Nelson says classes will be designed by A-list faculty from other universities, acting as consultants. But once the lesson plan is on paper, they will be presented to Minerva students by newly minted PhDs; Nelson says academic jobs are so hard to find that he should have no problem attracting instructors.
Too many PhDs. Too few jobs. Lots of extremely smart people left to teach at Minerva, right?
Well, maybe not. There’s a biased, but well-detailed three-part series on Minerva at PC magazine that seriously makes teaching there sound like a living Hell. For example, consider this:
As the figurative striker, the professor is expected to run plays. Faculty inherit meticulously developed curricula, and they are expected to stick to the script. (Given class-time sensitivity, Minerva has even added a timer to the system). This may trouble faculty for whom academic freedom is sacrosanct and course design a point of personal pride. Minerva isn’t for them.
That’s right, they’re literally gonna put a stopwatch on you while you’re teaching. I guess that worked at the Watertown Arsenal….oh wait, it didn’t work at all at the Watertown Arsenal. Maybe higher education will be different. After all, it’s not like professors have any unique skills that promote illusions of dignity. Oh wait…
Of course, it goes without saying that where there’s no academic freedom, there’s no tenure. With tenure (sadly) on its way out in so many places these days, I can almost understand why someone would jump for a job under these conditions, but then consider the way that faculty at Minerva are going to be evaluated:
[E]ducators must accept a greater degree of surveillance. Just as students must acclimate to seeing themselves speak in class videos, faculty must accept that everything they say during class, office hours, and advising, is recorded. From my conversation with Dean Chandler, I understand that the process hasn’t been finalized, but faculty will be evaluated using recordings from classes, feedback from students, and student performance metrics.
In other words, Minerva faculty are going to be evaluated using all the worst methods from both secondary and higher education. What could possibly go wrong?
What appears to be Minerva’s response to these kinds of concerns is contained earlier in the article I just linked to:
[U]nless an educator is hired to design curriculum, she will teach predesigned courses. Minerva representatives pitched the approach as a feature, rather than a bug: Without having to develop curricula, educators were “free” to focus on student conversations.
This definition of “freedom” is very much in line with a kind of freedom that Nicholas Carr has identified as being touted all over Silicon Valley:
The dream that the technologies of automation will liberate us from work, the dream expressed by McLuhan, is a seductive one. Karl Marx, in the middle of the nineteenth century, wrote of how new production technologies could have “the wonderful power of shortening and fructifying human labor.” He foresaw a time when he would be able “to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind.” But Marx did not believe that the emancipatory potential of technology was inherent in the technology itself. The emancipatory power would be released only through political, economic, and social changes. Technology would always serve its master.
While Minerva’s classes are from automated, what’s essentially happening here is that some of the traditional professorial functions are being turned over to a computer so that the teachers can
build more widgets educate students more-intensely during their time under the stopwatch. They can do this because the technology that Minerva is employing doesn’t serve the needs of the workers or the students here. It only serves the needs of Minerva’s investors.
Whether there are enough surplus PhDs out there willing to work under these conditions is open to question in my opinion. However, the notion that anyone could offer students an Ivy-caliber education while working under these conditions is absolutely absurd. Desperation is to educational quality as Kryptonite is to Superman.