Thoughts in response to John Warner (@Biblioracle) and some of the commenters on this piece at InsideHigherEd about Uber for higher ed.
Perhaps if the original essay had not been bracketed by these two unfortunate paragraphs:
For more than 100 years, taxicabs were the kings of the road. They set prices and buddied up with lawmakers who promised to help them keep the meters running. Then, in 2009, an app changed everything. Uber created an interface that finally put the passenger in charge of the ride, and the taxicab establishment has been in chaos ever since.
It sounds farfetched, but so did hailing a car from the comfort of one’s own bed just three years ago. I believe there is someone out there who is on the verge of creating a sort of UberEd, and it is almost certainly not a university president or federal lawmaker. Instead, it’s an entrepreneur who grasps the importance of putting students first who stands to start making waves in higher education.
First, I am not quite sure how Uber actually puts the passenger in charge of the ride. The passenger is still just a passenger, a rider. And, Uber’s website makes it pretty clear that it is all about the driver, not the passenger. I mean seriously, this is a top-linked page of Uber.com and it looks to me like an apex predator recruiting secondary predators to fleece the sheep. Or perhaps Barlow in ‘Salem’s Lot, the primary vampire creating lots of dependent vampires. Or your typical MLM.
The closing paragraph ignores that for most of the 100 years of taxi cabs referenced in the first paragraph, one could call (using a phone, albeit a simpler phone than a smart phone) to arrange cab service as Warner points out in his call for Uber for Lobbyists.
Given Uber’s recruiting page, I am pretty confident that I don’t want (another) entity that makes such claims to “put students first.”
Warner is “concerned that our lobbying and consulting class has run out of ideas” which may or not be true. The bigger problem, as I see it, is for whom they lobby, and why. I am not aware of any lobbyists for higher ed writ large. I am aware of some that claim to be, but in reality they lobby for member organizations who look to protect their pieces of the pie. There are also thousands of lobbyists for individual institutions that do make the occasional stand for the good of higher ed, but are generally more focused on the needs of their particular institutions, as they should be. The assembled groupies in the building at One Dupont Circle have very clearly degraded into territorial fighters (my apologies to any friends painted with this broad brush, but I forgive you) for their own interests.
I am not clear who is really lobbying and fighting for higher ed in general. (I may just be generally ignorant though.) I do have really strong ideas about who is not.
However, these are the minor problems. The truly big problem is that the Uberization (and other -ations) of education is a return to the 1970s and the “Me Generation” of the Boomers. (And if you recall, the best proposed solution to this was the “Al Franken Generation.” Sigh.) Uberization is all about me, my needs, my money, my costs, and the continued efforts of disruption to ensure that no one ever pays for anything they don’t wish to pay for. Of course, this is myth since most folks never see how revenues and profits are spent. It continues down a path that forsakes education as a public good.
Maybe I am wrong to hold onto a belief in the public good. Perhaps we will all be better off when nearly everyone is contingent. Nobody will have to worry about stuff happening because whatever they do will only be of the moment. Pick up one passenger, drop them off, pick up another if you want. Ratings will matter for some users, but for others there will always be someone who simply needs a ride. After all, payday lenders are not the most affordable nor most pleasant experiences, but they get heavy use. We’ll always be moving on to the next thing, and everything will always be contingent because we will be the boss of everything.
We’ll be the boss when we drive.
We’ll be the boss when we ride.
We’ll be independent contractors in charge of our future.
In education, we’ll be the teachers.
We’ll be the student.
We’ll be the funders.
We’ll be the aggregator.
We’ll self-certify our competencies.
We’ll be the experts about what we need.
We’ll.., well, Me, uber alles.