School House Wonk

"Genius without education is like silver in the mine." Benjamin Franklin

Online University Classes? Not So Fast

Two powerful forces in California – technology and labor – are clashing over whether and how universities will deliver education online.  The union representing the University of California teachers (UC-AFT) has stated it will use its collective bargaining power to stop any online course offerings that conflict with the basic principles outlined in its declaration against online education.  Despite facing significant budget shortfalls, and being urged by state government to find creative ways to innovate and reduce costs, last week University of California officials agreed to the union’s demands for, in essence, a veto power over online course offerings.

According to union president Bob Samuels, as reported in Inside Higher Ed, the agreement effectively gives the union power to block any online learning effort that might threaten jobs or work lives of its members.  “We feel that we could stop almost any online program through this contract,” Samuels told Inside Higher Ed.  University lecturers are concerned that online learning will result in reduced pay, increased workloads, job outsourcing or even replacement.

While university officials disagreed that the union can now exert complete control over online course offerings, they did concede that the agreement places innovation with online course offerings “in a holding pattern.”  Given that the University of California system services 191,000 students across 10 campuses, this “holding pattern” could have profound implications for the future of online learning in California and beyond.  As economist Tyler Cowen observed, such is the culture that is California.

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