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Okay so for what it’s worth UD anticipates that the intriguing Minerva Project will be a failure. Here’s why.

Whenever your dominant, overriding motivation is profit, you’re going to create a shitty education.

Minerva bills itself as a new Ivy League American university. It’ll be totally online and totally expensive.

It will cost about half as much as elite university tuition, to be sure, but this will still be much too pricy for what students will get, which is basically a classier version of other online for-profit schools. No campus, no contact with professors or students (unless you pay yet more to live in an apartment building in some random city that Minerva will designate for their students), no experience at all besides watching a high-profile professor give lectures and then doing interactive sessions with a teacher.

I’m not sure what ‘teacher’ means here. Someone with an advanced degree, says the article I’m reading; but that could mean a person with an MA and little to no actual classroom experience…

Let us regard skeptically Minerva’s claim that it will be “the first elite American university launched in a century.” I’m afraid you don’t launch elite universities. It takes quite a lot of time for people to know you exist, much less have this great reputation. Look how long the elite American universities have been around, and tell me whether you think you can whip one up pronto.

[Minerva’s founder] says that the genesis for Minerva was in learning how many academically-qualified students were being rejected from America’s top universities. “Harvard’s dean of admissions, for example, said that 85% of applicants are qualified, but less than one in ten is actually accepted… and it’s particularly difficult for foreign students trying to get into American schools. There is a basic supply and demand imbalance.”

Yeah, well, once a person who’s qualified for Harvard is turned down, she doesn’t start looking for online schools. She goes to Cornell (or any of a healthy number of other very good to great schools) instead.

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UPDATE: Back in ’09, Frank Rich detailed the remarkable commitment to personal enrichment on the part of Minerva’s chief advisor, Larry Summers:

Lawrence Summers, the president’s chief economic adviser, made $5.2 million in 2008 from a hedge fund, D. E. Shaw, for a one-day-a-week job. He also earned $2.7 million in speaking fees from the likes of Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. Those institutions are not merely the beneficiaries of taxpayers’ bailouts since the crash. They also benefited during the boom from government favors: the Wall Street deregulation that both Summers and Robert Rubin, his mentor and predecessor as Treasury secretary, championed in the Clinton administration. This dynamic duo’s innovative gift to their country was banks “too big to fail.”

Some spoilsports raise the conflict-of-interest question about Summers: Can he be a fair broker of the bailout when he so recently received lavish compensation from some of its present and, no doubt, future players? This question can be answered only when every transaction in the new “public-private investment plan” to buy the banks’ toxic assets is made transparent. We need verification that this deal is not, as the economist Joseph Stiglitz has warned, a Rube Goldberg contraption contrived to facilitate “huge transfers of wealth to the financial markets” from taxpayers.

But perhaps I’ve become numb to the perennial and bipartisan revolving-door incestuousness of Washington and Wall Street. I was less shocked by the White House’s disclosure of Summers’s recent paydays than by a bit of reporting that appeared deep down in the Times follow-up article on that initial news. The reporter Louise Story wrote that Summers had done consulting work for another hedge fund, Taconic Capital Advisors, from 2004 to 2006, while still president of Harvard.

That the highly paid leader of arguably America’s most esteemed educational institution (disclosure: I went there) would simultaneously freelance as a hedge-fund guy might stand as a symbol for the values of our time.
At the start of his stormy and short-lived presidency, Summers picked a fight with Cornel West for allegedly neglecting his professorial duties by taking on such extracurricular tasks as cutting a spoken-word CD. Yet Summers saw no conflict with moonlighting in the money racket while running the entire university. The students didn’t even get a CD for his efforts — and Harvard’s deflated endowment, now in a daunting liquidity crisis, didn’t exactly benefit either.

Summers’s dual portfolio in Cambridge has already led to one potential intermingling of private business and public policy in his new White House post. He tried — and, mercifully, failed — to install the co-founder of Taconic in the job of running the TARP bailouts. But again, Summers’s potential conflicts of interest seem less telling than the conflict of values that his Harvard double-résumé exemplifies.

You can be sure that Summers will bring this same innovative education/personal enrichment mix to Minerva.

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A discussion forms at Inside Higher Ed.

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5 Responses to “Mining Minerva”

  1. Two great problems that go great together. « More or Less Bunk Says:

    […] Via UD, I see that a new for-profit college is about to start exploiting the adjunct problem through online learning: The curriculum will be offered online, with each class broken into two parts: First, Minerva will contract an established professor — most likely from a top university — to create a proprietary online lecture. It then will hire teachers to run online, interactive seminars for no more than 25 students per class — based on the lecture. Kind of like breakout sessions, except that the teachers all will hold advanced degrees, rather than be current graduate students. […]

  2. Benchmark Invests $25M Seed In Online Edu’s Minerva « alarm:clock Says:

    […] Inside HigherEd also has a good write-up where they concede the this is not a whacky idea. Marget Soltan throws cold water on the concept, although we really don’t buy her argument completely. Her […]

  3. University Diaries » “Critics have accused the industry of exhausting veterans’ education benefits without offering credible degrees or learning support services.” Says:

    […] for-profit Minerva Project has a lot of reputational work to do if it’s going to be regarded as legit, much less Ivy […]

  4. University Diaries » “[Larry] Summers is a compromised man who owes most of his fortune and much of his political success to the financial services industry, and who was involved in some of the most disastrous economic policy decisions of the Says:

    […] multitasking of Harvard University’s last president (while president of Harvard, Summers did “consulting work for [a] hedge fund, Taconic Capital Advisors.”) Frank Rich writes: That the highly paid leader of arguably America’s most esteemed educational […]

  5. University Diaries » “[Larry] Summers is a compromised man who owes most of his fortune and much of his political success to the financial services industry, and who was involved in some of the most disastrous economic policy decisions of the Says:

    […] multitasking of Harvard University’s last president (while president of Harvard, Summers did “consulting work for [a] hedge fund, Taconic Capital Advisors.”) Frank Rich writes: That the highly paid leader of arguably America’s most esteemed educational […]

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