At the Modern Language Association, there was a contentious moment during the question and answer portion of a panel on the future of massive open online courses, known as MOOCs. This panel, comprised of five college professors, expressed fear for the future of their colleges, departments and humanities programs and courses because of the rising influence and popularity of MOOCs.
When asked whether the college system was broken and what factors contributed to both programs and pay getting cut by their colleges, several professors reacted with strong opinions. The moderator, Dorothy Kim of Vassar College, said that “the problem of brokenness” falls on the administrators and past misjudgments. She claimed that the system was not broken, but that the college presidents are “bleeding money” and “building a lot of fancy [buildings]”. Because of rapid expansion, colleges now “owe their soul to the company store” and did not take into consideration the future of academics. She also argued that the colleges mistakenly gave out loans and not grants, which she said would have made a difference regarding student loan problems.
Wendy Marie Hoofnagle of the University of Northern Iowa complained that she now receives a lower salary than when she started, which she felt was an embarrassment. She said that while her university is spending at least $5 million per year on their athletics program and students get free tickets, the arena is still mostly empty. Hoofnagle was upset that administrators keep giving themselves raises and said that the issue is “a matter of priorities.” She also asked, “where do you put your money as an institution of higher learning?” Her response? “It’s…not sports teams.”
Helene Scheck, of SUNY Albany, said that the question was rife with “confusion.” She said there is a difference between “what we’re calling education,” which is “training [and] not learning how to conceive or conceptualize” ideas or tasks. Sheck said, “In my day, it was on the job learning” but today, “it’s about attitude, it’s about socialization” in addition to “a lot of smoke and mirrors”. She concluded, “All you need at an academic institution is the student and the teacher” instead of “a lot of bells and whistles.”
Three other panelists, Sonam Singh of Barnard College, Lisa Weston of California State University-Fresno, and Rebecca Davis of St. Edward’s University, declined to comment.