A favorite trope of science fiction dystopias is a classroom of students wearing metallic skull caps wired to a blinking, monolithic computer, and staring vacantly into space while the propaganda and “facts” that pass for knowledge and education are downloaded directly into their brains. That scenario may be coming soon to a college campus near you, if in a somewhat more refined manner.
Consider the state of higher education today. Since the late 1970s, the total of poorly paid untenured and contingent faculty has far outstripped the number of tenured faculty on college campuses all over the world and now accounts for roughly 76 % of faculty in U.S. higher education.
The shrinking number of tenured academics has been paralleled by a growing number of very well-paid administration positions, filled by MBAs or Educational Administration doctorates who have spent little or no time in the actual educational trenches. The current corporate administrative pattern emphasizes a profit model of efficiency, cost control, and knowledge delivery, which is fundamentally different from the academic and pedagogical model of knowledge creation, a messy, individualistic but often life-changing process. This new emphasis is evident in the constant rise of tuition (going to grandiose building projects and bloated administrative salaries mirroring the corporate world), increasing demands for the quantification and standardization of instruction, larger class sizes, and the devaluing of educators’ professionalism, expertise, mentoring, innovative pedagogy, and the kind of student-centered, highly personalized learning opportunities I had at my small liberal arts college in the 1980s.