[iDC] Hackademia as New Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

Anya Kamenetz anyaanya at gmail.com
Wed Jul 27 11:05:14 UTC 2011

Hi Blake,
I think it's really important that you brought this up. I've done a lot of
reporting on the role of the private sector in the future of higher
education.There is no doubt that the business community, including venture
capitalists, consultants at Harvard Business School, and maybe hundreds of
young entrepreneurs are very interested in new models of higher ed, to say
nothing of the eight or nine publicly traded companies that control the
for-profit higher ed market, with over 10% of all students, and still
dominate the public image of online ed. There are some very scary players in
this world, and if you're talking political lobbying, the Phoenixes and
Kaplans are at the forefront in terms of dollars (not to mention the student
loan industry, now demoted to student loan servicers, but still rich).

However, in the cases you mention, I find it inexact to assume that the
donations made by the nonprofit Gates Foundation and the personal
enthusiasms of Bill Gates should always be considered identical with
"business interests," much less those of the Republican Party. I've worked
with the Gates Foundation and everyone I know there is committed to
education access and to supporting public higher education, not at all
advocating privatization. I've also met Sal Khan and his personal commitment
is to free education for all.

Likewise with the Thiel Fellowship--Peter Thiel, as far as I've been able to
tell from talking to the head of his foundation and several of his fellows,
is acting out of personal conviction to make a statement about higher
education being outdated and irrelevant. Whether you agree or not, he's
donating money to these kids from his personal foundation, not making
for-profit investments.

There are some great ideas and tools for transforming higher education
coming from young entrepreneurs. They are often pursuing mission driven
for-profit models because they find it impossible to innovate within the
system. I haven't found it useful to make profit model a litmus test for
whether something is a good idea but to evaluate people's commitment to
openness and access on a case-by-case basis.

Case in point: this is one of the Thiel Fellows' entrepreneurial projects.
It's a tool to make it easier for teachers to create multimedia lessons and
upload them for their students and others to share. It's currently in
private beta testing with about 200 classroom teachers.


On Tue, Jul 26, 2011 at 6:35 PM, Blake Stimson <blakestimson at gmail.com>wrote:

> Dear colleagues,
> I have been following this exchange only sporadically so please accept my
> apologies if I am repeating something that has already been said.
> In addition to the generative potential of concepts like DIY higher ed,
> digital humanities, and hacking academia, it is also important to address
> the ways in which it is being  aggressively pursued by various business
> interests. These range from the seemingly mixed, such as Bill Gates's
> sponsorship and repeated strong personal endorsements of Salman Khan (
> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gM95HHI4gLk) to Peter Theil's paid dropouts
> (
> http://www.fastcompany.com/1755089/legendary-investor-peter-thiel-names-dream-team-of-whiz-kids)
> to Jonathan Lebed's truly scary effort to bring crisis-capitalist
> profiteering to higher ed as a way to pilage college savings accounts (
> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VpZtX32sKVE). Accelerating the
> privatization of higher ed through a DIY model is not yet an official part
> of the Republican platform as far as I know, but it is certainly on their
> radar and it seems reasonable to expect that it will get significantly more
> play soon, perhaps in the coming election (
> http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/18/pawlenty-daily-show_n_617766.html
> ).
> Blake Stimson
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*Fast Company column* Life In
*Tribune Media column* The Savings
*Book* DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs and the Coming Transformation of  Higher
*Blog* DIYUbook.com <http://diyubook.com/>
*Twitter *@Anya1anya <http://twitter.com/#%21/anya1anya>
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