The New Academic Freedom

by Reihan Salam

Kevin Carey argues that rather than defend shared governance and tenure, college professors should embrace technology and institutional innovation:

The same technological tools that are making academic labor more productive are eliminating the need for top-heavy academic administration. Professors—the good ones, anyway—have the expertise and teaching skills that students need. They can cut out the middlemen and thrive on the flip side of labor productivity. Not fewer educators, but more and better education for more people.

To succeed, these new organizations would need to have a coherent theory of themselves and a specific educational focus. They couldn’t be all things to all people, because that way lies bureaucratic bloat. The people who work there would be at-will employees—as almost all professionals are now—required to do a great job teaching. Some of the professors would live elsewhere, and so would some of the students, in the kind of hybrid terrestrial and virtual communities that increasingly characterize modern life. Teaching would no longer be the handmaiden of research. The grotesqueries of intercollegiate athletes would be gone.

These new colleges would be built where people want to live, and taught the way people want and need to learn. The long cold war between administration and professoriate would fall to history, where it belongs.

One assumes, however, that the transformation of academic labor will be driven by outside pressures, from taxpayers and fee-paying students, and not by college professors, which is why Congress has an important role to play.