Parts III and IV
Parts III and IV feel like the authors’ most distinctive contributions, as they discuss digital universities and administrative issues of accreditation, academic freedom, university governance, Big Data research opportunities for improving administration at the institution and inter-institutional levels, and the changing roles of registrars and librarians (both of which have been profoundly affected by the shift to digital systems). Regarding accreditation, the authors recount controversy over accrediting online (especially for-profit) institutions, wherein accrediting agencies, the U.S. government, and the general public have scuffled over what ought to legitimize a higher education program and how key disputes have led to refined data collection and assessment while significantly altering the relationship between accrediting agencies and the government. In speaking of academic freedom and governance issues, the authors negotiate power dynamics and the shift from faculty governance to business-management models.
Here the authors walk a tricky line, arguing for the preservation of academic freedom and some form of tenure, while advocating for strong “business and technology decisions that can position university growth and stability” (105). Big Data, they note, can help us make those decisions, as we increasingly have access to unprecedented amounts of information that can reveal enrollment and graduation trends, student performance and responses, and more. Of course, all this information comes in a digital flood, and the authors look especially at registrars and librarians as those who have had to deal with those changes on the front end, managing Big Data about students and about research. Ultimately, the authors argue for shifting our model from one centered on either teaching (faculty) or bureaucracy (managers) to one that is learning-centered, open to preserving the past while embracing positive disruptions and change.