My reaction to the sell-off of edX, published today in The Chronicle:
Harvard and MIT have, in effect, auctioned off the lecture halls of the future. It’s a short-sighted move reminiscent of another infrastructure transfer, in scholarly publishing. As early as the 1950s, academic societies began to mimic the new sales-based commercial model of for-profit publishers. By the turn of the millennium, most societies had handed over their journals to be published by the big commercial players, in exchange for a share of profit. Now most scholarship is published by an oligopolist quintet of information conglomerates that, in turn, charge their college customers usurious fees.
That industry is among the most profitable in the world, in part because academics write and review for free. As the historian Aileen Fyfe has shown, there was nothing inevitable about the joint custody — nonprofit colleges and for-profit publishers — we’ve ended up with. We owe our current predicament, in part, to the decisions of learned societies who chose short-term cash over their scholar-members’ long-term interests. Harvard and MIT have just made the same disastrous miscalculation.