The future of higher education, according to the rumor mill.

I’m getting this third-hand, and I’m always cautious about predictions of future events, but here’s someone’s vision of higher education yet-to-come:

  1. Professors will totally need to incorporate online elements, especially social media elements, into their courses if they are to have a prayer of engaging their students.
  2. They will also need to get students to accept the idea that since the jobs are being outsourced to other countries, they (the students) will need to be ready to move to those countries. (No word on whether students are to be prepared for the prevailing wages in those countries, or on whether those countries are likely to welcome our students as job-seeking immigrants.)
  3. The end of new tenure track faculty.

Excuse me, but I was promised a zombie apocalypse.

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Posted in Academia, Passing thoughts, Personal, Politics, Teaching and learning, [Education&Careers].

22 Comments

  1. #1 and #3 seem plausible. at least you have tenure janet. but re #2, most americans don’t know foreign languages. not a major issue if they’re high on the skills ladder i guess…but i guess the non-elite are screwed.

    • Knowing foreign language for the purpose of communication, rathar than gaining a deeper cultural understanding, is really not going to be an issue in the future. There will be apps for that. =)

  2. 1. Probably not “need”, but online tools have some promise. Alternatively, the integration of social electronic media into courses started more than a decade ago—I don’t think I’ve ever been in a class that didn’t involve email and a web page (if for no other reason than “here’s where I post the syllabus and my office hours”). Using some of the newer stuff wisely might not be too bad.

    2. That’s complete BS. When jobs move from high income to low income places, you get wage equalization, not population movement. The point is that those countries have a surplus of workers. Sending workers from here to there is like sending coals to Newcastle.

    3. I’d rather see tenure replaced with 10 year contracts than, say, the adjunctification of academia. Contractors might not be as good as professor, but they’re better than sweat-shops.

  3. No tenure is fine. I’ve never been convinced this stark divide into no-security/absolute-security has ever made a lot of sense. Of course, that’ll mean having to pay more for skilled researchers upfront rather than having future tenure as a possible carrot.

    And without either good pay or good job security more will opt for a non-academic career. Which doesn’t have to be a bad thing for the researchers nor for society at large. A lot of those now drifting from temp job to temp job hoping to land a tenure-track position would probably find themselves happier out of that grind and working somewhere they’ll be better appreciated. And as the pool of cheap people dries up, those left will be faced with better conditions – not tenure, but perhaps time-unlimited salaried positions, something that’s good enough for just about everybody else in the working world.

  4. Snarkyxanf- #2 isn’t necessarily all that far out there (says the Canadian teacher living in Korea). Having a surplus of workers is not the same thing as having a surplus of workers with the exact skills that are needed for a particular job. Also, as wages equalize, this will increase the demand for different types of workers.

    • What is it that you teach in Korea?

      I should have been more clear—I’m not disputing that there is never a reason for a person from a rich country to work in a less rich one: language teachers are a classic example.

      Many Westerners will probably move abroad to work for foreigners in foreign places (just as many non-Westerners move around the world to do the same), I was just trying to say that it’s ridiculous to imagine that Americans would move abroad to work for Americans, that is, to take outsourced jobs (it was framed in terms of outsourcing).

  5. Yeah, prediction #2 is aptly numbered, if you know what I mean.

    And prediction #3 is pretty clearly motivated by a desire to let no budget crisis be wasted as far as dismantling the academic sweatshop. Even if I’m safe, I expect to die a little inside when my junior colleagues are not.

    As for prediction #1, I have no problem with judicious use of online teaching tools, but experience has shown that the bells and whistles cannot by themselves save a course from bad pedagogy.

    Look, I can post the GPS coordinates for my brain (still juicy! free of prions!) if that’ll help the zombies get to it before the situation here gets much worse.

  6. I’m at a point where I should be considering grad school…and I’m not sure it’s worth it anymore. There are so many jobless Ph.D.s right now: but I do think in the future more people will get postbac degrees. They won’t have any other choice; the workforce will continue to oversaturate as other countries enter the mix.

  7. There are still high-income countries out there that welcome academics. Some of them are even English-speaking. Tenure’s on its way out world-wide, though – ultimately, if all the money’s soft, there’s no way to underwrite a permanent contract.

    By the way, even in environments where there’s still metered Internet (surprise! such places exist), school administrators are getting very rah-rah about using online resources. The optimist in me thinks they’re out to get rid of classrooms (so expensive to heat, to cool, to light) but the realist thinks they’re trying to eliminate teachers – why pay a professor if you can just have students watch an online video year after year, with a forum for classroom chat? (Never mind that without classrooms or teachers there’s no reason to bother with administrators, either.)

  8. Clearly, we’re going to have to find some non-tenured microbiologists to breed Solanum for us. I’m not convinced it destroys the neocortex the way Max Brooks claims it does.

  9. 1. Professors are going to have to work harder than ever before to convince students that there are multiple ways of learning. They’ll also need to emphasize that learning is a two-way street and students who think they’re entitled to be “engaged” via their favorite toys aren’t going to survive.

    2. Universities are places where you get an education. They are not for job training. It’s not up to professors to tell adult students what kind of job to get when they graduate or where they will have to live.

    3. The protection of academic freedom will be far more important in the future than it is today because universities are under attack from those who want to transform them into giant schools of business and management. Tenure, which protects academic freedom, will be extremely important in the future. Universities will be doomed if it is ever abolished.

    4. Undergraduate education is only a small part of what goes on in universities. Failure to appreciate this fundamental fact often leads to ridiculous predictions about the future of higher education.

  10. The end of new tenure track faculty? That’s the very convincing argument of a book-The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities, by Frank Donoghue, 2008, Fordham University Press. I don’t know if he is correct, but I do like that he attributes the probable demise of tenure to the fecklessness and self-satisfaction of several generations of tenured professors. They, most of them, glanced over at the situation only occasionally, and usually with no more reaction than a soet of dumb puzzlement—who are these wrteches in our hallways? —while the precondition for tenure’s demise, and the demise of much else, developed: that is, the loss of full-time lines and their replacement with ever growing numbers of ill-paid and otherwise badly treated adjuncts and contingents, who, as qualified and dedicated as the run of the tenured “community,” now do most of the teaching at colleges and universities in this country.
    So, by the way, we’re looking, possibly—clearly, in Donoghue’s view—at the end of the kind of higher education that is valuable, serious, inclusive, exploratory, contentious, interesting, disinterested in the best scientific way, and community-oriented around an ideal of the scholarly community that seeks to develop and transmit new knowledge. To put this another way, we’re not just looking at the possibility of the end of “new tenure track faculty,” we’re looking at the death of a profession: the tribe will cease to exist and its language will no longer be spoken. Some groups, like The New Faculty Majority, and COCAL, are working against this powerful trend, and I certainly hope that they—we-win. But it’s going to be an uphill battle and we need everyone to contribute.

  11. Re: 1

    I think there’s a lot to be said for incorporating new media into your class, whatever your class is.

    Re: 2

    I’d give up lifelong tenure for a 10 year contract with a nice golden parachute and/or a guarantee of university funding for my research. If I don’t have to go after grants, well, then I can get a bunch more stuff done. I’d rather *do* work than apply for it.

    And really, if you want to get rid of me for non-job related reasons (like I have political views the administration doesn’t like), I don’t want to work in your environment anyway. Give me the chunk of change I have coming to me and I’ll go seek employment elsewhere on your dime. S’okay with me.

    Not so sure that getting rid of tenure will work without some sort of replacement, though. If you don’t give academics a reason to be grounded to an organization, what are they going to do in the year when the NSF grants have all gone to UofNotHere? Pack up and move to industry, and probably not come back… just look at the lower education market. Teachers come in full of spit and vinegar, and they get their enthusiasm burned out of them by low pay and a working environment that doesn’t acknowledge them when they actually do a good job. I know quite a few K-12 teachers and virtually all of them are going through some sort of major career crisis. This is really a problem you want to import into higher ed?

  12. #1: I concur that the technological tail should not wag the pedagogical dog.

    #3: Tenure has been a reasonable compensation/price for faculty loyalty. The college will secure long-term employment in return if you stay here long term. The flip side of that is that it is very hard for faculty to move once they have tenure, unless they are superstars. This probably keeps faculty salaries much lower than they should be, because there is no incentive to raise salaries to retain faculty. Removing tenure would make faculty far more mobile and able to seek higher salaries wherever they can get them. The tradeoff is the loss of faculty stability at any given university. Then again, everyone will probably just become adjuncts anyway.

    I’m not sure what the best arrangement is. Faculty generally have not been good at explaining why they think tenure is a necessary component in the academy. Everyone outside of Higher Ed thinks it means a cushy guaranteed job for life with little or no work, and the assault on tenure is just one aspect of the overall relentless assault on all of higher education.

  13. #1: I concur that the technological tail should not wag the pedagogical dog.

    #3: Tenure has been a reasonable compensation/price for faculty loyalty. The college will secure long-term employment in return if you stay here long term. The flip side of that is that it is very hard for faculty to move once they have tenure, unless they are superstars. This probably keeps faculty salaries much lower than they should be, because there is no incentive to raise salaries to retain faculty. Removing tenure would make faculty far more mobile and able to seek higher salaries wherever they can get them. The tradeoff is the loss of faculty stability at any given university. Then again, everyone will probably just become adjuncts anyway.

    I’m not sure what the best arrangement is. Faculty generally have not been good at explaining why they think tenure is a necessary component in the academy. Everyone outside of Higher Ed thinks it means a cushy guaranteed job for life with little or no work, and the assault on tenure is just one aspect of the overall relentless assault on all of higher education.

  14. I think a university is justified if it is a place which supports the work of the professors and students. Thus professors should have a great deal of say about the nature of the university. Because universities are the most long lived of human institutions, they tend to change at a glacial pace. Tenure gives professors a long term involvement with the university, and a rational for working toward changes which may be a long time coming. For example, I worked on planning a building extension. It is being constructed 13 years after I retired. Students may also have concerns, but they tend to be transients, and rightly focus on short therm changes.

    The alternative is the industrial model, where administrators are managers, professors are cogs in the machinery, and students are a product. In this model it is best to have contract workers who will not concern themselves with the long view.

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