Friday, 28 October 2016

Academic and Civic Conversations


The following is a introduction and rough transcript of a Harmony Luncheon made at the Pure Land Learning College in Toowoomba, Australia. During the presentation I frame some of the qualities of the university that seem to pose challenges to its ability to effectively dialogue with the broader community, while also emphasising the critical importance to do so.

“Education is essential in building a country 
and in guiding its people. Cultivation of 
oneself is the foundation; teaching 
is the first priority.”

Venerable Master Chin Kung


Early in August of 2015 I was invited to make a short presentation at a Community Harmony Luncheon at Pure Land Learning College in Toowoomba, Australia. As I am now preparing to make another presentation in the coming weeks for a related group, I thought that I should review what I said more than 14 months ago to see if my thinking has progressed and to ensure that I do not repeat myself (too much). Although I authored this post a while ago I hesitated in posting it, but on review I decided to make it available. I would like to start by providing just a little background about Pure Land. The College was founded in 2001 by the Venerable Master Chin Kung, for the purposes of:
Modified from Original  in the Public Domain
Wheel of Dharma
Modified from Original
in the Public Domain
  • providing a good learning environment for students who aspire to learn and practice Pure Land Buddhism and the teachings of ancient saints and sages, and
  • to nurture and train Dharma propagators and protectors.

The topic of the presentation was on the roles that dialogue and engagement play in social harmony. When invited, I enthusiastically accepted. I have been involved with a number of events hosted at the College in which members of the community participate. I feel compelled to say that I have always enjoyed the time spent at the College, but that would only be a half-truth. I have actually found my time there special. I have felt a rather intangible quality of sincerity among that community that I have found in few other places.

Although I struggled just a bit on how I would approach the topic, I decided to talk a bit about some of the challenges that non-academic communities frequently have while attempting dialogue and engagement with universities–and perhaps how that impacts the role of (some) universities relative to social harmony.

During the presentation and during the ensuing discussion, I tried to raise 3 principal points.
  1. Universities engage in academic and civic dialogues, which nurture and build on each other. The relationships between these dialogues are frequently not well understood, but are very important to both the university and the community.
  2. Universities, broadly speaking, have two parts. The university itself is the scholarly community that identifies with the university, which can be thought of as the thing itself, while there is also the organisational vehicle that supports the thing that takes a corporate form. Borrowing from a bit of light mythistory expressed by Ernest Kantorowicz, a medievalist serving at UC Berkeley following World War II, I frame the university fundamentally as a community of scholars and students. Everything else is the “body corporate,” which is designed to support the purpose of the university, but is not the university itself.
  3. Universities are purposeful, and their purpose is tied into the notion of conversation. In fact, universities can and have been defined as conversations. I refer to Bartlett Giamatti’s framing of the university as a conversation, once again, principally between students and teachers and the broader community. I have inferred that the nature of the conversations within the university among scholars have a different quality than some of the conversations with the broader community. Still though, the conversation is the connection with community and in it the fundamental opportunity for a university role in social harmony.
DeAnza Community College Mural
Aaron Gustafson - (CC BY-SA 2.0)
I identified the body corporate as the university-corporate in an attempt to draw attention to the changing nature of the university as a participant in society and perhaps making more explicit the corporatization of the university and the decades-long shift in balance of viewing university education as a public good to a private benefit.

The closing message is that if

  • the university is a conversation and 
  • the conversation is between students and teachers contributing to a community of scholars and 
  • that conversation is extended to the broader communities in which the university participates,

then it is important for the community to understand the nature of the conversation and the differences between engaging with the university and the university corporate.

I have included a transcript of sorts from the presentation below.

Dialogues and Engagement - Keys to Social Harmony

Pure Land Learning College

Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia

August 5, 2015


In the spirit of reconciliation, I would like to acknowledge that we are meeting on the land of the Jarowair and Giabal people who have been custodians for many centuries. We acknowledge their living culture and unique role in the life of this region.

I want to thank Venerable Wu Ping, Haniff, and the Pure Land Learning College community for the opportunity to participate in this Community Lunch. I have been asked to share a few words on the nature of conversation and engagement and some of their relationships with social harmony.

Starting the Conversation

To be quite honest, I am confident that there are many others in this room and many more who could have been invited to speak who know much more about harmony than do I.

I will start by stating the obvious. I can hardly imagine social harmony without trusting and respectful relationships that are built on authentic conversations. These would be conversations conducted with honesty, humility, and transparency by people who are willing to exhibit courage.

With that said, I have been told that it is best to talk about what you know.

I know a bit about the nature of universities, so I would like to start a discussion about the ways that universities tend to engage, why we can be so frustrating at times, and how we contribute to civic life, social capital, and hopefully harmony.

In doing so, I am going to assert that universities have a civil life as well as an academic life. Frequently there is no clear distinction between the two and academics themselves may not realize how these two roles relate to each other.

So we should probably start at the beginning.

Practically, the unique purpose of the university is to foster a culture of critical questioning, sharing it with our next generation of students, and nurturing a critical impulse in the broader society.

If we do nothing else, universities ought to be a model of critical culture – holding themselves to the highest and most exacting standards, constantly dialoging, constantly challenging and defending the current and assumed state of knowledge.

In very many ways this is the principal function of the university, and frankly it may seem to have little to do with harmony – at least in the short-term.

While showing intellectual leadership publicly, universities absolutely value academic methods of questioning and engaging in the logic of change, we willingly submit to the scrutiny of our peers, and resist illegitimate external pressure or personal economic impact.

At their best, universities value participation in the broader society, disseminating new knowledge, taking inspiration from what happens outside of our campuses, asserting the values of the academy, balancing the inherent tension between academic objectivity and engaging in topics that are inherently value laden.

Although conservative in many regards, universities are by definition progressive in spirit. They strive to discover truth and meaning, but in very many ways the academic mission and methods of the university are challenged by how things are outside of the university, are challenged by the pace of change, the pressure to make quick and easy decisions based on our emotional responses to events as they are revealed to us.

At our very worst, the university responds by withdrawing from society when faced with those things that challenge us most, but from which we all have the most to gain.

University culture tends to be deeply suspicious of revealed truth. This suspicion tends to distance the university from common and popular culture.

Even so, it is absolutely critical that the university engage with common and popular culture, and to do so through an active and respectful dialogue. A dialogue that helps build the social capital necessary for sustained social harmony.

Let’s move on with a simple question. Given the critical and conversational academic nature of the university as just described, what does it mean for a university to have a civic role? One that builds social capital.

And here is our first lesson – as frustrating as it might be…

-photographer.Uploaded by We hope at en.wikipedia - eBay itemphoto frontphoto back. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons -
"20 questions 1954"
DuMont Television/Rosen Studios - Public Domain
Starting something, anything, everything, with a question is a uniquely academic trait. It is a quality that excites other academics, raises a cautious smile from seasoned university administrators, and tends to baffle and frustrate many others outside of the university fellowship.

It also points to the unique nature and purpose of the university. Although there are others in all types of organisations who ask questions, there perhaps are no others who love questions so much as those who inhabit universities.

Questions and conversation are important parts of university life, serving not only as principal sources of inspiration and the fundamental tools of intellectual trade. But they also serve as the university’s unique and defining quality.

As such, the purposes of the questions we ask and the ensuing conversation are tied to the fundamental purpose of the university and are frequently implied in university missions.

The questions of highest quality lead to conversations that are at times enjoyable and even playful, sometimes uncomfortable and confronting, but when posed in the university they are always purposeful.

And those within the academic community who are most able to pose purposeful questions and lead the evolving conversation, engage colleagues, students, and the broader public, while also using the methods of discovery refined within the disciplines with fidelity, are those who fulfil the fundamental university purpose most ably.

Arguments judged as well-reasoned and compelling by peers are rewarded, while arguments that captivate the imaginations of the public transcend the university. And frequently, it is through a series of questions, arguments, discovery, and teaching that society experiences the university.

You will note just how internally referential the university impulse is and how much work it must be to retain its civic role in light of the demands that its academic role make on its members.

If we are going to ask about the university’s civic role, we really do need to eventually ask ourselves about the nature of the university. After all, a conversation is more likely to happen if we know something about each other.

So, what is the university?

I will start poking at what the university is by referring to a story about Ernst Kantorowicz, a scholar who in the early 1950's was at the centre of a loyalty oath controversy at the University of California where he served as professor.

It is through Kantorowicz’s story that we can identify one perspective of what the university is, and perhaps through that perspective better anticipate why the university behaves in particular ways.

While serving the University of California, Dr. Kantorowicz was asked and subsequently refused to sign a loyalty oath. He had at least two general reasons for refusing to sign.

First, but not foremost, oaths according to Kantorowicz, have an insidious way of restraining inquiry and speech.

Second, although Kantorowicz acknowledged that the State of California had the authority to demand oath signing of its employees, including those at the University of California, it did not have the authority to ask it of the professoriate. To this second point Kantorowicz asserts that...

"There are three professions which are entitled to wear a gown: the judge, the priest, the scholar. This garment stands for its bearer's maturity of mind, his independence of judgment, and his direct responsibility to his conscience and to his God. It signifies the inner sovereignty of those three interrelated professions: they should be the very last to allow themselves to act under duress and yield to pressure. 
Why is it so absurd to visualize the Supreme Court justices picketing their court, bishops picketing their churches, and professors picketing their university? 
The answer is very simple: because the judges are the Court, the ministers together with the faithful are the Church, and the professors together with the students are the University. Unlike ushers, sextons, and beadles, the judges, ministers, and professors are not Court employees, Church employees, and University employees. They are those institutions themselves, and therefore they have certain prerogative rights to and within their institutions which ushers, sextons, and beadles or janitors do not have."

The point here is that the professors and students are fundamentally different from employees working for and contributing to the university-corporate: they are the thing itself.

They stand outside of the employer-employee relationship, and ultimately it is the thing that must regulate itself. At least at some level, this is to help ensure the existence of conditions necessary for the university to fulfil its academic and civil roles.

The university-corporate has become increasing important in the contemporary university. It is defined by the growing number of administrators, professionals, and academic mangers - of which I am one - that are now required to run the university corporation.

And it is important to recognise that the University-Corporate is not the university itself.

The university-corporate is intended to serve the university and its purposes. So, within the context of the university’s purpose, the university-corporate is an organisation designed to support the purpose of the professoriate and students.

And the purpose of the university is to learn, advance our understandings of truth through critical questioning and discovery, and in so doing growing our knowledge, improve our practice, and enriching human life.

And how is the university purpose realised?

Great university leaders have spoken passionately about the role of conversation in maintaining the relevance and purpose of the university. Bartlett Giamatti, former president of Yale University had frequently described the university as conversation.

The Conversation
Public Domain
It is important to note that he did not choose to define the university as an institution in which
conversations happen, or as a place friendly to conversations, or that it is a place that incites conversation – although it clearly has these qualities

Instead he defines the university as a conversation.

And Giamatti indicates that important conversations, such as those that impact human life and promote harmony are the types of splendid and serious conversation that is a great university.

According to Giamatti the university conversation is one between students and professors, across ages, overlapping with itself - building and challenging culture, while over time associating ideals with realties.

Conversation is the slow and steady way that universities together with society grow knowledge. And it is through this conversation that the university contributes to sustained civilisation.

So, what happens when the conversation goes silent?

When Giamatti posed this question, as have many others, he was not referring to absolute silence, but instead he is referring to the absence of critical and reflective dialogue.

He was referring to a dialogue engaged with broader society.

A dialogue that the university needs to have about itself with itself and with the public.

When this dialogue is absent, the university loses its vitality and loses its relevance. And society also loses the benefits of the university voice.

So you see, it is important for the wellbeing of the university and for society to maintain a vibrant dialogue, and to nurture critical conversation about important topics.

It is also important to note that although the academic and civic roles of the university may be discussed separately, they cannot flourish without each other.

It is important that we all, as members of a society that value civil discourse leading to better understanding, respect, and dignity serving as the very foundation of harmony, not only understand the academic and civil roles of the university, but that we can also distinguish between the university as a vibrant conversation and the university as a corporate entity.

Engage with the university conversation, with the students and the professors.

Exercise your influence and help the university remain relevant so the university can take its special role that blends academic values with civil life and help build social capital.

Do not confuse the university with its buildings, mangers, grounds keepers, its commercials and tag lines, and other parts of the university-corporate. Doing so will frustrate our best efforts and honestly, will make for a very boring conversation.

- End and Questions...

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Open Public Broadcasting Services: The Good, Bad, and Ugly of a Public Funding Discussion

A recent article published in the Sunday Sydney News, titled 'Dreadful and appalling': Government senator slams idea of ABC paywall, serves as a backdrop for a broader discussion about the potential of open public broadcasting services (OPB). An argument is developed in which OPB better serves the public than do the knowledge restriction schemes that are discussed in the article. Well-funded public broadcasting coupled with bipartisan public leadership is needed for a public-minded conversation leading to progressive public policy concerning public funding of public broadcasting. The problems and opportunities that are described are shared by many publicly funded knowledge creation and dissemination organisations harbouring public good values and missions. Perhaps the problem described for public broadcasting serves as an invitation for a broad and robust program of discussion and action among public broadcasters, universities, libraries, and other sympathetic organisations.


Used under the doctrine of Fair Use
Australian Broadcast Corporation
 Used under the doctrine of Fair Use
Every once in a while I read a story that presses a lot of buttons. A few nights ago I came upon a newspaper article, by Latika Bourke, courtesy of the Sunday Sydney News, titled 'Dreadful and appalling': Government senator slams idea of ABC paywall. It is a very short article and is probably worth reading for a few reasons. Practically, it touches on an ongoing debate that has been occurring in many countries for a number of decades. It is principally about the role of public broadcasting and the nature of its funding, with a hint of rhetorical conservative political partisanship.

The earliest recollections that I have of the public broadcasting debate in the US extend to the Reagan era in the 1980s. Not surprisingly, due in part to half a century of reiterative and self-referential neoliberal political follow-the-leader, the tone and the script has remained intact across the decades and the continents. Here in Australia the conversation about public broadcasting, particularly public television, was (re)activated and brought to public pitch as Tony Abbott’s conservative Liberal National Party (LNP) government swept into office in 2013. I know that the debate was active before then and it remains so under the political influences and civic vision of the Abbott-free LNP.

I have chosen to read and interpret the “Dreadful and Appalling” article as a broader commentary about the nature of publicly funded culture creation, public good, and commercial affairs. There are four main characters in the article including:

  • Michelle Guthrie: former Google executive who has been recently appointed as Managing Director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). Guthrie identifies three approaches to managing ABC programming and content. They include erecting paywalls, increasing commercial advertising, and committing to digital first distribution.
  • Fiona Nash: National Party Deputy Leader serving in the Australian Senate for the state of New South Wales, former Assistant Minister for Health in the Abbott Government and currently serving as the Minister for Rural Health under the Turnbull Government. Nash criticises Guthrie's proposal to erect paywalls, providing a public good argument.
  • Julie Flynn: Chief Executive Officer of FreeTV Australia and longtime political journalist and media executive. Flynn criticises Guthrie's proposal to increase commercial advertising, providing a commercial protectionist argument.
  • Peter Costello: Currently Chairman of ECG Financial Pty Ltd, which is a boutique corporate advisory firm. Costello is formally a perennial Member of the Australian House of Representatives representing the Liberal Party of Australia for nearly 20 years starting in 1990 and Treasurer in the Howard Government for more than a decade starting in 1996. Costello criticises Guthrie's proposal to pursue a digital first approach to program and content distribution, providing a confusing and apparently nonsensical argument.

The criticisms reflect the good, bad, and ugly of thinking on the topic of publicly funded knowledge. Within the context of the “Dreadful and Appalling” article, each of these individuals, Nash, Flynn, and Costello, reflects a position on funding public knowledge. I do not know if the positions presented in the article are fair, typical, or consistent with the views that they have previously expressed. I do not know if those views conflict with other things that they have said or represented elsewhere. I do not know of any ulterior motives latent in their statements that may or may not exist. But I do see examples of good, bad, and ugly thinking.


Apparently as part of a plan to manage the estimated 36 billion dollar hole in the 2016 Australian national budget, it is assumed that the ABC will be facing significant decreases in public funding during the coming 5 years. Guthrie, speaking in her new role as ABC Manager has indicates that she wants to

  1. erect pay walls around content to raise additional revenue,
  2. increase levels of commercial advertising at the ABC, and
  3. aggressively pursue a digital first strategy for the ABC.

Nash's, Flynn's, and Costello's objectives leave room for a different approach to thinking about the value of publicly funded knowledge that should at least appease Nash and Flynn. Part of rationale that Guthrie has adopted is that she needs to exercise initiatives that make-up the difference in forthcoming public funding and needed expenditure for the ABC to fulfil its mission.

None of Guthrie's recommendations should be particularly surprising given her background at Google. Online would seem petty natural, as would commercial advertising, and surly she would have had plenty of exposure to costumers using pay walls for limiting access to content. The interesting part of the “Dreadful and Appalling” article is the responses that these recommendations received.

The Good…
Minister Fiona Nash, responded rather negatively to Guthrie’s first proposal. As a public servant with an eye turned toward probity and the common-sense use of public funding, she objected to charging the public for assets that they had already paid for through their taxes and transferred through government allocations made to the ABC. Nash's response Guthrie's plan to erect paywalls is that
It's a dreadful idea, Australians have already paid for the ABC once why should they pay for it again?... That regional people could miss out on regional content because they would forced to pay for it is appalling." - Fiona Nash

Once again, this righteous and common-sense position might actually engender a little faith, even among the most cynical observers, in the spirit of public mindedness among some politicians. That is, so long as the progressive attitudes of those politicians extend to a commitment for appropriate funding levels for public broadcasting.

Assuming the best intent on the part of our elected representatives of the public good, I would though suggest that in addition to not intentionally limiting access to publicly funded programming we actually advocate for increasing creation and access. Along these lines, why not make publicly funded programming and content open, reducing legal as well as practical barriers to use and distribution? After all, public is public, and if the public is underwriting the expense to create and distribute the ABC content and programming, why not maximise its value to the public directly? The whole cycle makes sense.

  1. The ABC receives public funding through annual appropriations. 
  2. The public benefits from its investment in Open Public Broadcasting services (OPB) though the creativity and expertise applied by the ABC staff and mediated through their professional discretion as servants of the public good, and reflected in their programming, services, and content. 
  3. The programming and content created is then made available openly to the public for unfettered reused, modification, and distribution in the public domain.
  4. The content now in the public domain once again benefits the public, but this time for their direct benefit unmediated through the ABC as a public agency. 
  5. Increase value is created through open public use, including the potential for entrepreneurial activities generating tax revenues.

With appropriate licensing, something like under something like  CC-BY or CC-BY-SA, and appropriate distribution channels, perhaps something like the Internet, the value generated could be maintained for many cycles.

Unfortunately, I suspect that the idea of OPB would require more “public mindedness,” and perhaps courage than has been generally exhibited among elected servants of the public good. Australian politics are as partisan as those in the US, and a truly open Public Broadcasting Service would require the government, representing the interests of the whole public to fund the OPB at levels that assume little syndication and reselling revenue. While it is true that some traditional revenue streams would be reduced, others may emerge through value-added services if that is appropriate, but it would clearly provide opportunities for others to generate value and potentially taxable revenue on the public investment. At the end of the day though, the argument needs to be about improving quality of life and civic capacity, which is kind of the point of any public service. In short, political budget-makers would need to fund the ABC at levels that allow the ABC to forgo short-term revenue generation schemes like paywalls, in lieu of long-term investment in knowledge for public good. Incidentally, the public good includes providing the openly available content necessary to support commercial and entrepreneurial activities and develop new value creation models based on changing assumptions about intellectual property restrictions on public goods.

The Bad…
Now that we really don’t need paywalls, we can turn to Guthrie’s proposal to increase commercial advertising. My principal concern with this proposal is that as commercial advertising becomes more important to Public Broadcasting we all run the risk of creating full-length commercials masquerading as public or educational broadcasting designed to take advantage of the trusting public. That is, we run the risk of having another commercial culture creation entity posing as producer and curator of public knowledge. That being said, my concerns are obviously misplaced and quite naive, as the principal objection to more commercial advertising that is made in the article, is not at all about protecting public interests. It is about protecting the pecuniary interests of commercial broadcasters, as is clearly articulated by Julie Flynn the CEO and spokesperson of FreeTV Australia, an industry and lobbying group for commercial broadcasters.
"Commercial free-to-air broadcasters invest significantly in local content, and we would oppose any changes to the ABC that would result in metro and regional broadcasters having to compete for advertising dollars with a very generously funded broadcaster," – Flynn

On the upside, if this is the principal opposition to commercial advertising for ABC, then FreeTV, should logically support appropriately funded Open Public Broadcasting. If appropriately funded, ABC would not need to extend beyond traditional sponsorships, commercial broadcasters would not need to compete with ABC for limited advertising dollars, and perhaps profits increase for commercial broadcasters, additional tax revenue is generated, excellent public broadcasting services are provided, and everybody is happy.

So, perhaps Open Public Broadcasting actually addresses a few concerns and forces a non-partisan discussion across multiple interests about public investment, in public knowledge, for the public good.

The Ugly…
Having made paywall restrictions and commercial advertising unnecessary, this leaves us with the last of Guthrie’s proposals; digital first, which is the only proposal that actually creates value for the public. Although digital distribution is part of the ABC Charter, reactionary business interests and politicians whose motives we must take with some healthy scepticism, are still questioning the idea of public broadcasting entering the age of digital creation and distribution. For example, Peter Costello is actually reported to have asked,
Why does the ABC need to be across all this different media? Why does the taxpayer need to fund a competitor in an internet space that is crowded with private operators? … There are so many things that taxpayers are asked to pay for. How high, as a priority, is digital communication and entertainment? - Costello

Wow... Oddly enough, I am left a bit speechless – I think bewildered. I do not think that I have anything to add to Costello’s statements that is not already painfully obvious. They do though call into question if the rest of us need to recalibrate the conversation and our expectations for progressing a meaningful public dialogue that is meant to progress the public good. Is it possible to seriously discuss public policy and the economics of OPB, when public figures are seriously questioning the appropriateness of publicly funded knowledge and culture finding a home on the most broadly accessed and openly available communication system available? Could Costello possibly be articulating a message that public knowledge has no place in the public commons? Is he expressing a latent attitude that the Internet is not a place for the public, but instead should be reserved for private commercial use? Is he suggesting that the Internet is little more than a forum in which commercial interests do competitive battle for market supremacy, as his quotation indicates? Is his vision widely shared and highly regarded?


To be fair, I have not thoroughly researched the nuances of the ABC, or the histories and the long-standing attitudes of Guthrie, Nash, Flynn, or Costello. Perhaps they have been misquoted in the few articles that I have read.

Regardless, it seems clear that some voices are louder and more organised than others. The ABC, like FreeTV, and other organisations have well-established ways of influencing policy. It would be great to see one of these influencers seriously take up the topic of open publicly funded knowledge and put away the idea and odd logic that we need to restrict access to public knowledge to generate revenue to produce more restricted knowledge. Instead we need to articulate our values and goals in ways that reject the cycle of restriction and scarcity and substitute it for one of growth and abundance. I suspect that there are other publicly supported culture and knowledge creation, preservation, and dissemination organisations including libraries and universities that have common interests with public broadcasting. These are organisations, along with museums, galleries, archives, and public theatres that are meant to support vibrant social life and civic capacity. Perhaps together, with and among organisations with common values and exercising a shared voice, the notion of a public open knowledge economy will find fertile ground.


'Dreadful and appalling': Government senator slams idea of ABC paywall

MYEFO: Budget deficit increases to $37b as Government releases economic update

About The Licenses (including cc-by and cc-by-sa)

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Fiona Nash, Senator Page

Peter Costello Page

Free TV

Creative Commons Licence

Open Public Broadcasting Services: The Good, Bad, and Ugly of a Public Funding Discussion by Ken Udas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Fee-Free, Stigma-Free, and Open Education

In a recent commentary in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Kenneth Warren and Samir Sonti made an important point about the stigmatising effect of anything that is made freely available based on personal financial need. They point to the problem of creating a stratified "welfare education" system that will likely undermine the public good value of free college.  In addition to considering the logic of free education, it is also worth considering the benefits of open education, and asking why fee-free college and open education are critically important and not being discussed together as part of the same public policy debate. 

Kenneth W. Warren and Samir Sonti, posted a commentary in the Chronicle of Higher Education on December 16, 2015 titled Nobody Should Have to Pay to Go to College. I think that it is worth a quick read (it is a short article) and the main point of the commentary deserves some thought. Reading through the arguments and putting aside the objections to free college, I believe that the central point of the article is that a free college education, like any other investment in a public good ought to be stigma free. The authors express this notion succinctly, pointing out that,
[t]he first step to stigmatizing the idea of the public good is to divide the citizenry into those who need help and those who don’t — a move that only masks certain forms of public assistance (tax breaks) while making other forms (Aid to Families With Dependent Children) markers of irresponsibility.

I am making a point of this, because I think that it is the point of the article, and it seems to be one that is easily missed. Perhaps most commenters on the Chronicle site looked past this point because the objections to free college or university education are a bit incendiary. 
  • The first objection was economic. Free education would be a waste of public funds because the college dropout rate is currently so high.
  • The second objection was also economic. Public funds for free college education should not be available to those who can afford to pay. 
Interestingly the first argument might be construed as supporting the idea that education is a public good, while the second objection is logically an argument that education is a private good. The reasonableness of both objections really needs to be considered alongside an assessment of the aggregate private and public benefits that individuals and society enjoy by participation in and graduation from college. If those aggregated benefits exceed the total costs, then free education is a good public investment regardless of either argument. The idea of free education is best framed in terms of an investment in social progress and personal wellbeing, rather than as an entitlement of citizenship or a reward for previous service. That is not to say that higher education is necessarily the best investment on the long list of important public good investments, although it might be, but it is at least a place to start the public policy discussion. I do not think that we need to assume that the best investment is in 4 year degrees, or elaborate athletic programs, or we need to assume that free education necessarily means open admission to every public college or university. All of these and many other topics need to be rationally discussed as part of the public policy debate.

Free Cooper Union CC BY-SA 3.0
Free Education To All Banner - Free Cooper Union
CC BY-SA 3.0
It seems to me that in any event we ought to be considering how the transaction costs associated with fee-free college can be decreased in order to increase the net public and private benefit. This simple point recognises that fee-free college is not cost free. We are after all talking about the redistribution of income, which is a serious commitment. We all have an obligation to ensure that public funding is spent responsibly and effectively. To Warren’s and Sonti’s point, I would suggest that there are a number of transaction costs associated with stigmatising fee-free college education. First, there are the emotional and social costs associated with stigmatising any group. There is a personal cost of overcoming the stigma of accepting something free that may be considered inferior by some simply because it is free for those who cannot afford it, which might even decreasing its market value artificially. There are also transaction costs for the government, universities, and students. They take the form of regulation, compliance, and enforcement necessary to ensure that only those who qualify for “welfare education” have access. Although costs associated with the oversight of public funds are essential, stigma and related compliance costs are unnecessary and counter productive. They can be easily addressed by adopting the principle that a public college education ought to free to all, because it is good for all - so long as the aggregate benefits are greater than the total costs. Recognising "stigma costs" is a good contribution to the discussion, as they seem to get little meaningful attention or consideration.

I would suggest that a discussion about open education more broadly is worth considering in this context as well. Theoretically using open and free educational resources whenever practicable should reduce the transaction costs of acquiring, sharing and managing educational content. For example, today, if I were to assign Herbert Crowly’s The Promise of American Life for a history or political science course, I could order it from a vendor carrying a distribution from a proprietary publisher and it would cost students about 25 USD per copy. Alternatively, I could refer learners to the Internet Archive and they could download it for no cost as it is in the public domain. To the extent that the cost of books and other learning materials can be reduced, the overall transaction costs for access to education can also be reduced. Likewise, if we believe that university professors provide a benefit to students by designing their courses and providing structure, assigning particular readings, posing thoughtful questions, and making meaningful assignments that help guide learning, why would we not want to make those artefacts freely available to self-directed learners for their benefit? That is, if we do believe that some students are more likely to learn more effectively when engaging in a structured course of study than she or he is without any guidance, then we might realise additional public good coming from reducing the transaction costs to learners who are not registered at a free university, but are engaging in self-study. The costs are reduced for learners and spread across different types of learners, while the benefits are increased by providing access to anything that can help support learning and access generally.

Much of this is not novel. There are many examples of open course content and open curriculum. Much of it is rather vocational in nature, and much if it is not terribly well designed for independent learning, but it is available. We are fortunate to be seriously discussing fee-free education at this time at a national level, in public, with passion, and with urgency. A cursory scan of the 80 plus comments posted on The Chronicle site to Warren and Sonti's commentary illustrates that there are perspectives on the topic and those willing to contribute to the conversation. Everything about this conversation is complex. Topics for example, ranging from education financing, faculty autonomy, academic integrity, credentialism, perspectives on private and public good, measurement of educational impact on society, assumptions about equity and welfare, and the consequences of tax burden, are technically complex, value laden, and emotionally charged. That is, they are not simple conversations and they do require participation from a range of interests.

In the United States, Democratic nominee candidates, Sanders and Clinton both have free-college proposals on the table. It would be wonderful if during the next 24 months free college is assumed and the discussion turns to debate over the details of various plans. For example, we might be exploring the relative benefits of integrating service learning into the curriculum of all public education; the possibilities of promoting citizen science at an international scale to stir interest in STEM and provide open data supporting educational, social, and commercial progress; and the practicalities of making resources funded by the public available to the public. All of these topics have the potential to generate additional public good benefits that are lost when educational access is restricted, framed exclusively as a private good, and closed. It is important that before any proposal is adopted and refined or dismissed and taken off the table it is subject to the type of rigorous and critical debate necessary for the development of well-crafted and thoughtful public policy. One of the arguments for free and open public education is to ensure that as a society we have the civic capacity to engage in this and similar debates.

If we can have a serious and critical discussion at the national level about fee-free college, why can we not have a similarly serious discussion about Open Education for those attending a public university and for those who want to study independently?  Is there an underlying logic that supports not only free college for all, but open access to publicly funded educational resources - as a matter of practical and sound public policy?


From The Chronicle of Higher Education, By  December 16, 2015.

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Fee-Free, Stigma-Free, and Open Education by Ken Udas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Alternative Phrasing


Cory's habits and arts of an educated person are a shared responsibility of teachers and students. They are the foundation for a liberal education and necessary for the exercise of public intellectualism. There are things we ought to be thinking about and doing to ensure that Cory's habits and arts are meaningful parts of university life. This is the third posting in a series that started with Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Foundations for Liberal Education & Generic Graduate Attributes, and Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Behaviours Indicative of Self-Knowledge.

Annoyance with the unavoidable complexities of genuine 
teaching and learning is expressed as insistence that 
educational relationships submit to the scientific 
paradigm, with an increasingly aggressive 
response to any who would question or 
depart from this submission. 

-Stephen Rowe on mangerialism and the art of teaching


As indicated at the end of my last posting Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Behaviours Indicative of Self-Knowledge, I am not sure that I made many improvements to Cory’s original phrasing of the habits and arts. In fact, with the exception of the habits of discrimination, mental courage, and mental soberness, I am sure that most of them could just stand as they were originally stated. I do think though that the brief description that follows each habit or art will make it easier for teachers to develop approaches that strike at developing capabilities and behaviours that support both liberal and professional learning.

So here goes...


The Habit of Attention.
The habit of applying ones mind to an idea, observable phenomena, or artefact long enough to understand it for the purposes at hand. An educated individual will exercise the habit of paying attention for appropriate durations of time, considering relevant information and disregarding irrelevant information actively as time passes.

The Habit of Engaging in Structured Critical Conversation. (formally "The Habit of Submitting to Censure and Refutation")
An educated individual will exercise the habit of constructing arguments, accepting criticism of their statements and arguments, expecting and preparing for a counter argument, and in turn critiquing the counter argument as appropriate.

The Habit of Considering the Accuracy of Facts, Arguments, and Conclusions. (formally "The Habit of Regarding Minute Points of Accuracy")
An educated individual will exercise the habit of critically and rigorously calling into question the accuracy of the statements of others and those she or he has made or is considering.

The Habit of Planning and Acting in Accordance to what is Possible in a Given Amount of Time. (formally "The Habit of Working Out What is Possible in a Given Time")
An educated individual will exercise the habit of considering, planning, and scheduling activities with full consideration of time dependencies. This extends to factoring the implication of time into ones own arguments and while considering the arguments and suggestions of others.

The Habit of Discerning the Qualities of a Thing or Behaviour and Forming an Opinion Accordingly. (formally "The Habit of Taste")
An educated individual will exercise the habit of discerning the characteristics of things, ideas, and behaviours and assessing their quality appropriately within pluralistic cultures.

The Habit of Identifying Differences and Similarities Among Things or Behaviours, Making Judgments, and Forming Opinions (formally "The Habit of Discrimination")
An educated individual will exercise the habit of articulating the differences among things and behaviours, and when appropriate applying the differences to the choices the individual makes.

The Habit of Consciously and Rationally Behaving in a Manner that May Put Oneself at Risk for a Broader Good or Principle. (formally "The Habit of Mental Courage")
An educated individual will exercise the habit of expressing ideas, engaging in conversation, and knowing acting in ways that may put her or him at risk for an ideal or principle.

The Habit of Disciplined and Responsible Thought and Expression. (formally "The Habit of Mental Soberness")
An educated individual will exercise the habit of applying appropriate levels of discipline and judgment when considering topics and making decisions.


The Art of Changing Ones Mind, Frame of Reference, and Paradigm with Little Notice. (formally "The art of assuming at a moment's notice a new intellectual posture.")
An educated individual will possess the ability to modify her or his worldview appropriately given their situation and access to previously unknown data or information.

The Art of Applying Intellectual and Emotional Empathy to Another Person’s Thoughts. (formally The art of entering quickly into another person's thoughts")
An educated individual will possess the ability to adopt the intellectual and emotional state of another’s thoughts and quickly assess them from ones own and the other’s perspectives.

The Art of Engaging in Nuanced Understanding and Expression in Argument. (formally "The art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms.")
An educated individual will possess the ability to appreciate the nuances of an argument and intentionally respond with appropriate force and intellectual subtlety.


In many ways I am holding the importance and value of Cory's habits and arts to be self-evident. That these are the behaviours and abilities that we want our students to possess at the very least when they graduate from our universities and at the very most when they enter them. I would suggest that they are necessary to engage with others in broader society critically as a public intellectual. As indicated in a recent post titled Liberalising the Corporate University, I believe that open public expression is an obligation for the professoriate within the context of academic freedom. So, exercising the privileges and obligations of academic freedom ought to provide an excellent opportunity for teaching and learning through modelling practice that illustrates the essential nature of Cory's habits and arts and provides fertile ground for learning through practice. Incidentally, it may also reassert the central role of professor and student in university life beyond one that is economic. To nurture this culture as a matter of practice I believe that we need to think about:
Pouring into Cast - CC BY-SA
  • Positing that self-knowledge is an aspirational goal for all affiliated with the university teaching mission, and that Cory's habits and arts are essential to strive for self-knowledge. 
  • Recognising that genuine learning of this nature is inherently personal and value-laden, will look more like mentorship then instruction, and will be more costly than running the university as a foundry.
  • Building opportunities to learn about and practice the habits and arts in each university class.
  • Ensuring that there are opportunities to develop and practice the habits and arts through co-curricular activities at each college and university.
  • Developing and articulating learning objectives in each class that address at least some of the habits and arts.
  • Sharing across academic communities learning activities, learning content, and formative and summative assessments design to grow knowledge and practice of the habits and arts.
  • Map the habits and arts across the curriculum, and at least in Australia include them as part of the generic graduate attributes we expect our graduates to exhibit.
  • Publicly engage with professional societies, accreditors, employers, public funding agencies, policy makers, philanthropic foundations, and others to discuss the nature and importance of public intellectualism, the university, and the fluency of graduates in the habits and arts.

None of these things will happen on their own. University faculty will need to commit to an overriding assumption that the habits and arts are important, as will students. University managers must also understand, support, and allow a culture of open and critical expression take root, in our broader communities, within the University, and essentially within the class and extended learning environment. Building the habits and arts into the curriculum in a manner that promotes prolonged practice with increasing sophistication designed to result in fluency is a good start, but creating an environment in which students and teachers know each other and engage in genuine, critical, and reflective learning and teaching is essential. It is probably obvious that preparing an educated citizenship is more expensive than training a workforce, which means that funding agencies and learners will also need to assess the value that Cory's arts and habits as the foundation of a liberal education provides. For the most part, in many societies our public primary and secondary schools have failed to provide such preparation, are we willing to fund it through higher education?

As always, I welcome comment and would appreciate any suggestions for improving the rephrased habits and arts.


Eton Reform
From Defence of the Etonian system in reply to the criticisms of Matthew James Higgins (‘Paterfamilias’) and Sir J.T. Coleridge. Cf. DNB, v. 22, p. 488,

Standing up to Managerialism

Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Foundations for Liberal Education & Generic Graduate Attributes

Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Behaviours Indicative of Self-Knowledge

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Arts & Habits of an Educated Person: Alternative Phrasing by Ken Udas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.