Revolution in Higher Education: chapter 12, “Governing in the Age of Internet Empires”

Revolution in Higher Education, coverContinuing with our reading of Richard DeMillo’s Revolution in Higher Education: How a Small Band of Innovators Will Make College Accessible and Affordable (2015) (publisher; Amazon): this week we’re discussing chapter 12, “Governing in the Age of Internet Empires.”

Here DeMillo focuses on what he sees as a dark side to the technologies he previously celebrated.  Social media enables not only collaboration but mob behavior, and that can happen on college campuses.  DeMillo runs through recent cases of disinvited speakers, the Salaita affair, and especially the University of Virginia presidency story.

For DeMillo these stories point to the rise of significant power:

Like villagers storming the gates of a castle, organized labor, political activism, and vested self-interest can easily coalesce into an unelected, unappointed, and unaccountable mob that can effectively make decisions about business issues, such as real estate, institutional assets, and partnerships with service providers and corporate sponsors.(5028)

This links back to earlier chapters’ concerns about faculty governance and management. “These are not merely cases of enterprises run amok.  They represent a way of governing.”(5039)  The AAUP appears again, once more as a weak villain: “[T]oday’s AAUP runs the risk of catering to an increasingly inwardly focused audience – not that… places the desires of professors… ahead of students and the larger society that institutions are supposed to serve.” (5363)

Another recurrent theme is elitism.  DeMillo accuses Virginia faculty of not responding to second-time president Sullivan’s decision to scale back some student aid, presumably to protect a faculty ally (5346).  This chapter also sounds the earlier note of supporting legitimate authority on campus – here, in favor of Virginia’s Board of Visitors.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • DeMillo doesn’t only hit liberal/left “mobs”.  He takes care to mention conservative mobs as well.
  • This is an unusual account of the Virginia-Sullivan case, very supportive of Dragas.

Overall, this is an ambitious chapter, trying to bring together a wide range of arguments.  I was surprised at the emphasis on the UVa story; while I’m impressed by DeMillo’s energetic defense of Dragas, rhetorically, I’m not wholly convinced.

This is a bold and necessary question to ask, though, and I hope more people take this seriously: “What we are left with is the question of how a traditional university can be governed in an age of the vast but unaccountable Internet Empires like Twitter and Facebook.” (5357)

What do you make of it?

Next week, starting January 25th, is the last part of the book, “A Social Contract” and “Epilogue”.

Would you like to follow along?  Simply snag a copy of the book from your library or MIT Press or the local bookshop or Amazon (etc.), and get reading.  I’ll post about each chapter at the start of each week, so you can add comments there.  I’ve set up a tag for all posts: demillorevolution.  Twitter’s also a fine place to chat (I’m @BryanAlexander).  If you’re into Goodreads, let us know so we can catch up (here’s me).

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One Response to Revolution in Higher Education: chapter 12, “Governing in the Age of Internet Empires”

  1. Pingback: AAUP censures a college for its queen sacrifice | Bryan Alexander

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