What does it say about the need for broad academic reform when the calls for that reform themselves are narrowly restricted by establishment academic media?
A few days ago Gordon Gee, President of Ohio State University, proclaimed to other college presidents gathered at the American Council of Education that colleges are at a defining crossroads: "The choice, it seems to me, is this: reinvention or extinction." Strong words from an academic leader, to be sure. Of course the Chronicle of Higher Education, that flagship for issues affecting colleges and universities, reported on it. But to whom? To the broad array of stakeholders who need to think through the problems and discuss proposed solutions to higher education?
Nope. The Chronicle of Higher Education kept Gee's remarks safely quarantined behind its pay-to-play subscription gate.
I wanted to link to the report. Gee said some bold, important things. Things that students and teachers should hear and discuss, that state legislatures and the general public ought to be in on. But all those stakeholders won't get the news, not from the Chronicle of Higher Education. If you try to go to the report (click image), you will instantly learn if you are among the privileged few from subscribing institutions if you get past the toll booth that deters most of the public (as it does me when I'm not sitting in my office). And there we have it: elite journals demand elite access. Provocative titles and abstracts are teasers that only the privileged few can pursue to full text revelation. That's not what education is about nowadays. Not to anyone that's noticed it isn't the 18th century anymore.
And even if the Chronicle did care enough about its true range of constituents to open access to them all, they remain largely hamstrung, rhetorically, by the monologue model of traditional journalism and academic scholarship. True, the Chronicle does maintain some forums where readers can talk back, but (if you do have privileged access) compare the Chronicle's static article about Gee with a comparable report from the more open and open-minded Inside HigherEd. The latter, using a Web2.0-enabled publishing platform, not only gives a report on Gee's talk; it sports a series of spirited comments that compliment or correct Gee, probing issues and making references that (despite the inevitably mixed nature of such comment sets) truly deepen the report, connecting it as no monologue media can or will. In this case, the Inside HigherEd comments include allusions to past academic reformers of note (such as Robert Hutchins, whose theories and actions from 60 years ago now seem newly relevant) and connect this speech to people and institutions involved in effecting real change now (such as Daniel Bennett, Administrative Director at The Center for College Affordability & Productivity). From a purely academic point of view, I would call that a more responsible (and interesting) rhetorical mode of public discourse.
The title of my post puns ironically. I'm not stating that the Chronicle is going bankrupt; I'm saying that the extinction about which the Chronicle reports is more its own than academia's generally--because of how it chooses to enclose (and so dispose of) knowledge, or of the relevancy of what it is reporting, anyway. And as the Chronicle persists in its restricted-access monologue to academic elites, it will increasingly take itself out of the game of effecting change, becoming a mere "chronicle" of a dying age, collapsing on its self-congratulatory obsolescence. After all, if the anticipated reform is as far-reaching as reported, why does the Chronicle keep its report from reaching very far?
Because its owners and editors are trapped, like traditional academic journals are trapped, in a business model (based on an obsolete print paradigm) which dictates that costs be recovered at the point of distribution--something possible only through restricting access. This is so customary that it proceeds unquestioned, despite the fact that restricting access is fundamentally antithetical to the spread of knowledge that is, purportedly, the goal of the industry that the Chronicle "serves"; despite the fact that alternatives exist. Good alternatives, looking better all the time.
Because of that fact, change makers will route around the Chronicle of Higher Education, just as students are bound to route around institutions of higher education, once they realize that it is both easier and more productive to do so. How long can the Chronicle keep its subscription base when the likes of Inside HigherEd are serving the same constituents better? The answer is, until those elitist educators who have bought into monologue media are no longer at the helm. And if Gordon Gee is an indicator, that might not be all that long.
Is the Chronicle of Higher Education its own obituary?