AAUP Sees Online Teaching as Threat to Professors; Misses the Forest Behind the Tree

The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Colleges broadly threaten faculty members’ copyrights and academic freedom in claiming ownership of the massive open online courses their instructors have developed, Cary Nelson, a former president of the American Association of University Professors, argued here on Wednesday at the group’s annual conference. […]

“If we lose the battle over intellectual property, it’s over,” Mr. Nelson warned. “Being a professor will no longer be a professional career or a professional identity,” and faculty members will instead essentially find themselves working in “a service industry,” he said.

Excuse me for a moment, I need to cry him a river.

Here’s Paul Krugman in “White Collars Turn Blue“… nearly 20 years ago (the column was to be phrased as if it had been written a century later):

The celebrity economy. The last of this century’s great trends was noted by acute observers in 1996, yet somehow most people failed to appreciate it. Although business gurus were proclaiming the predominance of creativity and innovation over mere routine production, in fact the growing ease with which information could be transmitted and reproduced was making it ever harder for creators to profit from their creations. […]

How, then, can creativity be made to pay? The answer was already becoming apparent a century ago: creations must make money indirectly, by promoting sales of something else. […] Technology forecaster Esther Dyson got it precisely right in 1996: “Free copies of content are going to be what you use to establish your fame. Then you go out and milk it”. In short, instead of becoming a Knowledge Economy we have become a Celebrity Economy.

Still, the celebrity economy has been hard on some people — especially those of us with a scholarly bent. […] Today, […] teaching jobs are hard to find and pay a pittance in any case; and nobody makes money by selling books. If you want to devote yourself to scholarship, there are now only three options (the same options that were available in the 19th century, before the rise of institutionalized academic research). Like Charles Darwin, you can be born rich, and live off your inheritance. Like Alfred Wallace, the less fortunate co-discoverer of evolution, you can make your living doing something else, and pursue research as a hobby. Or, like many 19th-century scientists, you can try to cash in on scholarly reputation by going on the paid lecture circuit.

Prescient, isn’t it?