I've just finished DIY U, by Anya Kamenetz. I won't review the book here (that's more Spinuzzi's thing), but I did want to offer a few quick thoughts.

First, if you're interested in higher education in general, you should read the book. Lots of mostly up to date statistics about trends in higher education economics, enrollment, the rise of for-profit models, etc. I was pleasantly surprised by how current these numbers are, given the rapid rate of change in so many of the areas that Kamenetz addresses.

Also, one of my former doctoral students, Sarah Smith-Robbins, is discussed and quoted extensively over a couple of pages in Chapter 4—very cool for her! Ball State gets a pretty nice mention, too.

Finally, if you know much about me, you know that my perspective on higher education is anything but traditional: I broadcast my dissertation defense live on Ustream and took a couple questions via Twitter; I put my dissertation on Scribd (don't bother reading it—I do much better work now); all of my syllabi are also on Scribd; and much of my research has explored ways to open up the classroom and make higher ed much more explicitly public and participatory (see this, this, and even this, for example).

So I say all that to say this: there's not much here in the way of plausible solutions. There's little hedging or qualifying and lots of triumphalism. And the single biggest issue—accreditation and measurable credit for would-be DIYers—is mentioned a few times, with no realistic solutions. Kamenetz is happy to offer solutions in far more complex areas such as how universities can cut costs, but there's really no plausible solution offered to the core problem of a DIY education: parchment.

I also bristled a bit at some of the language—according to Kamenetz, I'm apparently complicit in a massive "cartel" (p. 118) through my association and support of my university. I think most of us, working day to day with our students and agitating for change in our universities and disciplines (my colleague and friend Paul Gestwicki is constantly thinking deeply about such issues) would bristle at such language, too. I have thick skin, so I'm not shedding any tears, but I did take notice. There's a loose binary that's set up in the book that I simply can't support.

But the most intriguing bit of the entire book, for me, was the last two pages, where Kamenetz formulates her climactic argument by relying upon examples from the heights of the "cartel" she pillories. First, she pulls on research about fish farming that was conducted by folks at the University of Michigan (who, along with schools like Berkeley, Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, have to be kingpins of the higher ed "cartel"). Then, she draws on work from a Washington State University neuroscientist. Again, these examples support her conclusion. Without irony.

So? Research schools supported the kind of very esoteric niche research that she relies on to make her most important points, after spending 130 pages describing how this very system is harmful in myriad ways. In other words, her examples very likely wouldn't exist without the support of schools like UM and WSU.

Still, I think it's a worthwhile read, even though I have my problems with much of the book.


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