On Campus

If you build it, will they come?

Bill Gates should start his own elite university, says one educational policy thinker

In this week’s issue of The Chronicle, Kevin Carey, director of an educational think-tank in Washington, D.C. is publicly running an idea past the world’s richest man. “Two words,” he writes. “Gates University.”

Although the idea is a 19th-century one (Stanford, Duke, Rice), Carey facetiously prods William Gates III, the holder of approximately $40 billion in net worth, to build a university unlike anything the world has ever seen.

Plus, with the billionaire’s recent work trying to improve high school education in the U.S., which is proving to be difficult, Carey says higher education is an elite market with far less competition.

So, what is his vision for Gates University?

  • “It wouldn’t be wholly virtual. A university needs a physical center, a beating heart, a place where students and teachers come together and learn.”
  • Admission? “No legacy admissions, once you start having legacies. No buying one’s way in, no gentleman’s agreements with wealthy private high schools that admit the “right” kind of students. No bias against striving ethnic groups, no special considerations for senators’ sons.”
  • “No preferences for athletes, because Gates University won’t be running a pro football team on the side.”
  • “Maybe professors will have Ph.D.’s, maybe they won’t. If a really smart person drops out of college, founds a phenomenally successful business, and decides to turn toward education as a way of giving back, he or she would be welcome to apply for a job. You, for example, would be qualified to teach at Gates U.”
  • “There would be no tenure, obviously. I assume you never thought it was a good idea at Microsoft — why have it here? Nor would you sequester faculty members into departments organized around academic disciplines. The world can get by without one more English department or college of business.”
  • “How would you grant credits at Gates University? You wouldn’t. At least not the way colleges normally do, based on time in contact with professors. No credit hours at Gates U., no degrees based on the number of years enrolled. Instead you’d describe in great, public detail all of the knowledge, skills, and attributes that students pursuing a given course of studies would need to acquire.”
  • “How many students would you serve at Gates University? As many as you can. That, more than anything, would truly distinguish the university from all others.”

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