After Arthur Andersen, Enron, Bear Stearns, Bank of America, Standard & Poors, and the current global economic problems, should we look to business people for accurate forecasts of any kind? Clayton Christensen presupposes that higher education is a business, and he wants us to listen to his predictions about education. Public institutions of higher education do not have profit as a goal, and many of them receive tax dollars because people agreed long ago that higher education is a public good, something they do not wish to abandon to the results of a cost-benefit analysis. Granted, that financial support has been diminishing steadily. Parents and their students, at least the ones with whom I communicate, do not wish state funding of public higher education to dwindle to nothing, leaving universities and colleges to compete the way Microsoft competes with Apple. Does Harvard, Mr. Christensen’s home institution, see its mission as putting Yale “out of business”? The premises with which Mr. Christensen conducts his recent writing about higher education are deeply flawed, agonistic, and deliberately divisive. He encourages what he calls “disruption.” Christensen’s view is to shift funding for education to where the numbers are, and to slash programs and majors that do not generate profit.
This is the place to mention a pertinent moment on “The Daily Show.” One of the guests, a person who worked on a television program, was bragging that his cable show had the highest ratings of any other. Mr. Stewart then pointed out that the guest might want to rethink what it means that a large number of people opt for a particular product. Stewart said, “I was not aware that ratings equaled quality. I am going to reassess my feelings about the show Three’s Company.”