An information-age vision of higher education leads off the presentations in this issue from AAC&U's Annual Meeting in January. It is not just -- but it is also -- the language of that projected world -- marketization of education, curricular products, and faculty as "managed professionals" -- that brings me up short; even more, its contents seem a dystopian vision.
Sheila Slaughter, who presents the possible scenario drawn up by her research group, well draws the comparison to what happened in health care when it "went to market." I join Scrooge in the Dickens classic who asks the ghost of the future whether these things he has seen must come to pass. That raises the question of control: Who will make (or not) these things come to pass? One answer, the obvious one, is groups external to higher education who see opportunity for profit. But, in that same session it is noted that making these things come to pass will probably be--and already is, to some extent -- academic institutions themselves involved in the "unconscious adaptation" to a market ethic.
These ideas about technology and markets were floated and debated at the Annual Meeting along with a myriad of topics examining higher education's present practices. In fact, any imagined future extends from present practice; education's future is truly a projection of the structures, students, faculty work, current curricula, support systems, and administrative responsibilities as we now know them. On another level it has everything to do with common values: Can they hold? The new order is in the making, so that it is well worth discussion and debate among all those who are the makers of higher education.
Reactions to the direction that education with the new technologies takes run the gamut. But the question of quality persists: Will liberal learning continue its influence in undergraduate education? For that, is conscious adaptation enough?