We are seeing, around the world, a few troubling trends.
Governments are defunding education, by increasing the cost of tuition, shifting the cost of education onto already-overburdened local governments, and creating obstacles for educators. Educators are being denied the right to collectively bargain, their classrooms are being increased in student size, educational materials are not being provided (forcing teachers to pay for them out of pocket), teachers are being forced to “teach the test”, teachers are not allowed to confront behavior issues (or sued or fired when they do), disruptive behavior is ignored or condoned, curriculum is being re-tooled to adhere to political agendas, etc.
Governments are also taking other actions against their citizens, to quash dissent or public involvement in the political process.
There is growing concern that, in face of natural disasters, as well as disasters involving man-made installations (Chernobyl, levees, the Japanese reactors), governments are choosing to refuse help, delay action while politically-viable plans are debated, or pretending nothing is going wrong. Humanitarian efforts all over the globe are being balked by political processes that have no bearing on the subject at hand, or political processes designed intentionally to prevent humanitarian efforts.
The solution to this, that I propose, is immodest (insofar as it calls for a great deal of work and effort) and immoral (insofar as it calls for a lot of self-righteous people to shut their yaps). This proposal is also immodest and immoral in that it assumes that every person on this planet has inherent worth equal to that of any other person (let the death threats commence).
I propose the founding of a new University. A Global University, if you will.
Bear with me. I know that this does not seem to address the issues above, except perhaps the education issues, but I hope that further discussion will illustrate how the other issues are addressed.
Imagine for a moment a University that is not beholden to any government, religious authority, or political process. Think of a University that, by virtue of applying for admission, guarantees any student will be accepted for admission. Think of a University that does not charge for admission, tuition, books and supplies, room and board, health care, or any other fee or expense.
I am talking about a University that offers any course that a student requests, with no minimum class size (although I would fight to the death to maintain a maximum class size of 15 to 20 students). I am talking about a University so student-centered that the administration would be expected to consider themselves, every sense of the word, employees of the students.
I am talking about a student-owned University.
As far as I am concerned, the possibilities are endless.
Every person on the planet knows some subject well enough to teach it. Even it is only their own native language or culture, or even their second or third language, they could teach that to others, even if a little supervision is required. Imagine the benefits of learning Cantonese from a person who has been using it conversationally since, virtually, the day they were born, or various dialects of Arabic from a person born and raised in Tehran.
Imagine learning about a culture from someone who knows, lives, and breathes how that culture functions and what the taboos are. Imagine learning political science from a person who has experienced firsthand the consequences of the failures of a particular political system.
I’m not being unrealistic here. I know that there needs to be supervision of student-instructors, and perhaps I am being idealistic in believing that most student-instructors would welcome that supervision.
Imagine having a group of retired professors willing to teach and/or supervise a couple courses a term, in return for basic living expenses. No, that’s not a joke: I already have commitments from three retired professors (English Literature, Electron Microscopy and Genetics, and Religious Studies) who are thrilled with the idea of being surrounded by eager students from all over the world. And that is not counting the number of people who have committed to providing labor to build it.
Yes, there are logistical concerns. One is where to put it. And no, for this to work, an online University is not possible, as we have already seen governments decide to restrict Internet access to their citizens. What is needed is a physical site that no nation or political system may lay claim to, with guarantees of neutrality and security that are more than iron-clad, somewhat like Vatican City. And no, the Cayman Islands are not an option, as the only “residents” considered neutral are the ones printed on special paper and locked within bank vaults.
My suggestion would be the construction of an artificial island (or more than one), outside the territorial limits of any nation. There are a few ways to do this. I seriously doubt any nation on the planet would voluntarily sacrifice any acreage for the construction of a permanently extra-territorial space.
And the location must be large enough to allow for as much self-sufficiency, in the areas of food production, electricity production, clean water, etc., in case that need arises.
Another concern is transportation of students from their home to the University, and back again. I believe it is possible to blackmail a few airlines to provide free transportation to enrolled students, but it could take some time and publicity to do so. Perhaps it would be necessary to have a dedicated fleet of air-liners, belonging only to the University.
You are probably still wondering where I am going with this, and what this has to do with natural and man-made disasters and governments suppressing dissent.
Time to turn on that imagination again.
Okay, we have a student body of, for illustrative sake, five thousand students. Students do not spend a majority of their time in class. A full-time student is usually one that has 12 or more credit hours per term (quarter or semester). That’s 12 or more hours of class time per week. The common wisdom is that a student spends twice that amount of time on homework and studying, per week. Even accounting for sleeping and eating, the majority of their time is still “free time”.
One of the requirements that would be written in stone would be that students agree to donate part of their free time to the world. In other words, disaster relief, humanitarian efforts, election monitoring, reporting on events, education of non-students, etc. And they would receive course credit for it.
Students would receive course credit for doing administrative or support work at the University as well. It is possible that, by the time an individual student graduated with a Bachelor’s degree, they would have more course credits than a “regular” university would require for a doctorate degree.
Not only does this “raise the bar” for student achievement, it also raises the expectations for student involvement, and provides the world with a constant stream of people whose allegiance is to the world and not a particular ideology.
Yes, I know, there are probably many laws of nature being violated just by the very idea.
There are a lot of facets that I have considered over time:
Health Care – provided for free. I would require immunizations, because too many people from different cultures and locations would be mingling and sharing germs that others would have no defense for. I would also recommend that no health care options be ruled out, except those with miniscule chances of helping, or those that pose a significant risk to the patient or others.
Housing – I would like to see a variety of housing. Dormitories over time have stretched from 8-person suites to 1 person rooms (sometimes sharing a bathroom between two residents). Some universities provide small apartments or small cottages to a small group of students or a student with a family. I have seen houses where more than ten students lived together, most with their own room or sharing a room with one other person. All are legitimate housing options.
However, most colleges seem to think it is a good idea to house students in groups for the first year, and then students may opt for sharing space with a steadily-decreasing group of students, with the option (usually in graduate school) of finally being able to have a private space. I think this is wrong. Freshman year is not the time to suddenly plunge a student into a living situation with 3 to 7 strangers, all with their own culture, quirks, habits, and personality disorders. It’s no wonder that colleges suffer huge drop-out rates during the first two or three terms of a student’s college experience.
Let’s reverse that. Start students out with their private space, to themselves, perhaps with a shared bathroom. Their first year, they will be making friends, so finding someone (or more than one) to share a larger space with isn’t a big burden. Perhaps it would be possible for a few students to opt to keep a private space instead, with the understanding that incoming students get first pick, and the second-year student may have to arrange for a roommate at the last minute.
This eases students into the joys of shared housing slowly, and makes roommate matching a lot easier task than my first semester at a large campus.
Civil and Human Rights – Every student must understand that their rights are no more important than those of any other individual. No student has the right to threaten the well-being of another student (or staff). No student has a “right” to force others to believe the same as they. If a question of competing rights occurs, the facts must be considered first, and opinions considered last.
Course Offerings – I touched on this before, but a few things need to be discussed.
Around the world and definitely within the United States, there is a push to lower expectations for students. In the US, a particular President went so far as to push an educational agenda which makes learning unimportant, and emphasized the ability of students to parrot what they are taught. No understanding of subject matter is necessary, as long as one can repeat it back, word for word, virtually.
Some colleges are being forced to not only offer remedial courses, but to give college credit for them. Partly this is due to primary and secondary educational institutions pushing an “automatic pass” policy, where students are passed on courses that they may never have participated in. The other part of this is that primary and secondary teachers are no longer allowed to teach students what they need to know to attend college or even function within adult society; the curriculum no longer allows for that.
At Global University, I would suggest that, if a remedial course (such as primary-level literacy or composition) is offered, no credit will be given. If a course is suggested by a student, careful consideration must be given to whether the suggested course raises or lowers expectations. If the expectation is lowered, the course is given no college-level credit. This would extend to “arts and crafts” courses, current events courses, and others as well. There need to be clear-cut expectations of what incoming students need to know, and what graduating students need to know. Courses that do not foster either one are, at best, time wasters.
Ethics – This can not be stressed enough. Students must be aware at all times that the consequences of unethical behavior will be swift and firm. Whether it be plagiarism, extortion, proselytizing (which is just another form of extortion), refusal to comply with the “practical/service” component that they agreed to as part of their admission, etc., such infractions must be corrected quickly and firmly, in an appropriate manner.
And that goes for acts of violence as well. If I were to be head of the University (which would be a mistake), I would be happy to send a student’s slap-happy ass home in a heartbeat.
Diversity – It seems odd to talk about diversity, when we are talking about student and staff from all over the world, but in situations like this, it becomes a priority to preserve diversity.
What I am talking about is the “normal” human reaction to opposing viewpoints or different lifestyles, namely the urge to force others to act and believe the same as you. A Muslim may not try to enforce his or her morality in the case of the presence of GLBT students ( or even bare-headed women, or women who can read and write, etc.); nor can a Christian professor require a Muslim to attend a class during prayer time; nor can a Jewish staff-member decide to force the campus to observe kosher dietary restrictions; nor can a Chinese student expect a Tibetan student to renounce the Dali Lama or a Nietzschean require others to denounce Kant . Not on my watch. Not in my backyard.
This extends to politics, religion, human rights, and every other aspect of life. Period.
Privacy – Every student and staff member has a right to their privacy and private space (even within a shared room). Violating a person’s privacy should be considered an ethics violation.
The one concern that I hesitate to discuss at this time is the need for security against outside forces. It is quite likely that, at some point or another, the University would be attacked in some way. After all, we are talking about what could possibly be the most subversive idea ever proposed (if I may be excused for being so arrogant). The University could be viewed as a target of opportunity for any regime that wanted to hold a large number of people hostage, whether that regime be a terrorist group or a national government. It could be, as the United Nations has been on many occasions, a frequent target of various political factions around the world that despise the concepts of cooperation, tolerance, and acceptance (not to mention peace). I am not being pessimistic; we have seen educational institutions, from primary to collegiate, attacked by those with an axe to grind.
The only defense that I can see as being ethical is the presence of the University, and the diversity of its student body. However, I am not so naïve as to think that will deter any crackpot (I can’t think of any political, religious, or other “leader” that would be swayed by the presence of students from his or her own faction).
However, it is the best that I can offer. Any military-grade installation for defense would be seen as provocation by someone insane enough to attack it. Only the wide-spread publicity of the existence of the University, and immediate press releases if problems arise, can protect it while protecting the principles under which it would be founded.
Thank you for your time. I will immediately go into hiding, under an assumed name and after extensive cosmetic surgery, to prevent reprisals from every political, religious, and educational faction in the world.