Last week The Nation published a review article by Columbia University professor Andrew Delbanco. The piece surveys a range of books about higher education in the present, along with some futures work. Happily, it all starts with my Academia Next:
In January 2020, just days before the first case of Covid-19 was identified in the United States, Bryan Alexander, a scholar at Georgetown University known as a “futurist,” published a new book, Academia Next: The Futures of Higher Education. Alexander made no claim to clairvoyance, only to “trend analysis and scenario creation.” But one of his scenarios showed startling foresight:
Imagine a future academy after a major pandemic has struck the world…. Would distance learning grow rapidly as people fear face-to-face learning because of perceived contagion risk?… How would we take conferences and other forms of professional development online?… Would athletes refrain from practice and play for fear of contagion, or would both institutions and the general public demand more college sports as an inspirational sign of bodily vigor in the context of sickness and death?
By the spring of 2020, these questions were no longer hypothetical. Classrooms emptied as “distance learning” became almost universal. Conferences moved online. Some athletic programs canceled competition, while others kept up normal play and travel (and partying) despite the risk.
(For the curious, I’ll point you to my blog post about this scenario)
From there the author ranges across a stack of books and a score of topics, probing higher education for weaknesses and strengths. Delbanco returns to my work a few more times, once to cite the “Retro Campus” scenario, and another time to compare futurist work to “playing with a Ouija board.” Such are the risks futurists run.
Overall, it’s a rich and thoughtful review article which points out a bunch of good books. I’m glad to have appeared in their company.