Lefties fabricate a new reason to hate online college courses

The ability of people to enroll in online college course is a grave threat to the power of professors. First and most obviously, it is low cost, high quality competition. If students can listen to lectures by superstar professors from elite schools like Harvard or Stanford for free or nearly free, they might not be so anxious to fork over tuition for the local talent at a second or third tier institution. The faculty at San Jose State University understands this very well, and have revolted against their institution participating in Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). Walter Russell Meade writes:

In California, one college's embrace of MOOCs has sent the faculty into open revolt. Under the leadership of President Mohammad H. Qayoumi, San Jose State has spent the year in the vanguard of early-adopting institutions. In January, the school announced a partnership with Udacity to offer a remedial math course at the university-one of the earliest examples of for-credit MOOCs being offered on college campuses for credit. This experiment was largely regarded as a failure after more than half of the students failed to pass the course, but the school made some tweaks and ran a second course during the summer which performed considerably better.

The faculty, however, remained unconvinced. Last April, a number of faculty members at openly refused to teach an edX philosophy class created by Harvard Professor Michael Sandel, decrying the plan in an open letter. Now, the Academic Senate is preparing to vote to forbid any deals with outside tech providers unless the faculty approves it first. More troublingly for President Qayoumi, they are also calling for an official review of the university's governance system from the state university system in a clear attempt to undermine his power, or at least convince him to think twice about pursuing his current course. 

The professors are behaving like railroad firemen when diesels came into use. Back in the age of steam locomotives, it required an engineer to be driver, and a foreman to keep shoveling coal into the firebox. Diesels only need a one man crew. But for decades, railroad unions required a second person to be present in the diesel locomotive cab, entirely unnecessary. This outrageous practice was called "featherbedding."

But featherbedding ended, in part because railroads were getting squeezed out by trucking competition, and in part because the public recognized it as a union abuse.

So the professors know they have to come up with another excuse for squeezing out the low cost/high quality competition. Enter Ezekiel J. Emanuel, already becoming famous for his ridiculous defenses of Obamacare, including blaming Fox News for the healthcare.gov failures. Zeke has become a favorite of mine, because his obnoxious, fast-talking, know-it-all demeanor turns off any fair minded viewer, and his pretzel logic is unpersuasive.

Leave it to Zeke to discover a damming fact about MOOCs: they're bad because elite males use them to get ahead! Seriously. Geoffrey A. Fowler in the Wall Street Journal:

a new survey by University of Pennsylvania, published today in a brief item in the journal Nature, shows how far the technology needs to go to meet that goal.

Penn surveyed nearly 35,000 students from more than 200 countries and territories who participated in the 32 MOOC courses it distributed through Coursera, which is the largest provider in the field with over 5 million students. The researchers found that most of these students were already well educated, and most of them were young men looking for new skills to advance their careers.

The elite are often first adopters of new technologies, particularly on the Internet. The researchers found that the "educational disparity is particularly stark" in Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, where almost 80% of MOOC students came from the wealthiest 6% of the population. Across the board, Penn's MOOC students had already far exceeded the educational standards found among the general population in their countries.

Wrote the study's author, Ezekiel J. Emanuel: "Far from realizing the high ideals of their advocates, MOOCs seem to be reinforcing the advantages of the 'haves' rather than educating the 'have-nots.' Better access to technology and improved basic education are needed world-wide before MOOCs can genuinely live up to their promise."

This is idiocy on a stick. Anyone can go down to the public library, go online, and get access to high level college courses for free. But people who think of themselves as victims, or who are lazy or drug-addled or addicted to TV games shows, will not do so, while people who are motivated to add to their skills and knowledge will do so. To conceive of it as unfair that some people have ambition and others don't is perverse.

There is a missing word in this complain about male advantages, and it is "white." That is almost certainly because Asian males are also participating in MOOCs in disproportionate numbers. Nobody who is honest can deny that Asians have experienced their share of discrimination in the United States, but because of cultural values, many have refused to adopt the victim posture. The resulting successes (for example over half of UC Berkeley's undergraduates are of Asian heritage) infuriates grievance industry activists.

Ambition is not limited to any ethnicity, of course, and one of the best hopes for minorities lies in the self-improvement opportunities offered by MOOCs and other computer-based learning systems. THis represents a threat to leftist gatekeepers in colleges and universities, though. They place their self-interest above opportunities for the "victims" they purport to help.