By Drake McFarlane /// Backdoor Editor
Online courses are edging their way into our territory here at Lewis & Clark and I, frankly, am not happy. Recently, President Barry Glassner and the Strategic Initiative Fund Executive Council approved a set of projects for the 2013-2014 year, one of which was a proposal to develop an online LL.M. postgraduate law degree in Animal Law at the Law School. Now, on the surface, this seems fairly innocuous. After all, how does an online course in legally saving animals affect us here at CAS?
It’s a signal of a trend toward a cheapening of our education. The advent of online courses have changed how administrations view classes forever. They are cheaper, less labor intensive and can reach a larger audience. Best of all, they can still charge exorbitant tuition fees. This project is just a stepping stone towards more online-only courses and mark my words, if it’s a success, they’ll make the leap from the Law School to CAS and the Graduate School.
Now, online courses aren’t all bad. For non-traditional students, particularly older adults just returning to school, they are incredibly useful and flexible. However, a school billing itself on a liberal arts education, with face-to-face professor/student contact and rigorous course standards, should not also endorse online classes. First of all, online education as it stands at present is not nearly up to the level of having a highly skilled professor and a challenging course of study. Until we have a digital Socrates as an online professor, one who is able to adapt dynamically to a student’s needs, as well as serve as a reliable source, online classes will remain subpar for the liberal arts experience.
What I see as the real danger behind this is that it signals a shift from the school’s core values. It’s a small shift, yes, but a very real one. Times are tough for universities, and will only get tougher for liberal arts schools as students question the value of such an education. Corners must be cut somewhere in order to remain ‘competitive’. But the problem I find is that measures like these are short term fixes. The college may survive this storm, but in doing so, lose its guiding compass. That hurts us, future alumni, for the college in the future reflects upon us. The school, whether you like it or not, is now a part of our identity. Letting it sway and lose what makes it unique is detrimental to us and students of the future.
I urge caution towards these types of classes, for they come from the ilk of for-profit universities like U of Phoenix or DeVry. Those degrees are cheapened by those college’s policies and methods. Those schools have their place and so does ours. Lewis & Clark is a liberal arts school and it should stay that way. That’s why I and many others came here. Let’s hope we remember that when the time comes.