[Marxism] Tenured professor: "Tenure won’t save us from a higher education collapse"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Aug 19 06:50:33 MDT 2011


http://www.insidehighered.com/views/2011/08/19/miller_essay_on_how_faculty_should_get_out_before_higher_education_collapses

Get Out While You Can
August 19, 2011
By James D. Miller

Tenure won’t save us from a higher education collapse. Start 
making alternative career contingency plans now because this 
collapse could be sudden and catastrophic.

Among middle- and upper-class Americans, almost every intelligent, 
hard-working person attends college. Knowing this, many employers 
use college as a cheap and efficient sorting device and consider 
only college graduates when hiring for professional positions.

Not having a college degree sends a negative signal to employers. 
Unfortunately for professors, this signal could dissipate. To see 
why, consider an extreme example in which students go to college 
only because of signaling concerns. If something happened to cause 
fewer highly capable high school graduates to attend college, the 
stigma of not attending college would slightly decrease.

But as this stigma fell, fewer people would pay for college, which 
would cause the stigma of not going to college to fall further, 
which in turn would reduce the percentage of highly capable people 
who went to college which would…. In a world in which college 
functioned purely as a signal of quality of the graduate, the 
percentage of people who attend college could quickly plunge.

The self-made technology billionaire Peter Thiel, who wrote a book 
attacking political correctness at Stanford, is attempting to 
weaken the negative signal of not attending college. This 
billionaire held a competition to find 20 of the smartest, 
hardest-working and most accomplished people under age 20 and is 
paying them to “stop out of school.” Although these 20 couldn’t 
make a difference per se, Thiel is using them to send a message 
that talented young people shouldn’t need to pay (in cash and 
time) for a college degree. When evaluating Thiel’s chances of 
success, keep in mind that he was the key financial backer of 
Facebook and LinkedIn.

Computing technology poses an even greater threat to colleges than 
Thiel does. Computing power is driven by the well-established 
trend known as Moore's law, an implication of which is that the 
amount of computing power you can buy per dollar approximately 
doubles every year. Let's say you're 40 years old and are 
wondering what kind of artificial intelligence programs you'll be 
competing with in 20 years. When deciding this, take into account 
that 20 years from now computers will likely be around a million 
times more powerful than they are today. Over the long run you 
don't want to go up against Moore's law, yet I fear that this is 
my profession’s fate.

If you think that students will always prefer live, human 
performances to online education, please ask yourself whether many 
18-year-old boys would rather be taught by you or by something 
that came out of the technology used to create this.

Don't let your childhood memories of this

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1JSgJYEglv0&feature=player_embedded

fool you into underestimating the mortal threat information 
technology poses to our occupation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDrRnJOCKZc&feature=player_embedded

Many governors face enormous fiscal shortfalls, forcing them to 
choose which public employees to anger. Tenured professors, I 
suspect, have a lot less political clout in most states than do 
policeman, nurses, prison guards and public school teachers. If 
online education keeps improving, then I predict that some 
governor is going to propose firing most of the tenured faculty at 
his public colleges and replacing the high-priced teachers with 
online courses. Since Republicans consider academia to be a 
creature of the far left, many Republican governors would 
undoubtedly take joy in decimating the traditional higher 
education market.

Students gamble on the future when they fund their education with 
debt. Our current economic difficulties, however, are making 
Americans pessimistic about the long-term fate of our economy, and 
it wouldn't surprise me if many parents are no longer willing to 
let their kids load up on debt. That is especially true if the 
parents have sent another child to college only to see him moving 
back home after graduation and taking a job that didn't require a 
college degree. Unfortunately for professors, every capable kid 
who doesn’t go to college reduces the stigma of not pursuing 
higher education.

If you have tenure and therefore think that your college would 
never get rid of you, consider what would happen if most of your 
school’s peer institutions replaced expensive tenured faculty with 
cheap online courses and used the savings to cut tuition by 50 
percent. Even if your school has a healthy endowment, many members 
of your Board of Trustees or Regents probably have business 
backgrounds and would consider it financial malfeasance for the 
school to bear costs that the majority of its competitors had shed.

I'm far from certain that the higher education market will 
disintegrate. But the reasonable chance that it might should be 
enough to get young and middle-aged tenured professors to think 
about what we would do if forced out of academia. And bear in mind 
that if academia suddenly collapsed, the job market would be 
flooded with former professors, making it extraordinarily 
challenging for us to get jobs, such as editing and teaching high 
school, that are well-suited to many professors' skills

Networking is the key to career management. Professors do much 
networking, but mostly with other professors. I suggest that 
professors network outside of academia with a goal of having a set 
of contacts we could use to acquire a nonacademic position. The 
best way to do this is to use Facebook and Linkedin to keep in 
touch with some of our former students, especially those who would 
make good bosses.

James D. Miller is a tenured associate professor of economics at 
Smith College and is currently writing a book speculating on the 
future economic impact of enhanced human and artificial 
intelligences. He hopes the book will land him consulting work 
that he could use to provide for his family should Smith College 
terminate his employment.




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