A significant change in any component of a stable business model is likely to have significant impact on all other components of the model. In an earlier post, I discussed the business model for higher education (How can we think about the new wave of innovations in higher education?), and pointed out that the profusion of off- the-shelf new college courses (NCLCs) such as MOOCs and open courseware provide an important new resource in higher education. It is not surprising that this new resource has the potential to shake up the traditional business model significantly, and in a series of three posts (How a course-rich world might impact higher education: I, II, III) I considered some of the changes that this resource might produce. In this post, l continue that discussion by considering how this new resource of NCLCs raises some important issues related to one of the core principles of the process component of the higher education business model: Academic Freedom.
The most commonly quoted rational for academic freedom comes from the AAUP 1940 Statement of Principles of Academic Freedom and Tenure. That statement begins:
The purpose of this statement is to promote public understanding and support of academic freedom and tenure and agreement upon procedures to ensure them in colleges and universities.Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher or the institution as a whole. The common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free exposition.
Academic freedom is essential to these purposes and applies to both teaching and research. Freedom in research is fundamental to the advancement of truth. Academic freedom in its teaching aspect is fundamental for the protection of the rights of the teacher in teaching and of the student to freedom in learning.It carries with it duties correlative with rights.
For understandable reasons, this concept of academic freedom has lead to a very general acceptance of the idea that the curriculum of an institution "belongs" to the faculty - they use their professional expertise to define the curriculum broadly, and to maintain overall excellence in implementation.
However, the next-to-last sentence in the AAUP description above has a somewhat hidden asymmetry that is put into greater evidence by the arrival of the NCLCs. Because the faculty control the curriculum, the student's freedom is the freedom to learn what the teacher who has freedom to teach is teaching. That obviously made sense when the only courses available to the student were those being presented by their faculty. But now, with the arrival of the MOOCs, open courseware, courses produced by such companies as Pearson, etc, there is an enormous range of courses easily accessed by any student. Is the asymmetry of learning and teaching contained in the AAUP guidelines still appropriate?