Duke Dumps SemesterOnline As Faculty Revolt. Other Universities Also Leaving?


By Paul Glader, Managing Editor

We are seeing early battles in the war between entrenched university faculty (many of them tenured) and the universities that employ them over the issue of online learning and MOOCs. The universities face pressure to lower tuition and innovate with technology. The revolting faculty members increasingly see the MOOCs and online learning options as threats to their jobs.

InsideHigherEd, The New York Times, The Washington Post and others reported on Duke University leaving the consortium of colleges that are offering for-credit (and for a fee) classes via SemesterOnline. We share details below on the Duke debacle.

We also noticed, however, that other schools appear to have withdrawn from the consortium. In our story back in November when SemesterOnline launched, we reported that 9 schools were joining the consortium:

The consortium so far includes Northwestern, Notre Dame University, Emory University, Washington University in St. Louis, Duke University, Wake Forest University, Vanderbilt University, Brandeis University and the University of Rochester. The consortium expects to add other universities in coming months.

 Now, on SemesterOnline’s web site, only four of the original schools are listed: 

Northwestern, Notre Dame, Emory, Washington University St. Louis.

These five original members have disappeared: 

Duke, Wake Forest University, Vanderbilt, Brandeis and University of Rochester

We have contacted each of these schools (besides Duke, which already was public) about why they are no longer listed on the SemesterOnline consortium web site. Here are the responses we are receiving.

Wake Forest: A spokeswoman responds to our questions with:

Wake Forest continues our tradition of actively exploring innovations in technology that could possibly enhance the already outstanding educational experience we provide to our students. Our thoughtful campus dialogue with faculty around these questions continues, and this dialogue will ultimately guide what courses, if any, Wake Forest will offer through Semester Online. Because we are committed to working through these issues in close consultation with faculty, we have not yet decided whether to offer courses through Semester Online.


And these new schools appear to have joined the consortium: 

Boston University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

We have a call into SemesterOnline to hear more about this shifting group of participants. We’ll update this post as we learn more.

The experience of SemesterOnline suggests the incredibly complex and contentious politics on major campuses about participating in online efforts. While many colleges and universities know they must participate as technology moves forward and as pressure mounts to offer affordable and flexible options to students. But the politics of faculty members, unions are also formidable on these campuses.

Here are details from the early revolution that  just happened at Duke University:

  • Some Duke faculty said the Duke administration’s approach kept faculty in the dark. But some faculty said Duke had included faculty in discussions and  faculty committees have been working on the 2U issue for nearly a year.
  • Even the proposal the faculty considered had safeguards: Duke students could only have received credit for four Semester Online courses during their entire time at Duke.
  • Faculty argued that Duke’s participation in the SemesterOnline would make courses more of a commodity and would work against students taking classes at Duke.
  • Chip Paucek, the CEO of 2U, downplayed Duke’s exit from the partnership. “The practical matter is we were launching on Wednesday 12 courses for the fall, now we’re launching 11,” Paucek told InsideHigherEd. Duke eventually planned to offer two courses in the pool.
Here’s what Inside HigherEd reported on the Duke revolt: 

Duke’s Arts & Sciences Council, which represents faculty from Duke’s largest undergraduate college, voted 16-14 on Thursday against plans to grant credits to Duke students who would have taken online courses from the pool. The vote effectively killed Duke’s participation in the effort, and it immediately withdrew.

The courses were to be offered by Duke and other top-tier universities in a partnership organized by 2U, formerly known as 2tor. Unlike massive open online courses, or MOOCs, only a few hundred students were expected to enroll in each course – which would feature a mix of recorded lectures and live discussions – but each course would be divided into sections of no more than 20 students led by an instructor, perhaps a graduate student. The effort, known as Semester Online, will go on without Duke and offer its first classes this fall, 2U’s CEO said.

Duke remains a member of MOOC provider Coursera and many of its faculty members are leaders in the push to use technology to teach in new ways, so the vote does not represent an outright rejection of online education but rather specific concerns about for-credit online education offered by third-parties. Faculty also expressed concern about the administration’s handling of the deal and 2U’s cut of the revenue. While there has been considerable hype in the last year about leading colleges and universities embracing partnerships that redefine the way education is delivered, the Duke faculty vote marks the second time in a month that professors at an elite institution have studied one of these partnerships and turned it down. Amherst College’s faculty this month voted down a proposal to join the MOOC provider edX.

Via Inside Higher Ed

Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post writes: 

Duke University just pulled out of an online learning initiative with other elite schools because some Duke professors voted against awarding credit for the classes. The vote this week came just a short time after Amherst College in Massachusetts rejected a proposal to join an online education venture called edX, as my colleague Nick Anderson reports here. Both actions buck the fast-growing movement toward online education, suggesting that there remain concerns in the academy about how best to teach.

At Amherst, the issue was whether to join a group of schools, including MIT and Harvard and Georgetown, in creating MOOCs, or massive open online courses that anyone anywhere can take for free but not receive college credit. The online initiative in which Duke was involved, called Semester Online, was different. Duke was part of a consortium of  schools — including Northwestern, Washington University, Boston College, Brandeis and Emory — that planned to create, with a company called 2U, live online courses that students at those schools could take for credit. They would cost money, like on-campus courses. 

Tamar Lewin writes in The New York Times: 

“As late as early March, there was no generalized opposition to our joining Semester Online,” said Peter Lange, the Duke provost. “But when the proposal was circulated in March, some people who’d not heard of it before, or not paid sufficient attention, got concerned.”

While Dr. Lange saw the consortium as expanding the courses available to Duke students, some faculty members worried that the long-term effect might be for the university to offer fewer courses — and hire fewer professors. Others said there had been inadequate consultation with the faculty.

When 2U, the online education platform that would host the classes, announced Semester Online last year, it named 10 participants, including Duke, the University of Rochester, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest — none of which will be offering courses this fall. “Schools had to go through their processes to determine how they were going to participate,” said Chance Patterson, a 2U spokesman, “and some decided to wait or go in another direction.”

Semester Online courses will cost $4,200 each. For students at the consortium schools, that tuition would typically be covered by the regular tuition at their home school, Mr. Patterson said, while students from other universities would generally have to pay the difference between their own institution’s tuition and the $4,200.

Via New York Times


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>