The Fix for a Broken System of Higher Education

Commentary, Education, Frontier Centre, Information Technology, Saskatchewan

After the last couple of American elections, it’s become clear that the greatest challenge for conservatives is taking back the culture. And that’s a problem in Canada as well. One of the greatest obstacles to this lies in our universities, which have been taken over by their politically correct faculty members. The solution will come schools that combine new technologies with a classical curriculum.

Two models dominate higher education, and both are broken. The first is the hugely expensive bricks-and-mortar university, and which, without teaching students anything much of value, indoctrinates them in a sloppy anti-religious, leftism. The second are the conventional, asynchronous (not real-time) online programs being adopted by many of these same institutions as a means of reducing costs.

While asynchronous courses are less expensive, they don’t include the crucially important real-time exchange of ideas. What’s also missing are the opportunities for informal discussion, pre and post class, so important to the learning process.

The first model has serious problems, which the second model can’t fix without creating those of its own. This leaves us with a tremendous hole in higher education, a hole that a new school, LibertasU, proposes to fill, starting on September 9, with online courses given in the classical tradition, with a real-time exchange and debate of ideas and with ample opportunity for informal discussion. LibertasU’s Dean is Roger Scruton, well-known as a leading conservative intellectual.

Unlike a bricks-and-mortar school, a school such as LibertasU exists exclusively on the web, which means it eliminates all the costs of operating a standard, physical campus, to say nothing of the enormous waste on administrative expenses. This translates into lower tuition and also provides students, no matter what their age or where they are, the opportunity to study with first-rate educators who, themselves, can be located anywhere in the world.

Teachers and students are present at the same time in scheduled classes which are held in immersive virtual reality environments where each person assumes a body or avatar and is able to walk around, raise their hand to speak, and interact with others, in a group setting. People report the experience to be “just like being there,” without the cost and disruption associated with travel to a bricks-and-mortar classroom. The courses are readily available to anyone with a computer and Internet connection

Here’s an example of the kinds of course such schools might offer, taken from the LibertasU catalogue. The American Spectator’s movie reviewer, Jim Bowman, will give a course on The Enemy Within: The Portrayal of Espionage and Subversion in the Contemporary Popular Culture. Robert Royal, president of the Faith & Reason Institute, will offer a course on Dante’s Divine Comedy and Tom Lindsay will teach a course on Machiavelli's The Prince. There will also be a Shakespeare course taught by John Alvis.         

These kinds of courses, and many more like them, aren’t suitable for conventional online, non-real-time delivery. Reviewing such material on one’s own, without being able to discuss and debate ideas in real time, simply doesn’t work.

That’s why the future of higher education, especially for conservatives, lies with a mixture of cutting-edge technology, first-rate teachers and classical courses.

Frank Buckley is a professor at George Mason University.