Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

There has never been any shortage of histrionics in the Chronicle of Higher Education and the tradition continues with 'The University in Ruins', an apocalyptic look at what happens when universities lose their authority and prestige. They face the threat of "the rise of anytime, anyplace, consumer-driven content and source agnostic, unbundled, personalized education paid for by subscription" and according to Ronald J. Daniels, author of What Universities Owe Democracy, will need to rededicate themselves "to higher civic purposes in order to rescue universities from a skeptical public, tight-fisted policy makers, and culture warriors on and off campus." And as the author of the Chronicle article, Johann N. Neem,writes, this means in essence a repudiation of globalization and hearty embrace of uniquely American democracy.

The Chronicle article is, of course, behind a paywall, but you can read a copy here. Neem draws a comparison between the ruin of universities and the demise of Christian monasteries, "the vast majority of religious houses abandoned, their communities dissolved and scattered, their physical plants left for sale, pillage, and ruin." Now as Daniel Christian writes in his reflection, the universities' commitment to democracy doesn't really extend beyond their own ken. "Generally speaking," he writes, "institutions of higher education are not distributing knowledge to the levels that Gilman envisioned years ago... Faculty members normally... don't write for society at large. Instead, their expertise is often locked up — existing behind paywalls in academic journals. In other words, they talk to each other."

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Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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Last Updated: Apr 08, 2022 09:54 a.m.