It was rather late at night when I watched Tim Pawlenty, Republican Governor of the great state of Minnesota, tell Jon Stewart that he would like brick-and-mortar public universities to disappear in the not-too-distant future, and while I was somewhat surprised (to put it mildly), I was too tired to blog about it. But the more I thought about it, the more troubled I became. Then I discovered that others had taken notice, including USA Today-
When Jon Stewart asked Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty last week for some examples of how he intended to administer “limited and effective” government, the Republican governor did not roll out boilerplate rhetoric on welfare or farm subsidies. Instead, he took square aim at traditional higher education.
“Do you really think in 20 years somebody’s going to put on their backpack, drive a half hour to the University of Minnesota from the suburbs, haul their keister across campus, and sit and listen to some boring person drone on about econ 101 or Spanish 101?” Pawlenty asked Stewart, host of “The Daily Show.”
“Can’t I just pull that down on my iPhone or iPad whenever the heck I feel like it, from wherever I feel like it?” he said. “And instead of paying thousands of dollars, can I pay $199 for iCollege instead of 99 cents for iTunes?”
This might sound self-serving, given that I’m a boring professor at a public university myself, but the idea that 20 years from now a student could get the same quality of educational experience through their iPhone or iPad as they can presently get by actually interacting in real time with fellow students and faculty is so far from reality that it makes me wonder just what Pawlenty has been smoking. I doubt that a few hits of pot would do the job.
But, come to think of it, maybe the sort of education Pawlenty has supported in the past – including the teaching of Creationism (under the guise of “Intelligent Design”) in public schools as a theory of human origins on a par with evolution – could be gotten on an iPhone app.
(Don’t get me wrong: I love technology and look forward to the day when we can inhabit something like holographic classrooms via the internet and interact effectively in real time without having to share physical space. But I believe that technology will not reach that level of sophistication for a long time, and that in any case public universities will still have to exist within that virtual realm to insure academic integrity).