Jane Shaw’s article, “The Ivory Tower: Crumbling From Within?” featured in the June 2009 edition of Perspective, shares the thoughts and ideas of famed entrepreneur and education maven Jeff Sandefer, as shared at an Atlas Economic Research Foundation forum where Sandefer was the keynote speaker.
Shaw begins by pointing out Sandefer’s notable ability for prediction, noting that Sandefer in 1996 predicted the collapse of Enron Corporation; she goes on to examine Sandefer’s credibility in both business and education, drawing attention to the fact that Sandefer is the mastermind behind the successful and original Acton School of Business. Shaw uses these claims of credibility to set the stage for what she appears to believe is a convincing argument for the eventual collapse of academia’s ivory towers.
According to Shaw, Sandefer predicts that the corruption he sees in America’s current academic world will eventually lead to a collapse of the entire system. And why? Because, Shaw quotes Sandefer as saying the world of higher education today is “union-dominated, bureaucratic, out of touch with its customers, and out of touch with reality.” And to Sandefer, the principles of the free market make up the foundation of successful education.
Shaw succinctly explains Sandefer’s feelings regarding higher education today: education should be customer-based. To Sandefer, it’s as simple as that. And to Shaw, Sandefer is far from being a mere armchair educational diagnostician: in Shaw’s view, Sandefer actually puts his principles into practice. Shaw points out that at Sandefer’s own Acton School of Business, students are expected to treat their education as an investment, evaluating their teachers weekly and struggling to remain on the positive end of a curved grading system. This structure has led to the Acton School’s place near the top of the Princeton Review business school ratings.
Shaw later goes on to assert that Sandefer doesn’t just condemn the “pedagogy of arrogance” rampant in higher education today; Sandefer actually practices the opposite, or what Shaw terms “pedagogical humility.” Shaw provides this example: while most providers of higher education are focused on prestige and money, Sandefer genuinely concerns himself with making knowledge available to everyone. Sandefer is currently in the midst of creating a series of highly affordable online classes designed to make business accessible.
Shaw concludes the article by pointing out that even Sandefer recognizes that academia’s ivory towers were built to be strong. And yet, as Shaw writes, “continued bureaucratic rot from within, combined with innovation and disaggregation from the outside, may finally bring [those ivory towers] down.”