From the Realm of Necessity to the Realm of Freedom, One Webserver at a Time...

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Sat May 12 01:33:26 PDT 2001

Chuck Grimes wrote:

>See, I don't believe it. I mean, I want to believe it, but somehow,
>there has to be a catch in there somewhere. A fee, some bullshit hoop
>to jump through---and here it is, (I think):
>``....The availability of top-level academic materials online will
>soon make it possible to bring the cost of a self-directed
>income-boosting college education down to just a few hundred dollars a
>year, or even less, within a decade. '' ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
>A subscription or access fee? That's the ticket. Well, either its free
>or it isn't free. So let's be clear. It isn't free. In other words it
>costs money. And education isn't a degree, so the degree of course
>will cost extra. Or, education for a fee, degree not included. Hmm.

A catch may lie in future class relations. Collect "the materials for nearly all of its courses," which used to belong to & be controlled by individual teachers, & make them properties of the university. Then, the university may make use of course materials -- e.g., have them mass-produced & taught by vastly lesser paid instructors than current ones, while failing to hire enough tenure-track teachers to replace all who retire -- as they see fit.

***** Digital Diploma Mills: The Automation of Higher Education by David Noble

In recent years changes in universities, especially in North America, show that we have entered a new era in higher education, one which is rapidly drawing the halls of academe into the age of automation. Automation - the distribution of digitized course material online, without the participation of professors who develop such material - is often justified as an inevitable part of the new "knowledge-based" society. It is assumed to improve learning and increase wider access. In practice, however, such automation is often coercive in nature - being forced upon professors as well as students - with commercial interests in mind. This paper argues that the trend towards automation of higher education as implemented in North American universities today is a battle between students and professors on one side, and university administrations and companies with "educational products" to sell on the other. It is not a progressive trend towards a new era at all, but a regressive trend, towards the rather old era of mass-production, standardization and purely commercial interests....

<> *****

Collecting course materials from teachers first in the name of charity -- offering them online for free public access -- may be a way of disarming any possible objection to automation that would arise if the conversion to digital diploma mills were immediate.

Marx wrote:

***** What does the primitive accumulation of capital, i.e., its historical genesis, resolve itself into? In so far as it is not immediate transformation of slaves and serfs into wage-laborers, and therefore a mere change of form, it only means the expropriation of the immediate producers, i.e., the dissolution of private property based on the labor of its owner. Private property, as the antithesis to social, collective property, exists only where the means of labor and the external conditions of labor belong to private individuals. But according as these private individuals are laborers or not laborers, private property has a different character. The numberless shades, that it at first sight presents, correspond to the intermediate stages lying between these two extremes. The private property of the laborer in his means of production is the foundation of petty industry, whether agricultural, manufacturing, or both; petty industry, again, is an essential condition for the development of social production and of the free individuality of the laborer himself. Of course, this petty mode of production exists also under slavery, serfdom, and other states of dependence. But it flourishes, it lets loose its whole energy, it attains its adequate classical form, only where the laborer is the private owner of his own means of labor set in action by himself: the peasant of the land which he cultivates, the artisan of the tool which he handles as a virtuoso.

<> *****

A college teacher today is not unlike "the artisan of the tool which he handles as a virtuoso," only formally subsumed under capital (and merely indirectly so, if she works at a non-profit institution). Inducing college teachers to volunteer to relinquish course materials, happily believing that they are doing a great public service, may be the first stage of primitive accumulation.

Marx again:

***** A schoolmaster who instructs others is not a productive worker. But a schoolmaster who works for wages in an institution along with others, using his own labour to increase the money of the entrepreneur who owns the knowledge-mongering institution, is a productive worker. But for the most part, work of this sort has scarcely reached the stage of being subsumed even formally under capital, and belongs essentially to a transitional stage.

<> *****

Relative autonomy that college teachers still enjoy may belong "essentially to a transitional stage" which is now beginning to experience its end.


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