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Sep 11, 2023Liked by Daniel W. Drezner

Skeptical but not (yet) dismissive UF faculty here who was in the audience for one of the presentations he has made of his "big ideas." You are right to be skeptical of Sasse, but the quote was a bit unfair by withholding context for his buzzwords. Sasse did define them, kind of, in his talks, and probably did so to Sokolove. David Gian-Cursio deciphers them, mostly correctly, below. (This is not to defend Sasse's use of buzzwords, just to say that he's smart enough to know that they need definition.)

There are local issues that Sasse was attempting to address with them, the most important of which are that:

- UF is located in a slightly remote, non-hip college town where it is difficult to recruit star faculty who attract big public and private grant funding and professional students, all of whom are important sources of revenue, unlike undergraduates, because...

- Florida's insane budget model allows the legislature to artificially set low tuition that is pleasing especially to middle and upper-middle class parents, and then it appropriates money on an annual basis to make up the shortfall. The university loses money on every undergraduate student, which is great politics (UF and other state universities are so cheap!), and then state funds (sometimes, often with strings attached) makes up for the shortfalls using regressively structured state revenues. This what enables our miserable higher education politics: the universities are entirely beholden to the Governor and legislature for their funding.

To his credit, Sasse both sees these facts and is willing to call them out with a request that we can raise our tuition -- a willingness that I think will ultimately put him in jeopardy of losing the job, which will only be much worse for UF. To get undergraduate education right, the university has to deal with these deep structural issues, and while Sasse seems willing to do some confrontation with the legislature regarding the budget model (though that's a risky endeavor), his go-to move in order to "solve" them is to make the university more corporate: expand its footprint to other parts of the state with professional, para-professional, and graduate programs, rely more heavily on especially private grant corporate funding, etc.

To address your understandable criticisms: Sasse was only discussing classic undergraduate education as part of a much broader vision of a university whose main purpose is to prepare its students for the workforce and connect its faculty more squarely with external funding. He does refer -- albeit too rarely for my tastes -- to the classic undergraduate model of liberal arts education, and the expense and difficulty of achieving it at the contemporary public (corporate) university. But it's not where he is currently spending his efforts and developing his Big Thoughts. So I don't think the Sokolove article was quite fair in failing to contextualize that particular unfortunate quote (which Sasse should have realized would be placed out of context) or the larger dilemma that UF faces besides the obvious one of a hostile Governor and legislature.

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“...unbundle cohorting, community and synchronicity from co-localities” seems fairly coherent for business-jargon (I've been spending a depressing amount of time on LinkedIn recently). I think he's basically talking about Zoom University. Making it so "cohorting" (a bunch of students of mostly the same age and life-experience), "community" (the student body interacting amongst themselves socially), "synchronicity" (everybody in the same class goes at the same time) and "co-localities" (that all happens in one physical location) will no longer be what makes the college experience, so it doesn't matter that he's a distant tyrant who isn't showing up at UF itself, since the whole concept of college is soon to be obsolete.

Which seems misguided, since "cohorting" and "community" in a "co-locality" are what people love about attending college, and once you've got a bunch of young adults all in one place for the purposes of learning, you may as well have them do that together, too, rather than trust them to watch recorded lectures on their own time. Sasse seems to be enthusiastic about a depressing techno-future where universities as we know them are eliminated in favor of low-cost, low-effort distance learning programs, and young adults can just figure out how to live independently, manage responsibilities, get along with other people, and make friends on their own time without any kind of society-wide halfway-house coming-of-age institutions.

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Ideas aren't an "industry," any more than humans are "capital." The trend over the past 20-ish years to commodify education - in response to GOP-driven policies which defunded education in general, and particularly higher ed - has eaten away at the very foundation of what education is for: teaching people to think analytically and critically, so that the ideas which come of it are worth pursuing.

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A bit of introspection about why the American people are increasingly turning away from your vision of what a university should be and do might be a good place to start.

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With all due respect, "piss right off" sounds pretentiously British and we have a perfectly acceptable American alternative which you surely considered.

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MC's are useful only for large companies with a lot of friction/bureaucracy.

Basically, management consultants are good for 2 main tasks:

1. Winning political fights ("see, upper management, my project really does require 12 months and not laying people off; the expensive consultants you paid for say so").

2. Conveying knowledge across a big bureaucratic org/to upper management ("upper management, we can explain what department X does in 20 slides and this is why they are invaluable").

Anyway, Higher Ed in this country does face a headwinds and reckonings (HS grad numbers are already dropping in some states and will be either level or worse 15 years from now everywhere besides, ironically, FL). Pretty much all higher ed will de facto become privatized and the funding probably will come more and more from the Federal government in a roundabout fashion via Federal student debt write-offs. Not great for cost containment and frankly, completely wacky. Masters will be the new undergrad.

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Management consultants have no skin in the game, to use a phrase from Taleb. If all of them magically disappeared tomorrow, impact on the economy would be nil, at worst. More likely it would be positive.

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I think this shows that McKinsey-ite approaches to the academy and the overt destructiveness of DeSantis are actually pretty compatible. The consultancies want to fragment the professoriate into a thousand tiny deprofessionalized little bits so that some of those bits can just be tossed out and the other bits can be done by some low paid "knowledge designer" and facilitated by some low paid "classroom supervisor". They have a lot of partners in that enterprise--that's at least one major wave of administrators added in the last two decades, people who are being used as the chisel of deprofessionalization.

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