You’re not really paranoid if somebody actually is out to get you.

“My partners and I often fantasized about an end state in which professors would be free agents and education could become “unbundled” from the traditional campus setting and offered more freely as a consumer service, or commodity, by other providers.”

– Roger Novak, “Ed Tech’s Next Wave Rolls Into View,” Chronicle of Higher Ed (subs. req.) September 15, 2014.

I’m sorry that quote is paywalled, because to really understand its beauty you have to read the whole article. Roger Novak is a venture capitalist – and not just any VC. He’s an edtech VC who backed Blackboard. Moreover, he’s not talking about last year there. He’s talking about 1997, before Blackboard came online. That’s right, my friends, the Silicon Valley money machine has been plotting to separate you from your tenure and your job security for over fifteen years now.

To say that they’re doing so to serve their own ends almost goes without saying. What may be a little less obvious is that their ends and the goal of achieving an effective education are not one in the same. Another story in this week’s Chronicle suggests the size of the huge gap between these two objectives:

In a 10-year longitudinal study of students at a small college, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Christopher G. Takacs and I found that personal relationships with both peers and faculty members, starting from direct contact, were fundamentally important to undergraduate success and could readily be facilitated by institutions. The influence of friends, teachers, and mentors on students’ careers can be truly pervasive, running from start to finish.

Now try to do that in a world where every professor is a free agent. It’s bad enough when 76% of faculty are adjuncts. Permanent free agency for everybody will only make matters worse.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the quote at the top of this post is that a VC feels comfortable enough to admit to the existence of his nefarious ends in a higher ed publication. That’s like posting recipes for rabbit stew in a forum for bunny adoptions. In other words, not only have these people declared open season on faculty and education in general, they’ve left stealth mode and are now hunting right out in the open for everybody to see.

Yet many faculty still act as if our unbundled, nearly all-online future will be a good thing for us and our students. When are they going to wake up and smell the coffee?

Jonathan Rees

Professor of History, Colorado State University - Pueblo.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Historiann

    “When are they going to wake up and smell the HASSENPFEFFER?

    There. FIFY.

      1. Jonathan Rees


        I think that’s true of the main paper, but certainly not Chronicle Vitae.

  2. Susan

    Well, the original medieval university was unbundled. The students followed the teachers . I think very soon both students and faculty found it useful to work together. I know more about the English case, but the original Oxbridge colleges were founded to provide housing for students; the faculties started working together because there was a final exam, more or less the same across Europe. At least then there weren’t VCs trying to make a buck off anomie.

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