (a classroom’s physical walls, the restriction of copyrighted content online to single instances of a class, policies driven by privacy laws like FERPA), find the open environment disturbing at times, and possibly uncomfortable for their learning practices. Grappling with these challenges can cost organizations and individuals money, driving some operational costs upwards.  Additionally, one flipside to creativity and content growth is that creative ownership becomes more difficult to ascertain, especially as remixing becomes easier to accomplish and identity more easily spoofed.

Campuses experience further changes.  IT offices see support and training needs shift away from products maintained by established vendors towards community sourced projects.  Campus IT also struggles with the rising tide of malware and threats to privacy.  Supporting some open materials, especially software, is a challenge when it is not clearly designed to integrate with a campus enterprise environment.  Librarians see their roles become more prominent as teaching students (along with faculty and staff) to better navigate the increasingly chaotic open world requires further instruction in information and digital literacy.  Indeed, for some institutions digital literacy becomes central to their curriculum.

Teaching and learning occur more often in the open, as course materials are usually available to the world, as is student work.  Students, especially those belonging to marginal or threatened populations, can therefore encounter abuse from beyond their class in the course of their learning.  Other learners can follow student progress through lessons, giving them insight into learning, while making plagiarism easier and test security more difficult.  Instructors can easily access vast amounts of teaching materials for their own use.  Researchers can share data and papers more readily, leading to greater collaboration while accelerating the pace of scholarly publication.

The learning management system has mutated.  Some LMSes consist of small modules that secure some class information (grades, registration details) connected to other programs and functions that work across the open web (readings, telepresence labs, discussions).  Some campuses have minimized their LMS deployment in favor of supporting learnings in creating their own personal learning environments (PLEs), assembled from the open web and structured to match a learner’s progress through a curriculum.  These PLEs are sometimes centered on documents that demonstrate learning, such as blockchain-published microcredential stacks or media-rich e-portfolios.

Institutional variations in the age of open’s triumph are widespread.  Some research-focused universities will struggle to switch faculty over from closed and secretive inquiry to open strategies.  Teaching-oriented campuses will create new mechanisms and practices for protecting their students while showcasing faculty teaching.  Hands-on work with open content and open source software will be configured differently in different institutions, depending in part on their attitude towards production (as opposed to studies).

The rising generation of younger students – i.e., teenagers – have a somewhat different worldview than that of their pre-open-world elders.  They are more attuned to a chaotic digital environment.  They have grown up expecting most content to be free and easily accessed and fine proprietary databases, digital walled gardens, and paywalls to be strange, stodgy, and offensive.  At the same time some find themselves attracted to closed and proprietary content and architecture for their combination of retro flair and marginal status.  This generation’s sense of digital identity is playful, based on multiple identities worn as masks in different situations.  Some of the content giants of the 2010s, so vital to their elders, are as distant in their minds as the titans of Greece and Rome.

I’d like to leave the reader with one question.  How would your work change in this future?

*For most of this post I am using “access” and “accessibility” in the sense of being able to get at information, rather than the other sense of making content accessible to people with different needs and abilities.

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That bloated administration: a look back at The Fall of the Faculty

In 2011 Benjamin Ginsberg published The Fall of the Faculty, a passionate argument that American higher education was being taken over by a cadre of administrators (publisher; my book store).  These administrators, most especially deans and deanlets, were sapping the faculty’s roles, soaking up resources, and generally ruining academia.  I’m not sure if the book introduced the phrase “administrative bloat,” but if it didn’t, it certainly gave the term a big push into our discourse.

How does it stand up in 2018?

Ginsberg_FallI’ll begin with a quick overview of the book, then add some reflections.

The central conceit is that for several decades administrators have been running a campaign to take over colleges and universities.  This movement includes expanding the number and variety of administrators:

[U]niversities are filled with armies of functionaries – the vice presidents, associate vice presidents, assistant vice presidents, provosts, associate provosts, vice provosts, assistant provosts, deans, deanlets, deanlings, each commanding staffers and assistants – who, more and more, direct the operations of every school. (2)

That population also arrogates a great deal of resources and local political power.  Ultimately the administrators exert control over faculty functions, beginning with governance, then advancing to curriculum and teaching, before compromising academic freedom.  Along the way some benign administrators try to minimize harm.  Otherwise these non-faculty campus denizens behave themselves badly, ranging from wasting time and money to destroying academic programs, and even committing a variety of white collar crimes.

I think today’s academic audience would find some points to support in this book.  The argument that senior administrators are too well compensated and the data on overall administrative numbers having grown more rapidly than those of the faculty will find many receptive readers. (23ff)  Administrative spending has continued to grow since the book appeared (for example), which might confirm its diagnosis. Additionally, Ginsberg’s focus on non-faculty staff gives a new context for complaints about money-losing student athletics (78).

There’s an interesting early sign of the queen sacrifice in the book. Ginsburg identifies an administrative tactic of using financial crises to redo the curriculum (9).  “For the most part, liberal arts programs were to be cut in favor of the business curriculum…”

At another level, The Fall is an appealing mix of personal reflection with extensive research.  It is clearly organized and its arguments easy to follow.  The author offers many very short narratives depicting administrative bad behavior, which neatly embody his ideas and data.  As Alan Scott notes, the authorial voice is that of a prosecutor.

On the negative side, there are some observations and arguments which 2018’s readers might deem problematic.  At one point Ginsberg slams the idea of learning outside the classroom by sneering that “students did not come to [Johns] Hopkins [University] to work with our dining services personnel, our counselors, or even our distinguished administrators…” (20) Advocates for student life would surely object to this.  Supporters of libraries, like myself, would argue that Ginsberg misses the way students learn from librarians.  The reader can add more examples.

Throughout the book Ginsberg comes close to committing a mistake I like to correct, which is conflating all non-faculty campus staff with senior administrators.  He does admit that there are other staff who aren’t as grandiose as deanlets (“information technology specialists, counselors, auditors, accountants, admission officers…”, 24), but they rarely appear in the book.   The Fall is mostly about middle managers and especially senior administrative leaders, not the numerous staff.

In fact, when the book recognizes those staff, it denigrates their professionalism in favor of deeming them senior administration spies:

These “other professionals”… work for the administration and serve as its arms, legs, eyes, ears, and mouthpieces.  Administrative staffers do not work for or, in many cases, even share information with the faculty. (25)

That those other professionals might work with faculty escapes notice.  That they might conduct their valuable work without being deanlet minions similarly fails to appear.  In fact, many of those professionals do work for faculty in the sense that they are, to various extents, supervised or otherwise influenced by faculty members.  Think of faculty governance in budgeting, or the role of faculty on library or technology committees.  Instead of seeing this broader complexity of staff roles and relationships, the author lumps all staff under the header of “management” (29).


Ginsberg goes still further in mocking administrators.  Archly, he writes that “[m]any administrators have neither the ability nor the inclination to develop their own ideas or write their own words.” (93-4)  “Generally speaking, a million-dollar president could be kidnapped by space aliens and it would be weeks or even months before his or her absence from campus was noticed.” (164)  “[T]oday’s senior administrators have no more institutional constancy or loyalty than the mercenary managers of other enterprises.” (169)

At every college and university there are excellent, talented, hard-working administrators.  But, there are too many administrators, and large numbers have little to do besides attend meetings and retreats and serve as agents of administrative imperialism. (218)

He even takes time to mock student athletes as “gangs of large dummies… [who] beat one another to a pulp” (171).  Ultimately the repeated viciousness of the book’s style seems designed to irk all academics but a core readership of some tenured faculty members.

When it comes to faculty members, the book takes a very different tone and with a very narrow focus.  Most of its arguments involve tenure-track faculty, those with campus governance powers and a guarantee of academic freedom.  Only twice in Fall the most numerous segment of the professoriate appears: adjuncts, who lack both governance and academic freedom’s guarantee, not to mention benefits and others of support. Otherwise the book is primarily concerned not with faculty per se, but a shrinking minority of that population.

Curiously, Ginsberg largely blames senior administration for the adjunct crisis, describing the transformation of the professoriate as another instance of the (tenured) faculty’s decline (19, 163).  However, surely tenured faculty must shoulder blame for the adjunctification of the faculty, starting with those at the research-I universities which insist on overproducing PhDs.  Beyond those campuses department chairs hire adjuncts.  Division leaders help organize the allocation of resources towards teaching.  And faculty governance, which hasn’t fully disappeared, can’t evade some responsibility here.

Elsewhere, the book’s account of the academy sketches an odd view of its economics.  Ginsberg seems to criticize administrators for successfully fundraising (42) and for some attending professional meetings subsidized by corporations (47), but without seeming to recognize changes in higher education finance.  That states have dropped their public university support levels, that costs have escalated across the board, which necessitates greater fundraising, doesn’t really register.  The corrupting influence of companies is hinted at, although it seems mostly to be a description of unduly lavish junkets; the major changes in privatization and compensation sweeping the American economy surely merit some mention.  Along these lines John Holmwood criticizes the book for not naming neoliberalism as a cause, then goes further:

Ginsberg’s… concern is to assert the autonomy of faculty, with that, in turn, associated with the autonomy of the university. He seems unaware that the latter has been transfigured. It is no longer an autonomy that serves academic freedom, curiosity and the capacity to produce alternative visions of society that he endorses, but a wish to be free of government control and regulation. This kind of autonomy is no different from that claimed by any chief executive of any other corporation.

Returning to the administration, the author mocks planning in ways many academics would recognize.  Strategic planning can be secretive, take too much time, generate identical mission statements, and be ignored once published (47ff).  Yet The Fall of the Faculty doesn’t offer much of an alternative to strategic planning beyond a nostalgic look back at a time one (or two) generation(s) past when faculty members could somehow manage a modern and complex university as a kind of genteel sideline to their real work.  How this could work after a generation wherein campuses expanded their population, accrued more regulatory burdens, and have to cope with escalating financial crises is undescribed.

Perhaps most problematic for readers in 2018 is Ginsberg’s description of gender, race, and ethnic studies programs as largely created and maintained for administrative purposes (97ff).  In this key chapter we see campus leaders taking advantage of progressive student movements to build social justice centers.  Otherwise deanlets arrange for tenure lines out of proportion to the number of students taking classes or majoring in the topic (104). The goal is the aggregation of power and outflanking faculty.

Put simply, university administrators will often package proposals designed mainly to enhance their own power on campus as altruistic and public-spirited efforts to promote social and political goals, such as equality and diversity, that the faculty cannot oppose. (101)

[U]nder the rubric of diversity, administrators are seeking and finding ways to enhance their power vis-a-vis the faculty. (116)

This description surely does a disservice to many players, including student activists, not to mention administrators who may honestly agree with these politics.  Indeed, Ginsberg’s account leaves open the idea of a campus with senior leaders more progressive than their faculty; would the other prefer to see gender, racial, and ethnic centers not appear as a result?  On a related note, the same campus leaders promulgate speech codes – not to protect students, but to control the speech of faculty members. (116ff)

Borg_dockingstationMany reviewers have complained that the book’s proposed solutions are too weak, and they are right.  The author concludes with nearly a sigh of resignation, comparing the administrative movement to the Borg (219). The most useful attempt at a fix is to get more faculty on boards of trustees (210).  Ginsberg also calls for the reduction in size of PhD programs (215), something I support.

There are other problems which I don’t have the time to get into.  For one, Ginsberg repeats the widely discredited Bennett Hypothesis (that federal support for higher ed drives tuition higher) without attribution or sourcing, which might help explain his views about college financing. (54)

Fall of the Faculty remains a touchstone for criticism of the modern academic administration.  It is less an analysis than a jeremiad, a fierce cry to arms and bitter denunciation of the present day.  Its flaws and shortfalls stem from that nature.  In particular the attacks on professional staff are offensive to many hard-working academics.

On balance, the book is important and useful, but needs not only a large grain of salt from the reader, but the addition of supplemental works for anyone interested in a fuller picture of American colleges and universities.  Ginsberg may have sketched out some ways tensions can unfold between the professoriate and all other campus staff.

(administration photo by kersy83; Borg photo by Marcin Wichary – originally posted to Flickr as [1], CC BY 2.0, Link)


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