May 8, 2022Liked by Arnold Kling

Re: "enable students to learn remotely, while providing for sufficient in-person contact to bond with other students and with faculty."

Can occasional conferences provide sufficient in-person contact, compared to the Ivy model (selective, residential college campus)?

Your model places great hope in conferences. Have you attended a large conference lately?

I teach elective seminars at a fancy college, about topics that students and employers alike find intriguing, mainly around case studies in quirky orgs, markets, behaviors: "Mafia," "College," "Sports," "Prohibitions," "Internship with Seminar: Behavior in Organizations," and "Internship with Seminar: Normative Analysis of Organizations." I use these topics as vehicles to introduce undergrads to what you call cultural analysis (interdisciplinary, mainly qualitative social science). Thanks to the pandemic shock, I have taught these courses also online.

Some field observations, in no particular order of importance:

Even well-motivated undergrads have difficulty avoiding distraction during online seminar meetings. By contrast, they are on task during in-person seminars.

Even well-motivated undergrads have difficulty achieving steady application in courses that meet only once a week. Therefore, I schedule my seminars MWF for an hour, instead of once a week for three hours.

Ambitious undergrads care plenty about grades ("Grade me, damn it!"), but care much more about peer perception in a seminar. Therefore, I place more weight on seminar presentations and debates -- i.e., student performance on stage with an audience of peers, presenting, persuading, responding, and helping to manage discussion -- than on papers and projects outside of class. Every student readily meets with me for a tutorial a week before doing a seminar presentation or debate, and sends draft slides for timely feedback and guidance; but few students meet with me to brainstorm about papers, or to send drafts of papers for timely guidance.

Student-athletes experience hierarchy (coach/captain/players), teamwork, objective individual performance metrics (player stats), and objective organizational performance metrics (wins/losses), all in a general context of voluntary cooperation to compete within established rules of a game. This sounds a lot like corporations and markets. By contrast, academic production is more solitary. One might imagine that participation in team sports would have a comparative advantage in educating youths for the workplace mix of hierarchy, teamwork, competition, metrics, and org goals. However, as far as I can tell, transfer of learning usually fails to occur, from sports team to the seminar or to the workplace. Student-athletes rarely relate to professors, fellow students, managers, or workplace colleagues, and attendant 'I in team' issues, as they relate to coach, captain, and sports team.

In real-world decision contexts -- for example, jury trials, corporate policy-making, or pitches for venture capital -- persuasion by argument and by evidence usually occurs on stage, though verbal presentation, rather than through persuasive writing. Again, seminars, organized around presentations and debates, largely in person, have an edge in education.

The thrust of your model is to provide an alternative to the Ivies. There is indeed much room and need for improvement in elite education. And the decentralized, entrepreneurial model is attractive. Might a bigger payoff arise by developing alternatives to college altogether for the average youth? One example might be radical vouchers (or philanthropic vouchers) for experiments in human-capital formation via apprenticeships, internships, training programs, and the like.

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Conferences that consist of presentations are pretty bad. Conferences that focus on enabling attendees to interact with one another can be very rewarding experiences.

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May 8, 2022Liked by Arnold Kling

What about NBU's football team? As you know the Ivy League is nothing more than a sports conference of 8 diverse schools. Do you have data that teachers care less about education than in 1977? While I might be skeptical you did launch automated mortgage underwriting with a 1 1/2 page memo.

Good luck with this new endeavor.

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I see mis-matched motivation. The faculty you define are not going to be happy with the majority of students because the majority of students you will attract will only be there for the reference letter and connection. Faculty get motivation from interested students, but your faculty will be overwhelmed by students who are not. I say this as someone whose wife and friends are professors in a large U. Students are no longer who you think they are.... in general. I see another small, elite business U.

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I think this could work for business students, and for that small subpopulation I'm in favor. Most academically skilled college-age students aren't interested in business, though. This wouldn't work for STEM, except maaaaybe math, which doesn't require labs or as much in-person applied mentorship.

There is also the issue of the clientele you'd attract. You are aiming to undermine a certain ideology here. That will affect the student body at your new institution: you'll attract people who don't just disagree with the Successor Ideology, but hate it so much they don't want to ever have to deal with it, and can't stand to be around it. I'm a pretty "heterodox" guy overall, but I doubt I'd enjoy being in a room (real or virtual) with these students, who would probably bore me to tears with their Jordan Peterson rants.

Without attracting STEM students, or students interested in the humanities and social sciences "for their own sake," it would be impossible to cut into 75% of the Ivies' applications. But that is an unrealistic goal, as I think you know deep down. Something like this could still achieve important preparation of highly engaged but middle-tier students (who do exist in good numbers) *specifically for the business world* at lower cost.

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Kling U seems more like a hybrid of the University and a Polytechnic, with the emphasis on technic, with coding, crypto, fintec, and so on, with a minor in start-ups for instance. Not exactly a replacement of the Ivy league, but valuable nonetheless

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I like it, but I'm not as sure about the letter recommendations working alone, I think there needs to be some sort of review or grading, but decentralized. Think Yelp for learners.

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Cultural priors may be skewed. Very intriguing proposal. Is it just me, or do others remember college as a place where the party boys all majored in business? Business texts were painfully boring. And business profs were flat and dull. Economics majors were more serious, and the humanities in general is where the top teachers were and where the students studied hard and discussed lectures. I graduated along time ago, obviously. But we had a core curriculum that included the Great Books and it was very good. Alfred North Whitehead said that university is the chance to take adventures in learning. He was assuming robust humanities training. And science and math, of course. Business was an easy A, if you could stay awake during the lectures and reading. Isn't there a way to prepare students for business that doesn't simply require the study of business?

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The time frames are too short by a factor of ten.

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What about (a) labs and (b) access to federal loans and grants?

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Artist Works has some elements of this vision. It's an online music school with a subscription model. The faculty are from all over the place and generally don't do it as their main job. There aren't any diplomas and definitely aren't sports teams, gardens, or a recreation center.

Part of why they may be making progress against the Ivy League is that their market is people who really want to learn music for its own sake, generally not as a core career goal. These students are motivated to attend classes, and their goals don't fit into a four-year window of time.

Flipping that around, it will be harder to dislodge the conventional university as a first step on certain career ladders. To compete in that area, would probably take something like a degree, because there really are jobs where the people who are conventionally educated run circles around the people who just learn on the job. That stuff can be learned outside the university, but an employer needs an easy way to know the candidate has done these things--especially if the employer is not themselves an expert in what they're hiring for.

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“..a factor limiting the size of the market for an education experience that does not include sports teams, social activities, and other non-academic attractions..”

Would seen both strategic and essential that to displace the current default (which offers these like a bundled media package from the cable companies) - to “cut the cord” - alternate markets for these bundled-in services needs to be available - developed, networked, perhaps expanded. Alternate leagues, clubs, social institutions that cater to the non-academic inclinations of truly great leadership.

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There's a lot I like about this. It's scalable, which is extremely important, since that means it can be initiated with minimal funding and build out from there. The basic model seems like it could be applied to essentially any academic field. It also provides an infrastructural basis for scholars to operate as independent professionals rather than dependents of large institutional bureaucracies - essentially more like law firms or fitness clubs.

The one thing I'm skeptical of is replacing grades entirely with letters of recommendation. This is overly subjective. There are numerous subjects that lend themselves to objective evaluations of student ability and subject mastery - the quantitative technical fields, in particular. My proposal would be to build out a standardized testing infrastructure that works at a highly granular level. Rather than having students write SATs or GREs at the culmination of each stage of their academic careers, such testing would evaluate mastery at the level of individual courses. This would provide employers with an objective, site-independent evaluation of student ability.

I lay that out here:


Such infrastructure could be very easily combined with the network-centric open source seminar system you proposed in this essay.

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I like the idea of a NBU that expands access of education to a much larger student base at a significantly lower cost. I think some of the implementation details could be problematic:

1. It seems premature to focus on Ivy League schools — why not start with the many middle-tier schools that come close to overall tuition costs of Ivies, but nowhere near the guaranteed exit opportunities

2. Replacing credentialing altogether dramatically limits how much this model can scale; I think by letting courses be created freely, the best ones will eventually bubble up to the top. And the “credential” will be the public and transparent record of all work and discussions of a given student, demonstrating that they completed the course. This [post](https://kassen.substack.com/p/daos-as-university-replacements-a?s=r) explores this concept a bit further.

3. Requiring faculty to continuously reteach courses demands much more time than they may be willing to commit, and active weekly seminars also necessitate a synchronicity that limits who can take the course at what time

4. I think the conferences for faculty and students is a fantastic ideal, but may be more supplemental than crucial to the actual learning experience. It also introduces a lot of financial and logistical overhead. This kind of off-site meetup may be better left to unofficial organization by students and faculty, rather than core to the completion of the course

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The network-based university (NBU) that you describe seems workable, but within a limited sphere. The focus seems to be workable for students interested in the private business sector, although I imagine the model could be expanded to include students interested in other "estates" in society. (Could this work for divinity students?)

The exclusion of extra-curricular activities would be a significant drawback. I have numerous classmates from college who found their passions and careers through extracurricular activities. A professional singer spent time putting on small plays and musicals and still works on Broadway in administration but was not a music major. The head of a major performing arts organization in NYC who has produced numerous Broadway shows also spent time in college putting on small plays and musicals but did not major in the drama school. Numerous athletes learned leadership skills playing D-1 sports under significant time constraints on and off the field. Several classmates pursued careers in journalism after working on and leading the college newspaper - a daily publication that was and is entirely student run and organized as a corporation independent of the university. Perhaps college is different nowadays in ways that dilute the value of such (organized) extracurricular activities, but I'd need to be convinced of that.

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True. We probably underestimate the idea of “university as enclave,” with the attractiveness of a city.

The folks that need convincing are the parents. Because their kids get to leave home and start a life, in a relatively safe environment, with a decent prospect in life.

NBU will have to provide minimally decent public goods to both students and parents just by participating. And NBU could provide these extracurricular returns by, probably, partnering with existing institutions, a la carte, as part of their network.

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I fear all the commenters have treated this idea with excessive deference. The problem with this idea is that it lacks serious motivation.

"This culture’s ever-increasing hostility toward markets and free expression has become toxic."

The fact that you don't like the politics of some portion of the Ivy Leagues doesn't mean that you have a good reason to, or the ability to, replace them.

The idea is a non-starter because it misunderstands the issue of student motivation and the way it interacts with educational institutions. It misunderstands the issue of faculty motivation. And it badly underestimates the importance of faculty professionalism. (No, hobbyist professors won't do.)

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Phil - your comment about political leanings could be valid with respect to the "hostility toward markets" (although I would disagree) since economics (my field) is not the be-all and end-all of universities. That said, IMHO, hostility toward free expression is antithetical to the purpose of universities and colleges. Can faculty and students pursue truth, understanding, and wisdom - in short, research and a liberal education - without free expression and by extension academic freedom? Ironically, a group of law students at Yale recently shouted down a speaker who was visiting the school to debate a faculty member about the merits of free speech. Can they learn the law if their minds are closed to a reasoned debate about reasonable debate? Respectfully. - mg

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Woke panic arguments deserve no respect. You personally can have my respect, but your suggestion gets none.

This is how the argument looks at the moment:

(1) Some students at a university espoused an incorrect opinion (and took action! Heaven forfend that students should actually take actions on their beliefs!).


(2) We must remake the entire university system.

When I lay out the argument like that, it doesn't really make any sense. And that's granting the premises! Perhaps you have more arguments to make, in which case, you and/or Kling should make them. But woke panic has been going on for a while now, and I've read a lot of grumpy old men telling me how the kids of today are all wrong. (Mentally ill, if we're to believe Jonathan Haidt!) None of it has been remotely convincing yet.

Intellectually, you should always ask yourself a hundred times: is there a chance that I'm engaging in the age-old practice of complaining about the youth? If so, the chances that there is any merit in the argument decrease dramatically.

If you're an academic, I hope very much that you don't take the attitude you display here into the lecture room with you. A student disagrees with you? Their "minds are closed." A student doesn't engage with your argument? They aren't capable of "reasonable debate." Professionally, you know you can't treat students like that. I suggest you should let professional good practice inform your intellectual good practice, and not dismiss the next generation. The chances are, they're better than us. And at the worst, they're only reacting against our mistakes.

(I've made some assumptions about you and your age there. If they're wrong, then I apologise.)

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Phil - To correct one assumption, I'm trained in the academy (grad school) but did not pursue an academic career. Alas, your other assumption is correct, I am of an older generation. Time flies.

That said, you've characterized my comments incorrectly. I am utterly open to engaging with others who disagree with me, as in this exchange, indeed I enjoy it. The purpose of a university education is to explore ideas whether one agrees with them or not. I didn't say students are incapable of reasoned debate (your interpretation). I assume as select students that they are thoroughly capable of reasoned debate. My contention is that many students are unwilling to entertain opposing points of view of fellow students or of faculty.

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Thanks, I appreciate the reply despite my bolshy tone.

First, a word on generalisation. I don't know if you're familiar with XKCD, but he offered one of the loveliest warnings against generalisation: https://xkcd.com/385/ As we get older, I believe this is literally the biggest threat to our ability to reason well, because we become more out of touch with the younger generation and less aware of the diversity that they represent. The fact that some students disagree with you doesn't mean that all disagree with you or that students in general disagree with you. Also remember that the people who run the Ivy Leagues are older (than me, I'm 40), and so if these universities have bad policies (as Kling suggests), it is definitely not the fault of young people.

But the contention you've fleshed out here is still nonsense, based on a bunch of silly, self-serving media reports. Even taking the example you raised at face value (and I don't take it at face value: 99% of the time when I bother to go and read up on the facts behind these woke panic articles, I find that the media has tendentiously twisted the sequence of events and causation): law students shouted down a speaker. Your interpretation is that these students are "unwilling to entertain opposing points of view." But nothing in the events you've described supports that conclusion. People don't protest for no reason. Those law students can't have been unaware of the speaker's views - otherwise they wouldn't have protested her/him! Clearly the students (at least some of them) knew about the speaker's views, and thought that they were worth protesting. The fact that the students (vehemently) disagree with the speaker, enough so to protest, doesn't mean they didn't entertain the view. It means that they entertained it, and rejected it.

Who knows what other examples you're thinking of. But the basic principle for interpretation must always be this: the fact that someone (modern snowflake woke student) disagrees with you does NOT mean that they haven't understood/entertained your argument. It just means that they disagree. The fact that someone chooses to reject your preferred form of intellectual discourse (like a university debate that places opposing views on roughly equal platforms) does NOT mean that they reject all discourse. It just means that they don't think that's the right kind of event.

To give an example of what I mean: before 2015, I would never have gone to see Donald Trump at a university debate. Not because I disagreed with him (I liked his TV show), but because he was an obviously unsuitable person to participate in that sort of debate. And I reserve the right to make that kind of judgment, whatever other faculty and students think. (Obviously, events in 2015 changed things, and we were all subjected to his debate stylings.) A student who believes an idea or a speaker is not deserving of the specific honour of a guest speaker slot in a university debate is not closing their mind to reasoned debate. They are taking a stance on what reasoned debate is, and saying: that guy ain't doing it. You can give Trump a platform, but that doesn't make what he says reasoned debate. You can give a flat earther a platform, but that doesn't make what they say reasonable. And you can give free speech advocates a platform, but if their free speech position is actually no more than a front for the sinister and simplistic desire to avoid being held accountable for what they say, then their platform isn't going to turn them into a worthy teacher. (I'm guessing that this is the issue with the free speech advocate, it's one of the common ones.)

And again, just to hammer the point home: even if you disagree with that characterisation of free speech advocates; even if I'm actually wrong in that charcterisation; that still doesn't mean that I or the students am "unwilling to entertain opposing points of view." Sometimes, people get things wrong! It's frustrating, but hardly novel. Young people making mistakes in university is OK. It's literally what university is there for: they go there to learn and make mistakes, in the hope that they'll come out better at the end of the process. And not all the learning that happens at university happens during po-faced academic debates.

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Phil - We've exceeded the ground rules for "In My Tribe" by which Arnold has asked for comments on his blog posts but to avoid back-and-forth exchanges like yours and mine. (My bad too for getting "into it.") I'm happy to take up our discussion "offline" if you want and if we can exchange contact info discreetly, but I hope to respect Arnold's boundaries.

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Ah, apologies to the blog owner. I will leave it there.

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Not the main point of your article, but "Just as Facebook need not provide an optimal experience to remain dominant in social networking" is no longer true given the ever increasing market share of new players in the space like Snapchat and TikTok. This is one reason for Meta's recent stock decline compared with Google, who is still having a monopoly in online search.

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The best way to get this off the ground would be as a supplement to what existing universities offer: Get the quality up high enough, sign contracts with SUNY and such, and let them act as the car dealers who resell your cars. Their students would get SUNY credit hours and SUNY would pay for the prestige of being able to offer specialty courses that they don't now have.

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