Twofish's Blog

June 17, 2006

To get rich is glorious….

Filed under: academia, massachusetts institute of technology — twofish @ 7:23 pm

A great deal of the reason I'm "pro-commercialization" is that my experience has been that the "anti-commercialization" rhetoric of academia justifies some very not-nice things when it comes to the sciences.  It creates a "priesthood mentality" in which status is determined by devotion to the cause, and in which grad students and post-docs are grossly underpaid in relation to the contributions that they provide.

I'm not asking to be fabulously wealthy (although it is nice to know that I could be if I did a few things different), but I don't think it is unreasonable for a physics Ph.D. know that they can have an upper middle class lifestyle doing something related to physics.

One thing that biases the discussion is that most of the people in the discussion about what to do are in the system, and a lot of the people outside the system have given up.

A restriction on use for non-profits isn't a big deal if you happen to work in a non-profit, but if you are on the outside, and have no hope of getting in, it looks a lot like a restrictive cartel (because it is).  

And the "we're non-profits so we are nice guys" doesn't wash.  Non-profits spend as much time fundraising as commercial institutions, and then can be just as exploitive of labor (graduate student, post-doc, and undergraduate) as commercial institutions.  The financial pressures are somewhat different, but MIT is driven as much about money as an institution like Capella University or the University of Phoenix, and giving MIT a greater right to courseware seems rather unjustified on the basis of principle.  (The fact that UoP is willing to give me money to let me teach there whereas MIT isn't, may color my judgement.)  Poverty is also not an excuse, MIT has huge cash reserves and has a hand in some very lucrative business, and its really hard to say that MIT with billions of dollars in its bank accounts is more deserving of a subsidy in the form of access to courseware than Twofish Enterprises Inc., a Texas for-profit S-corporation that has about US$100 in its bank account.

I should point out that I need to remind myself not to put too much energy into arguing these points.  Things would be *very* bad if it turned out that the NC-restrictions would forever prevent courseware which I can use from being developed.  They won't.  If MIT OCW doesn't have any commercially usable courseware, it will slow things down for about a two or three years, but eventually duplicate unencumbered courseware will be produced. 

Lead.  Follow.  Or get out of the way.  I have enough emotional attached to the place, that I'd really like MIT to lead on this.

The questions I'm more interested in are not what should happen (since everyone has an idea about this), but what will happen (which is an objective question that is empirically testable).  I do suspect that once one or two faculty somewhere in the world make wikimedia an integral part of their courses, that it will be the spark that lights up a huge conflagaration.  Right now I'm too busy to light that spark, but if no one else has done it in the next eighteen months, I'll reactivate my University of Phoenix adjunct teaching status, start teaching the Intro to Astronomy course, and put all of my course … notes.. (hits head on wall) 

Ohmygoodness…..  I just realized that I have a huge amount of course notes that I haven't put online yet.  Maybe I will light the spark next week.

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1 Comment »

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    Comment by Sureshg — January 7, 2007 @ 4:52 am


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