diana on Fri, 19 Dec 1997 11:34:46 +0100 (MET)

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<nettime> Digital Diploma Mills

 Digital Diploma Mills: The Automation of Higher Education

        David F. Noble    October, 1997

       Recent events at two large North American universities signal
 dramatically that we have entered a new era in higher education,
 one which is rapidly drawing the halls of academe into the age of
 automation.  In mid- summer the UCLA administration launched its
 historic "Instructional Enhancement Initiative" requiring computer
 web sites for all of its arts and sciences courses by the start
 of the Fall term, the first time that a major university has made
 mandatory the use of computer telecommunications technology in the
 delivery of higher education. In partnership with several private
 corporations (including the Times Mirror Company, parent of the
 Los Angeles Times), moreover, UCLA has spawned its own for-profit
 company, headed by a former UCLA vice chancellor, to peddle online
 education (the Home Education Network).

          This past spring in Toronto, meanwhile, the full-time
 faculty of York University, Canada's third largest, ended an historic
 two-month strike having secured for the first time anywhere formal
 contractual protection against precisely the kind of administrative
 action being taken by UCLA.  The unprecedented faculty job action,
 the longest university strike in English Canadian history, was
 taken partly in response to unilateral administrative initiatives in
 the implementation of instructional technology, the most egregious
 example of which was an official solicitation to private corporations
 inviting them to permanently place their logo on a university
 online course in return for a $10,000 contribution to courseware
 development.  As at UCLA, the York University administration has
 spawned its own subsidiary (Cultech), directed by the vice president
 for research and several deans and dedicated, in collaboration with a
 consortium of private sector firms, to the commercial development and
 exploitation of online education.

        Significantly, at both UCLA and York, the presumably
 cyber-happy students have given clear indication that they are not
 exactly enthusiastic about the prospect of a high-tech academic
 future, recommending against the Initiative at UCLA and at York
 lending their support to striking faculty and launching their own
 independent investigation of the commercial, pedagogical, and ethical
 implications of online educational technology. This Fall the student
 handbook distributed annually to all students by the York Federation
 of Students contained a warning about the dangers of online

        Thus, at the very outset of this new age of higher
 education, the lines have already been drawn in the struggle which
 will ultimately determine its shape. On the one side university
 administrators and their myriad commercial partners, on the other
 those who constitute the core relation of education: students and
 teachers. (The chief slogan of the York faculty during the strike
 was "the classroom vs the boardroom"). It is no accident, then, that
 the high-tech transformation of higher education is being initiated
 and implemented from the top down, either without any student and
 faculty involvement in the decision-making or despite it. At UCLA
 the administration launched their Initiative during the summer when
 many faculty are away and there was little possibility of faculty
 oversight or governance; faculty were thus left out of the loop
 and kept in the dark about the new web requirement until the last
 moment. And UCLA administrators also went ahead with its Initiative,
 which is funded by a new compulsory student fee, despite the formal
 student recommendation against it. Similarly the initiatives of
 the York administration in the deployment of computer technology in
 education were taken without faculty oversight and deliberation much
 less student involvement.  What is driving this headlong rush to
 implement new technology with so little regard for deliberation of
 the pedagogical and economic costs and at the risk of student and
 faculty alienation and opposition? A short answer might be the fear
 of getting left behind, the incessant pressures of "progress". But
 there is more to it. For the universities are not simply undergoing
 a technological transformation. Beneath that change, and camouflaged
 by it, lies another: the commercialization of higher education.
 For here as elsewhere technology is but a vehicle and a disarming

      The major change to befall the universities over the last two
 decades has been the identification of the campus as a significant
 site of capital accumulation, a change in social perception which
 has resulted in the systematic conversion of intellectual activity
 into intellectual capital and, hence, intellectual property. There
 have been two general phases of this transformation. The first,
 which began twenty years ago and is still underway, entailed
 the commoditization of the research function of the university,
 transforming scientific and engineering knowledge into commercially
 viable proprietary products that could be owned and bought and sold
 in the market. The second, which we are now witnessing, entails
 the commoditization of the educational function of the university,
 transforming courses into courseware, the activity of instruction
 itself into commercially viable proprietary products that can be
 owned and bought and sold in the market. In the first phase the
 universities became the site of production and sale of patents and
 exclusive licenses. In the second, they are becoming the site of
 production of - as well as the chief market for - copyrighted videos,
 courseware, CD-ROMs, and Web sites.

       The first phase began in the mid-1970's when, in the wake of
 the oil crisis and intensifying international competition, corporate
 and political leaders of the major industrialized countries of
 the world recognized that they were losing their monopoly over the
 world's heavy industries and that, in the future, their supremacy
 would depend upon their monopoly over the knowledge which had become
 the lifeblood of the new so-called "knowledge-based" industries
 (space, electronics, computers, materials, telecommunications,
 and bioengineering). This focus upon "intellectual capital" turned
 their attention to the universities as its chief source, implicating
 the universities as never before in the economic machinery.  In the
 view of capital, the universities had become too important to be
 left to the universities. Within a decade there was a proliferation
 of industrial partnerships and new proprietary arrangements, as
 industrialists and their campus counterparts invented ways to
 socialize the risks and costs of creating this knowledge while
 privatizing the benefits. This unprecedented collaboration gave rise
 to an elaborate web of interlocking directorates between corporate
 and academic boardrooms and the foundation of joint lobbying efforts
 epitomized by the work of the Business-Higher Education Forum.
 The chief accomplishment of the combined effort, in addition to a
 relaxation of anti-trust regulations and greater tax incentives for
 corporate funding of university research, was the 1980 reform of the
 patent law which for the first time gave the universities automatic
 ownership of patents resulting from federal government grants.
 Laboratory knowledge now became patents, that is Intellectual
 capital and intellectual property. As patent holding companies, the
 universities set about at once to codify their intellectual property
 policies, develop the infrastructure for the conduct of commercially-
 viable research, cultivate their corporate ties, and create the
 mechanisms for marketing their new commodity, exclusive licenses
 to their patents. The result of this first phase of university
 commoditization was a wholesale reallocation of university resources
 toward its research function at the expense of its educational

      Class sizes swelled, teaching staffs and instructional resources
 were reduced, salaries were frozen, and curricular offerings were
 cut to the bone. At the same time, tuition soared to subsidize
 the creation and maintenance of the commercial infrastructure (and
 correspondingly bloated administration) that has never really paid
 off. In the end students were paying more for their education and
 getting less, and the campuses were in crisis.*

      The second phase of the commercialization of academia, the
 commoditization of instruction, is touted as the solution to
 the crisis engendered by the first. Ignoring the true sources of
 the financial debacle - an expensive and low-yielding commercial
 infrastructure and greatly expanded administrative costs - the
 champions of computer-based instruction focus their attention rather
 upon increasing the efficiencies of already overextended teachers.
 And they ignore as well the fact that their high-tech remedies
 are bound only to compound the problem, increasing further, rather
 then reducing, the costs of higher education. (Experience to
 date demonstrates clearly that computer-based teaching, with its
 limitless demands upon instructor time and vastly expanded overhead
 requirements - equipment, upgrades, maintenance, and technical and
 administrative support staff - costs more not less than traditional
 education, whatever the reductions in direct labor, hence the need
 for outside funding and student technology fees). Little wonder,
 then, that teachers and students are reluctant to embrace this new
 panacea. Their hesitation reflects not fear but wisdom.**

     But this second transformation of higher education is not
 the work of teachers or students, the presumed beneficiaries of
 improved education, because it is not really about education at
 all.  That's just the name of the market. The foremost promoters of
 this transformation are rather the vendors of the network hardware,
 software, and "content" - Apple, IBM, Bell, the cable companies,
 Microsoft, and the edutainment and publishing companies Disney,
 Simon and Schuster, Prentice-Hall, et al - who view education as a
 market for their wares, a market estimated by the Lehman Brothers
 investment firm potentially to be worth several hundred billion
 dollars.  "Investment opportunity in the education industry has
 never been better," one of their reports proclaimed, indicating that
 this will be "the focus industry" for lucrative investment in the
 future, replacing the healthcare industry. (The report also forecasts
 that the educational market will eventually become dominated by
 EMO's - education maintenance organizations - just like HMO's in
 the healthcare market). It is important to emphasize that, for all
 the democratic rhetoric about extending educational access to those
 unable to get to the campus, the campus remains the real market for
 these products, where students outnumber their distance learning
 counterparts six-to-one.

       In addition to the vendors, corporate training advocates
 view online education as yet another way of bringing their problem-
 solving, information- processing, "just-in-time" educated employees
 up to profit- making speed. Beyond their ambitious in-house training
 programs, which have incorporated computer-based instructional
 methods pioneered by the military, they envision the transformation
 of the delivery of higher education as a means of supplying their
 properly-prepared personnel at public expense .

      The third major promoters of this transformation are the
 university administrators, who see it as a way of giving their
 institutions a fashionably forward-looking image. More importantly,
 they view computer-based instruction as a means of reducing their
 direct labor and plant maintenance costs - fewer teachers and
 classrooms - while at the same time undermining the autonomy and
 independence of faculty. At the same time, they are hoping to get a
 piece of the commercial action for their institutions or themselves,
 as vendors in their own right of software and content.  University
 administrators are supported in this enterprise by a number of
 private foundations, trade associations, and academic-corporate
 consortia which are promoting the use of the new technologies with
 increasing intensity. Among these are the Sloan, Mellon, Pew, and
 Culpeper Foundations, the American Council on Education, and, above
 all, Educom, a consortium representing the management of 600 colleges
 and universities and a hundred private corporations.

      Last but not least, behind this effort are the ubiquitous
 technozealots who simply view computers as the panacea for
 everything, because they like to play with them. With the avid
 encouragement of their private sector and university patrons, they
 forge ahead, without support for their pedagogical claims about
 the alleged enhancement of education, without any real evidence
 of productivity improvement, and without any effective demand from
 either students or teachers.

      In addition to York and UCLA, universities throughout North
 America are rapidly being overtaken by this second phase of
 commercialization.  There are the stand-alone virtual institutions
 like University of Phoenix, the wired private institutions like the
 New School for Social Research, the campuses of state universities
 like the University of Maryland and the new Gulf-Coast campus of
 the University of Florida (which boasts no tenure).  On the state
 level, the states of Arizona and California have initiated their own
 state-wide virtual university projects, while a consortia of western
 "Smart States" have launched their own ambitious effort to wire all
 of their campuses into an online educational network. In Canada, a
 national effort has been undertaken, spearheaded by the Telelearning
 Research Network centered at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver,
 to bring most of the nation's higher education institutions into a
 "Virtual U" network.

      The overriding commercial intent and market orientation
 behind these initiatives is explicit, as is illustrated by
 the most ambitious U.S. effort to date, the Western Governors'
 Virtual University Project, whose stated goals are to "expand
 the marketplace for instructional materials, courseware, and
 programs utilizing advanced technology," "expand the marketplace
 for demonstrated competence," and "identify and remove barriers to
 the free functioning of these markets, particularly barriers posed
 by statutes, policies, and administrative rules and regulations."

      "In the future," Utah governor Mike Leavitt proclaimed, "an
 institution of higher education will become a little like a local
 television station." Start up funds for the project come from the
 private sector, specifically from Educational Management Group, the
 educational arm of the world's largest educational publisher Simon
 and Schuster and the proprietary impulse behind their largesse is
 made clear by Simon and Schuster CEO Jonathan Newcomb: "The use
 of interactive technology is causing a fundamental shift away from
 the physical classroom toward anytime, anywhere learning - the
 model for post secondary education in the twenty- first century."
 This transformation is being made possible by "advances in digital
 technology, coupled with the protection of copyright in cyberspace."

       Similarly, the national effort to develop the "Virtual U"
 customized educational software platform in Canada is directed
 by an industrial consortium which includes Kodak, IBM, Microsoft,
 McGraw- Hill, Prentice-Hall, Rogers Cablesystems, Unitel, Novasys,
 Nortel, Bell Canada, and MPR Teltech, a research subsidiary of
 GTE.  The commercial thrust behind the project is explicit here too.
 Predicting a potential fifty billion dollar Canadian market, the
 project proposal emphasizes the adoption of "an intellectual property
 policy that will encourage researchers and industry to commercialize
 their innovations" and anticipates the development of "a number of
 commercially marketable hardware and software products and services,"
 including "courseware and other learning products." The two directors
 of the project, Simon Fraser University professors, have formed
 their own company to peddle these products in collaboration with
 the university. At the same time, the nearby University of British

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