For example, higher education.. Do you really think in 20 years, somebody's going to put on their backpack, drive a half hour to the University of Minnesota from the suburbs, haul their keister across campus, and sit and listen to some boring person drone on about Econ 101 or Spanish 101?
No, of course not! In 20 years we will all have personal jet-packs so we can fly from the suburbs to our classes and jobs!
Actually, no one said that. In fact, Jon Stewart said, Isn't that was college is supposed to be?
Governor: Yeah, partly. Partly.
(various jokes about how college is supposed to be boring or students will just party and never want to graduate)
The governor continued: Is there another way to deliver the service other than a one-size-fits-all monopoly provider that says "Show up at 9:00 on Wednesday morning for Econ 101"? Can't I just pull that down on my iPhone or iPad whenever the heck I feel like it, from wherever I want, and instead of paying thousands of dollars, pay $199 for iCollege...
There followed a somewhat incoherent and disjointed discussion involving public vs. private options, the governor's repetition of his statement that there is a "one-size-fits-all" system run by a bureaucracy, and his wish that we could "put the consumer in charge".
This is strange on so many levels. I think it would be great if a college education were much less expensive and easily accessible to all (without massive student loans), but somehow I don't think this governor is proposing to increase state funding for his university to allow for tuition decreases.
But let me be more systematic so that I don't drone on and on like I do in my Science 101 lectures. Here is a list of the things I don't like about this grim depiction of the travails of 21st century college students:
- the emphasis on the (implied unreasonable) physical effort and time involved in attending a class. Even if we expunge from our minds the vision of an otherwise able-bodied student lying on the couch in the rec room of their parents' suburban home, unwilling to do more than push a few buttons on some awesome later generation of iPhone, and instead imagine someone with work/family commitments that make commuting to a campus difficult, does Governor Pawlenty think that even today there are no other options for that student?
- the gratuitous insult that implies that instructors "drone" to passive audiences, making it not worth the effort to attend a course in person. You can't even fast forward when someone is speaking to you in person, in real time!
- the implication that it is obnoxious for a university to expect that a student will show up at a particular time and place for a class. I have heard that some companies expect their employees to do this as well, but maybe that's just a vicious rumor.
- one-size-fits-all? Where does that come from? What does that even mean in this context, especially in a statement that implies that, in the future, no one will physically want to travel to a campus to take classes? There are many options in higher education today, not just public vs. private, but also within public university systems, and even within a single university. There are online courses and other forms of distance learning, there are large classes and small classes, there are lectures and seminars and independent study programs. There are day classes, night classes, and summer classes. There are typically multiple sections of intro classes. All of these are potentially quite interactive, including the online courses, providing students with a wide range of options.
- Put the consumer in charge of what? That's a buzz phrase -- let's empower the people (who will pay lower taxes), not the big institutions (that suck up all our tax money and give nothing back)!
And I don't agree that there is a monolithic University bureaucracy that has only one idea about how to educate its students.
All that aside, I do hope that the governors of our states realize that there is more to a university than how it lectures to undergraduates, important though that part of a university certainly is. I hope they realize that the research and teaching missions of a university are intertwined, that there are real people teaching those courses (only some of whom drone), that there are discoveries and innovations resulting from the efforts of those people (including some students), that some courses do require physical participation by real 3D students and professors in real time, and that perhaps businesses and other organizations seeking to hire graduates of our great institutions of higher education will prefer that their new employees are willing and able to haul their keisters into work at a specified time and place.