The Promise and Peril of the Virtual University

  • Ali Shezhad Zaidi State University of New York at Canton
Keywords: higher education, activism, workplace activism, academic freedom, virtual universities, digital learning


At its inception three decades ago, digital learning seemed to promise access to quality higher education. The physically disabled (i.e., a paraplegic vet who could commute to local colleges only with difficulty) would be able to take online courses at home. Adults with little leisure time (i.e., a single mother with two dead-end jobs and no daycare for her children) could earn a college degree at night, on weekends, or between work shifts. But while it gave instructors flexible schedules, no work commutes, and the opportunity to teach in pajamas, online education also allowed administrators to lower faculty salaries. If a mere one thousand dollars could not induce anyone within fifty miles of a college to teach a certain course, then instructors might now be lured from farther away. In addition to lowering labor costs, online education allowed universities to forego expenses for maintenance, energy, and physical plants.

Virtual Universities, Digital Activists, and their Discontents