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I attended a webinar last Friday on Student Debt and the Future of Higher Education (edit Nov. 30: recording available), featuring very corporate-oriented conceptions of the roles and functions of higher education institutions. Three experts from three different institutions shared their takes: Arizona State University’s Director of Online Engagement Ara Austin, economist Bryan Caplan from George Mason, and information technology and marketing professor Mike Smith from Carnegie Mellon. From each of their professional vantage points, they ostensibly came to discuss student debt, though the primary focus of the conversation ended up being the current and future roles of higher education in America, in terms of the student population conceived as revenue streams. In this post, I summarize the discussion and dispute the underlying, unaddressed assumption that higher education must be run as a business.

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Before getting into my invective against required e-Textbooks and e-Learning platforms, let me set the stage for my perspective. I’m about to teach a university-level introductory French course. Being an adjunct who was hired to fill the need for an additional section of this class (super exciting to see growth in a language department!), I don’t have much say as to what goes on in terms of curriculum for this course. I have essentially no democratic stake in the operation of this department, or therefore the class; my textbook has been prescribed, as well as the blended-learning format of the course. I do have some educational freedom when it comes to assignments and the order in which we cover the material in the textbook.

These course sections should have some sort of uniformity in order to ensure that students proceed to the second semester of introductory French having covered more or less the same content, and so my gripe here is less about my place at the bottom of the departmental hierarchy (n.b.: I have no ill-will towards my colleagues) and more about the impact of certain prescribed curricular decisions on my students. Namely, this 4-credit course consists of three hours of face-to-face lecture (split to meet twice each week), plus one hour weekly of asynchronous online recitation through the textbook publisher’s e-learning portal. Noteworthy advantages of this format include:

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