Peter Wood postulates an amusing, though far-fetched view of higher education in the year 2030 in this National Association of Scholars piece. My question is what becomes of the ability of students to advocate their views in the marketplace of ideas? Wood finds that future universities will be online exclusively and that the physical campuses of old will be turned into “entertainment complexes catering to America’s main international industry, casino gambling,” “assisted living facilities for the elderly,” or “youth detention centers and low-security prisons.”
I suppose if Wood’s theory proves true, college students of the future will use the Internet for communicating their ideas, much like they do today. Though, I wonder if the private corporations that operate Facebook, Twitter, and the like will continue to allow such open discussion. And do we want to place such decisions in their hands? Regardless of their good intentions to keep the Internet open and free, the Constitution does not restrain these private entities like it does public institutions. (Although, many public colleges and universities today don’t comply with the First Amendment as required to, so maybe there’s little to lose.) Nevertheless, even if students of the future are not speaking on physical college campuses, perhaps, as Wood suggests, they will be speaking in their home towns and become agents of change in the real world.
Who knows what the next 20 years in higher education will look like. I doubt the traditional college will fade away so quickly–after all it has existed for centuries. But as we look forward we must ask, “are we increasing the ability of students to speak equally?” I hope that in 20 years, the answer is, yes.