Universities in the conventional sense survive – for the moment

Universities in the conventional sense survive, if only as mating centers for the
middle-class. Why? I believe that the dotcom startup  model does not
work because the domain is too complex, has a very highly-subsidized
state competitor,  and requires resources of feeling and intuition as
well as huge smarts for teaching

I have been much more interested in getting traction for my projects
by keeping up world-class research, often arising from conferences I
organize that world-class universities host, and finding gifted
student in unlikely places like 4799 Shattuck, a refuge for ivy league
grads who don’t want any more student debt;



Yes, I think I am succeeding where Thiel, Thrun et al are failing

As it happens, I did  a master’s in psychology
and the thesis was partly an exploration of Piaget’s ideas on
education and experimental rejection of his flights of fancy. Of
course,  Piaget’s “learning by doing” ethos was picked up in the
Montessori schools. My “Search for mind”  book, which went into 3
editions, is an explication and critique  of Piaget that his most
fervent followers (Robert Campbell of Clemson comes to mind) respect.

I am very impressed by the data-mining Edx and others are doing on
their students. Yet a critical point is being
missed; after several thousand years, people have become very expert
readers. We read for several hours a day, and have a very
finely-calibrated sense of how to optimize our own information
retention as we read.

The second critical issue is consensual validation, or – more
practically – “talking to people”. This usually involved very
expensive real estate in “land grant” colleges. While physical
presence is wonderful, and we should arrange proximity meetings a few
times a year, much can be done virtually.

What I’m seeking investors for is a university, mainly online, that
can beat  “land grant” colleges at their own game of research and
teaching combined .  So far, I have successfully run online courses I
originally taught at Stanford and Berkeley


Manifesto for third millennium higher education


As of late 2014, it has become clear that many “AI” problems like speech processing and scene recognition did not require any attempt to emulate the human mind for their solution; rather, leverage of massive data banks was sufficient. There are good reasons to believe that other such AI problems will not fall as easily. However, that is not the topic here; that is rather how many current absurdities in third level education and research can easily be solved with the web.

These problems are not, in themselves, trivial. They include;

– Growing student debt, now over $1 trillion, and much unlikely to be repaid. This becomes payable with accreditation being granted, and has led to institutions being fined for inadequate degrees ;
– The PI model leading to “star” academics seeding thousands of young researchers, with the same anti-diversity effects as those of leaving reproduction to a few star males whose semen can be found in a sperm bank;
– The pressure on PI’s has contributed to a crisis in replicability of results
– The absurdity of accreditation, given to and withdrawn from whole institutions regardless of pockets of excellence and mediocrity therein. UC Berkeley has the same accreditor as SFCC, now losing its accreditation. Of course, no-one ever took the parity of accreditation between – say – Cal and Diablo college seriously; reputation is independent of accreditation. The 80k students at SFCC will probably find that, like their sisters in New college of SF, their grades will not transfer.
– The abuse of power possible in the whole system, from publishers with 33%+ profit margins who lock up research funded by the taxpayer behind firewalls to potentially abusive (given their secretive nature, highly unusual in a democracy) relationships between supervisor and student
– The participation in the university community of a group of administrators, not themselves academics, leading to human resource “experts” making academic decisions. This reached an egregious extreme in Ireland, where an attempt was made at the Supreme Court to define tenure as the right to three month’s wages after being summarily dismissed. The supreme court refused to rule on tenure;
– The fact that the over-production of PhD’s by PI’s has led to many young academics who will never have a permanent job;
– The lack on innovation in course development due to the cumbersome state university system means that, to take on example, ours is the only online cog sci degree;
– The fact that many Ivy league colleges have put their courses online, with increasingly robust grading, means that there is in any case little reason to hire new faculty
All of this will come to an end soon. Recidivist “entrepreneur” Peter Thiel (uncollege.org) and others have tried various models; what they’ve proven is that colleges are not dotcoms. As Ken Auletta outlined in his excellent book “Googled”, even the advertising industry is no match for online smarts and they will eventually get the model right. It is up to us academics to find some way of using our considerable skills to compete with them.

Here are some modest proposals;
1. Do away with accreditation completely. The relevant dichotomy should be between state-funded institutions versus private such, eschewing accredited versus not.
2. As I’ve written elsewhere, a private college with a winning innovative programme filling a market niche should be offered state backing, including tenure for its staff;
3. Everything produced at the state institutions – classes, research – should be 100% free and open access to the public;
4. The state institutions should have a free community college section as a feeder for those who may have not have had sufficient family background to go to university at 18;
5. In lieu of accreditation, all project work done by students can be put on the web
6. Ph.D. students should have the option of travelling between state-funded institutions and post their dissertation on the web to attract a degree-granting university;
7. Research should be funded on a much smaller scale than currently
The goal is that private colleges fill all the gaps currently on the market, both in research and education

The origin of the university

The origin of the university in western culture, starting around the second millennium of the common era, is a community of scholars in a committed search for truth. That has been increasingly obscured in the third millennium of the common era with disciplinary monomania, abuse of power by “teachers” over “students” and corruption causing a crisis in replicability of results so profound that even the corporations parasitic on the taxpayers’ money used for their “research” at these “ universities” have begun to fund their own replication studies.

The rampant abuse of power reflects the greater society in which blanket warrantless surveillance is combined with the threat of torture and the militarization of police to create a society even less free than the founders of Cambridge fled from in Oxford. At great risk to themselves, a group of young activists have taken to the streets in the USA to protest the open murder by police of people of colour. One of their meeting places, the Omni building at Shattuck and 49th on the border of Oakland and Berkeley, has also become the location of an educational experiment.

We are trying to see what happens if all the paraphenalia and technologies of power that have grown up around the “ university “ can be dispensed with. In short, no teachers, no students; simply seminars with participants fact-checking on the internet, with one participant also a moderator. No grades, no capacity to enforce silence, no fees, no compulsion of any sort.

Yet the courses will in general be a selection taught for credit at universities considered top-rate. It is hoped that the many gaps in the hugely expensive current PI (Principal investigator) model will become evident as new discoveries are made in cognitive science and biology. We have good reason to be optimistic, as our early seminars have indicated brilliantly intelligent use of web resources to allow participants to “teach” each other things new under the sun.



Fixing university education

21st century university education has many problems. For many countries, and in particular the USA, it is too expensive; students graduate with debts in the high 5 figures guaranteed to hamstring them. The disciplinary structure is wrong; subjects like Cognitive science are termed “interdisciplinary” simply because they were invented after the fossilization of departments.

Educationally, matters are worse. The lack of an overall theory of the person and her relation to knowledge has allowed in rampant subjectivism, exemplified by postmodernism. That has had negative effects on society as a whole as the most highly educated plea for the aesthetic equivalence of Mozart and Pit bull, and the moral equivalence of Matthieu Ricard and Pol Pot. The career path open to postgraduate students involves a grueling and almost interminable subjugation. This has led to fraud and stasis in science

All these issues can quickly be resolved. The university should be a joint stock system with graduates holding a controlling stake. A Weltanschauung, one that unites the narratives of the sciences, arts, and humanities, an d the consensual moral order it involves, is within our grasp. Knowledge can be reparsed with, ironically, Cognitive science as the quintessential academic subject. Finally, all of this can be done at next to no cost and in a way that fosters innovation.

Please see http://universityofireland.com/