University of MN historian objects to Pawlenty comments on Daily Show

Historians in the News

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 was not a new tune for Pawlenty; in 2008, he challenged the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) to more than double the percentage of credits it awards for online courses, setting a goal of 25 percent by 2015....

The University of Minnesota, as the state flagship, tends to have more independence than MnSCU. But when Pawlenty promulgated his plan for MnSCU in 2008, he did encourage a similar push on the University of Minnesota campuses. And with the governor now on the national stage, J.B. Shank, an associate professor of history at the University of Minnesota at Twin Cities, is concerned. And he says a lot of his colleagues are, too.

Specifically, Shank says he is troubled by Pawlenty’s framing of the issue as a battle between pro-efficiency, pro-technology students of the “iPod generation” and stodgy, ivory-tower luddites who care more about self-preservation than lowering barriers to higher education.

“Technophilic talk is a pernicious distraction,” he says, “because it allows for a certain kind of justification for not giving the university the money it needs to provide the kind of education it wants to provide.”...

There is a conversation to be had about the role of online education in lowering the costs of certain segments of higher education, Shank says. But the broad-strokes manner in which Pawlenty seems to be painting the issue on the national stage is not a good starting point, he says. Dubious math aside, the subtext of the governor’s narrative is that a liberal arts education is either obsolete or undeserving of state support, Shank says. This should strike educators as alarming, he says, since online learning platforms are inadequate venues for the sort of extemporaneous Socratic exercises in critical thinking that lie at the core of the liberal arts. (Shank cited a recent column by New York Times columnist David Brooks exalting the societal value of the liberal arts, and pointed out that Pawlenty himself is the product of such an education.)...
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Lisa Kazmier - 6/23/2010

Pawlenty is crazy if he thinks a professor is going to give his time and talent to "iCollege." That person is going to make a living how? And how is he supposed to acquire his knowledge, given the years of study it takes to get a PhD? Education is about how the student receives a body of information and is able to incorporate it into what he/she already knows. How is that going to be measured or proven? And what will someone do with their supposed iCollege degree?

Can't say I'm a big fan of internet degrees, since I believe in interaction. But this unidirectional approach won't really accomplish learning. Rote memorization perhaps and the ability to do whatever denotes "passing" but I wouldn't expect much else.