Opposition To Academic Labor Saving Technology At UC Berkeley

President emeritus of Princeton University, William Bowen, and former UC Berkeley Provost Judson King had an interesting email exchange on why there is opposition to academic labor saving technology at UC Berkeley.

Here’s what Bowen writes in his recent book Locus of Authority:

“…, it is all too easy simply to ignore costs. The most vivid example of this tendency gleaned from our case studies is the listing on a University of California, Berkeley, website of efforts to seek cost savings as an ‘anti-goal.'[1] Apparently this listing has been taken down from the website in question, but the mindset it represents has a lingering presence – and by no means at Berkeley alone.” (p. 178)

In footnote [1], Bowen writes:

“We asked C. Judson King, provost and senior vice president – academic affairs, emeritus, University of California, and director, Center for Studies in Higher Education, Berkeley, about this, and he responded that he was unable to bring up the cited website.”

In footnote[1], Bowen inserts an extended quote from an email he received from King on February 2, 2014,

“Perhaps the website has been redone since you consulted it. Hence my answer will reflect what I think may be at play. The BRCOE [Berkeley Resource Center for Online Education] and MOOCLab are designed to stimulate and help faculty get going in devising online approaches to higher education. In that sense citing opportunities and available assistance would be designed to get the faculty doing things, while citing cost savings would not incentivize and stimulate the faculty much at all. In that the goal is to get the faculty moving with regard to online methodology, the website may have been created to stress the things attractive to faculty and eliminate or minimize any implication that online methodology is going to displace faculty. With regard to the thinking that ‘online learning technologies are not going to reduce costs,’ I don’t think that feeling is universal at Berkeley. The statement probably reflects a feeling that online components will be an add-on, without significant reduction in current costs; i.e., the faculty will continue to ‘teach’ as much or nearly as much. It is true that enhanced delivery and pedagogy though the use of online elements can be attractive to many faculty members, and there is probably substantial feeling that the best role of online education, as it now stands, is to enrich courses rather than to supplant the need for the instructor. I think there is general appreciation that the use of online methodology can and should change the nature of classes, i.e., by adding components beyond the classical lecture. Finally, the typical cost structure of online education (of the quality in which most faculty believe) is a substantial cost out front for development of the online component, followed by little or very small cost per student hereafter. In that sense, someone looking at the cost of online instruction in the short run will see it as an added cost, and it takes an appreciation of the longer term to see the savings.”

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