Freivalds:The Lowdown on Higher Education; Can Remote Learning Reform It? | Commentary

Freivalds runs an international communications firm in Lexington.

There always comes a time in life when things change overnight. You had a bad diagnosis from your doctor or you just lost your job and the pension that went with it. Universities and colleges throughout the USA, there are some 3,000 of them, are learning almost overnight that the COVID-19 virus will forever change the way higher education operated.

I’m lucky to have gone to two universities, Georgetown and George Washington, for degrees, and for the last eight years have been auditing classes and lectures in Lexington at Washington & Lee and VMI and have taken classes at two public universities as well as executive seminars at Harvard. All this has provided a wonderful window to see what has been useful — and not — and what will happen in higher education.

In fact, in all of the scores of classes and lectures I attended over the years there is only one that merited being there in person. It was a freshman class at Georgetown given by legendary professor Carroll Quigley which had 200 students in attendance. Former President Bill Clinton was one of my classmates and shared my opinion of Quigley in Clinton’s autobiography “My Life.” “Though difficult, the class was widely popular because of Quigley’s intellect, opinions and antics.” One insight that stuck in Clinton’s mind and which relates to the status of higher education today was “all instruments eventually become institutionalized — that is vested interests more committed to pressing there own prerogatives than to meeting the needs for which they were created.” Thus tenure, hiring adjunct professors who are hardly understandable and who are paid low salaries, sabbaticals for full professors, high priced textbooks, astronomical tuition and fees leading to a lifetime of debt, administrators galore, bribes, elitism, letting college athletics become a question of my mercenaries playing your mercenaries with high priced coaches and stadiums and now useless infrastructure, are a few examples. It used to be that a top-notch school would publicize a million volume library usually named after a big time donor. But your laptop is now way out in front. According to the New York Times, Google alone has scanned 25 million books! You can access most of the world’s knowledge from your home office.

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