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It’s MOOAs, Not MOOCs, That Will Transform Higher Education

The future is upon us. It is time to hyper-monetize professors’ teaching labor—oh wait, I mean open up education to all, for free—and create Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). As my colleague Jason Mittell wrote here at The Chronicle,

MOOC mania has gained momentum … because it entails opening up the previously noncommercial realm of teaching, at both public and nonprofit private institutions, to venture capitalists and start-ups looking to build company value.

According to one of many pro-MOOC op-eds by Thomas Friedman in The New York Times,

the MOOCs revolution, which will go through many growing pains, is here and is real. …  Today’s traditional university has [much] in common with General Motors of the 1960s, just before Toyota used a technology breakthrough to come from nowhere and topple G.M.

Since Friedman is honest enough to use corporations as the comparison for today’s universities, let’s look where we might really use technologies to cut costs and make the universities leaner, more profit-producing machines: the administration.

Study after study has shown that the people at the top—the deans and vice-presidents and other Grand Poobahs of bureaucratic reproduction—have grown far faster than faculty in the past couple of decades. And their salaries are far higher, over all, than those of professors. As a study from the conservative Goldwater Institute pointed out:

Between 1993 and 2007, the number of full-time administrators per 100 students at America’s leading universities grew by 39 percent, while the number of employees engaged in teaching, research, or service only grew by 18 percent. Inflation-adjusted spending on administration per student grew by 61 percent during the same period, while instructional spending per student rose 39 percent.

So if we could find a way to put administration online, to create Massive Online Open Administrations or MOOAs, we could really cut some fat and reap some serious rewards.

Think about it: MOOAs are the perfect solution to the rising cost of higher education. We take superstar administrators and let them administer tens, maybe even hundreds, of thousands of faculty at a time. The Ivy League and Nescac colleges could pool their upper management as could, say, Midwestern state colleges that start with “I” or “O.”

If the administrators cannot compete and be effective online, then it’s time to get out of the way for the people who can. After all, no student ever thought it was worth $55,000 a year for time in a room with a particular dean or vice president, but we might be able to convince them, at least for a while longer, that the educational experience of the classroom is worth it.

Not only would putting administration online cut costs and raise profits, it would also cut down on wasted faculty hours at meetings. We faculty could log on and follow administration online, just like the students in MOOCs log on to learn. And like MOOC students, if we didn’t find the administrators entertaining or educational enough, we could stop logging on and just become freer agents in the marketplace of knowledge.

It’s possible that administrators won’t immediately see how revolutionary MOOAs would be, but faculty and students must help them understand that MOOAs would be good for all of us. Really. The first colleges to start MOOAs can sell their superior administrators to institutions with more B Team administrators. B-Team-admin sorts will be let go. All the colleges can reap the benefit of cut administrative salaries and share the costs of MOOAs, thereby allowing them to cut tuition. So it is that MOOAs will make higher ed more democratic and accessible to all.

Administrators of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your salaries.

Laurie Essig is an associate professor of sociology and women’s and gender studies at Middlebury College. She is the author of American Plastic: Boob Jobs, Credit Cards, and Our Quest for Perfection (Beacon Press, 2010).

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