November 25, 2005
The Modern University Has Become Obsolete
The modern university
is a relic that will disappear in a few decades. That prediction
was made by Peter Drucker, the management genius who just died
at 95 and usually got things right.
His words brought
an uncharitable smile to my face as I recently strolled across
the ivied campus of Brown University, in Providence, R.I. At the
time, maintenance crews were busy removing leaves. Campus officials
were still dealing with the aftermath of an especially drunken
Saturday night. And most everyone was excited that the football
team had taken the Ivy League championship.
No doubt, some education
was going on, but the question nagged: Is this an efficient setup
for improving young minds? Not very, according to Drucker. "Today's
buildings are hopelessly unsuited and totally unneeded,"
he said. Satellites and the Internet can easily make classrooms
We now read that
professors at Purdue, Stanford, Duke and other universities are
recording their lectures. Students download the talks on their
iPods and listen to them whenever. The "whenever" can
be while driving, lifting weights or between songs by Black Eyed
Peas and the Pussycat Dolls.
The profs say that
letting students hear the lectures on their own frees classroom
time for penetrating discussions. The same conversations, however,
could be held over the Internet -- or, for that matter, in a room
at the public library.
professors could let non-students download their lectures and
charge them royalties, just like the Black Eyed Peas. Ordinary
folks already buy courses on tape or CD. For example, The Teaching
Company is now selling a virtual major in American history --
84 lectures on 42 audiotapes -- at the bargain price of $109.95.
It covers everything from "before Columbus" to Bill
Clinton, and the lecturers are top-drawer. Some of them teach
at Columbia University, where a single history course runs you
Herman Melville said
that "a whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard."
Melville didn't need college to write "Moby Dick." He
needed to read and spend time in the world. Before sailing out
on a whaler in 1841, he had already worked on his uncle's farm
and as a cabin boy on a ship to England.
Peter Drucker urged
high-school graduates to do likewise: Work for at least five years.
If they went on to college, it would be as grown-ups.
You wonder whether
colleges, stripped of their education function, wouldn't find
other lives as spas, professional-sports franchises or perhaps
lightly supervised halfway houses for post-adolescents. The infrastructure
is already in place.
Over at Kenyon College,
in Ohio, the students have a new $60 million athletic center.
The highlights include a 12,500-square-foot workout area and an
indoor track with eight lanes just for sprinting. The pool has
20 short-course and nine long-course lanes. And, like any upscale
health club, this one has a cafe.
Speaking of sports,
colleges spend huge numbers of "education dollars" on
keeping their football coaches happy. For example, the University
of Texas is giving Mack Brown a compensation package this year
totaling $3.6 million. UT's highest-paid academic, Steven Weinberg,
earns about $400,000, and he has a Nobel Prize in physics.
claim that popular football and basketball teams are profit centers
that help pay for learning. In truth, few produce a surplus even
for their schools' sports programs. Athletics pay their own way
at only about 10 colleges, according to Andrew Zimbalist, an economist
at Smith College who specializes in sports.
And with all due
respect to the Texas Longhorns, if they were such a fabulous cash
machine, there would be no need for the Longhorn Foundation. The
foundation, which raises money for UT athletics, notes on its
website that revenues from ticket sales, television and ads cover
less than half the operating expenses of the university's sports
meanwhile, are working on their own pay packages. Several already
make more than $1 million, which has become the new goalpost.
Most justify their incomes by their ability to raise money for
Of course, these
are the buildings that will soon be relics, according to Peter
Drucker. Look at these shining new facilities and think: What
fine condos they will someday make.
2005 Creators Syndicate