The Dark Side?
Responding to our September article on Nokia, readers raised the question of whether the company assisted the Iranian government with spying on citizens and arresting dissidents after the recent controversial election. At issue is an expansion to Iran's cell-phone infrastructure sold by a subsidiary, Nokia Siemens Networks. According to the company, the system includes a "lawful intercept" function used by law enforcement to monitor voice-data transmissions that's required by the United States and most countries. Nokia denies providing more intrusive tools: "deep-packet inspection," Web censorship, or Internet filtering. One thing is certain. The ability to easily transmit digital data comes with a price. Digital Big Brother can watch all who choose to be connected.
After reading "Who Needs Harvard?" (September), I can say that, as one who holds a master's of education in technologies-enhanced learning/instructional design, the editor's comments in his opening letter are right on the money. As for what kind of a hypocrite he is for wanting to send his son to "four-year summer camp" in exchange for a piece of paper with a seal and a signature, I would bet my daughter's 529 account that Fast Company requires employees in advanced positions to have college degrees. Education reform is a great concept — but not until business decides to go along.
North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania
What is it about Harvard or MIT that makes them better than community or state colleges? If it is the classroom interaction, then open-source online piecemeal classes won't provide that. If it is the ability to do hands-on research, open-source classes won't provide that. If it is the things money can buy — prestigious faculty, well-equipped classrooms, and so on — making them available for free will degrade those advantages. If the idea is to make education available to all ... well, that's what community and nonselective colleges are for. I have worked as a librarian at a variety of institutions, including a community college, a selective private university, a selective state college, and a state university. From what I have seen, what a student gets out of a class or a degree has a lot to do with what she puts into it, regardless of what kind of school she goes to.
Given the astounding tuition cost of leading universities, education has to be regarded as a business proposition by both students and schools. Embracing this simple equation is the first step in universities shedding the false sanctity of outdated traditions in favor of asking such timely questions as, How can we create a model that minimizes the costs and maximizes the return for both students and our university?
Here is a possible solution: Leading universities have amassed billions of dollars in endowments. Rather than trying to out-compete one another in endowment ratios and levels, let's tap these funds as the source for the new model. Let's use a portion of the endowment's yearly investment income to do away with tuition fees altogether, and offer free attendance. In return, once students graduate they would contribute a certain percentage of their annual earnings to the school for X number of years, or until a specified threshold is reached. For universities with suitable resources, the cost of this program could be relatively low. The school could select students purely on future potential from a vastly expanded talent pool and see much greater levels of alumni contributions than currently given. For students, this model would eliminate the biggest burden of higher education altogether, better prepare them for the postgraduation marketplace, and allow them to take charge of their future with much greater flexibility. In short, there would be a close alignment of interests between students and universities.
Gabor George Burt
Higgins Beach, Maine
As a software developer, I have often found that what can be explained in a few minutes of live conversation takes numerous written inquiries, which may wind up creating more confusion than clarity. There also is an experiential difference between online and in-person interaction. At a time when discussion on serious national issues such as health care is decaying into "town brawls," the last thing we need is to increase the inherent social isolation of online interaction. Attending college is not just about reading papers and passing tests. Interaction with fellow students provides the opportunity to create professional networks to draw upon following graduation, the possibility of real friendships as opposed to Twitter followings, and most important, exposure to, and conversation with, people whose ideas we disagree with. No matter how sophisticated the technical setup, such experiences cannot be re-created via chat rooms and Web casts.
The goal of education, in the final analysis, is not to find a job; it is to complete your maturation. Would you want your son learning everything he knew about life from Acme Inc., or from a gas-exploration firm? Surely such employees would learn to cower before the corporate model and do as they are told, even if they were state-of-the-art engineers and other highly skilled workers. A liberal education allows one to become fully human, to learn to speak one's mind, and, most of all, to be creative. Creativity is the freight train that has allowed America to be prosperous. And creativity grows during times of play and recreation, late-night dorm bull sessions included, or, to use your term, during a "four-year summer camp."
New York, New York
When Bob Safian wrote about getting business to recruit its future workers, I thought, Aha, I'm not the only one to think that! I am designing a private high school, and one of our goals is to get business and higher education aligned with our curriculum so that what they need in a student and an employee can start with our students. And if we are willing to do that for them, why can't they offer a student a fully funded "contract" to attend a like-minded college and then come to work for them? I have a 9-year-old, and I'm hoping that by the time he gets to college, things will have changed.
Twisted or Brilliant?
Thanks for this insightful article ("Crypt Keeper," September). I always enjoy behind-the-curtain stories on how the different media are merging and complementing one another.
How unfortunate that CSI's Anthony Zuiker has chosen to deliver such hackneyed content through his exciting new "digi-novel" medium. The world's worst serial killer, with lots of humiliated female victims and a brooding male cop in hot pursuit? Gee, how original. If he really wants to follow this borderline-snuff material with digi-novels "pitched to just about every demo on the planet, from children to desperate housewives," he might want to think again. I somehow suspect he knows less than nothing about the "housewives" demographic, or what we'd want our kids to see.
Sally E. Green
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A version of this article appeared in the November 2009 issue of Fast Company magazine.