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Brave new world

September 25, 2008

Now I will start by confessing that I know nothing about the online initiative at the University of Illinois other than what is in these articles. But even this little bit is suggestive: the university president, Joseph White, wants to disassociate the new online programmes from the three bricks and mortar campuses and put it through its own accreditation process because not enough students are enrolling and faculty, already stretched, are apparently taking too long to put together programmes, on top of their other work one presumes. There is some suggestion, as welll, that not all faculty are interested in participating. Reading between the lines, all this implies 1) appropriate academic staff weren’t hired for the online work (i.e. the programmes are to be drafted by faculty but taught by others); 2) these “others” will likely not be fully-fledged academic staff; and 3) a distinct accreditation process will separate the online programmes from the University and in consequence its employment standards and guidelines around workload and working conditions, as well as academic standards and degree requirements, in order to generate Mr. White’s goal of “around $10-million a year.” Perhaps this is too cynical; Mr. White says he seeks the separation so that the online programmes are not “hamstrung,” and who am I to suggest otherwise? I could not help, however, finding this story resonate with the situation here in New Brunswick: the interest in online programmes, cost-recovery, and the strategy of setting up parallel academic streams that lack the accountability of universities. What else was the “polytechnic,” but a quick and dirty end-run around collegial governance and unionized academic labour?

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