Sunday, October 20, 2013

How Sacred Literature Finds You

How Sacred Literature Finds You

While staring out of the library window of Gannon College in Erie, Pennsylvania where I was an undergraduate English major in the contemporary novel seminar of the brilliant Dr. John Roach, I saw a bus pulling into the Greyhound Station. On that bus was Augie March, the eponymous character in Saul Bellow's “The Adventures of.”

I was Augie March, and Mr. Bellow knew me pretty well. Here's how Augie narrated our story:

Thinking this, I told the telegraph girl to forget about the wire, I was leaving town. [Buffalo.]

Not to be picked up on the road in northern New York, I took a ticket to Erie at the Greyhound Station, and I was in the Pennsylvania corner that evening. To get off in Erie gave me no feeling that I had arrived somewhere, in a place that was a place in and for itself, but rather that it was one which waited on other places to give it life by occurring between them, the breath of it was thin, just materialized, waiting. . .

However, as I felt on entering Erie, Pennsylvania, there is a darkness. It is for everyone. You don't, as perhaps some imagine, try it, one foot into it like a barbershop “September Morn.” Nor are lowered into the weeds inside a glass ball to observe the fishes. Nor are lifted straight out after an unlucky tumble like a Napoleon from the mud of the Arcole where he had been standing up to his thoughtful nose while the Hungarian bullets broke the clay off the bank. Only some Greeks and admirers of theirs, in their liquid noon, where the friendship of beauty to human things was perfect, thought they were clearly divided from the darkness. And these Greek too were in it. But still they are the admiration of the rest of the mud-sprung, famine knifed, street-pounding, war-rattled, difficult, painstaking, kicked in the belly, grief and cartilage mankind, the multitude, some under a coal-sucking Vesuvius of chaos smoke, some inside a heaving Calcutta midnight, who very well know where they are.

And I was in Erie, Pennsylvania on the day when I read that passage and in many ways still am although the weather is much more like the Bay area of San Francisco's.

Some time later that same week, my memory tricks me into believing, I met the famous New York guru, Baba Ram Dass, at Mercyhurst College and heard him answer a question about which were the “sacred” texts. His answer was quietly uttered, “Sacred . . . books . . .are . . . uniquely . . . sacred . . . to each . . . individual. . . . You . . .know . . . them . . . when . . . you . . . come . . . across them. . . . In a sense . . .they . . . seek . . . you . . .out.”

What made me think of all of this today, is that the above pictured book miraculously found its way back in the trunk of my car at the bottom of a recycled “Trader Joe's” shopping bag. Apparently my wife had plucked it from a “sharing tree” in Portand, Oregon many weeks ago along with a half dozen, assorted children's books. And I believe that Saul Bellow had left those pages from Augie's journal entry for me to find across the street from that same Greyhound Station those many years before.

And I believe that all the arts become sacred when they catch our reflections deep within their mirrored surfaces and lead us in directions that we would not otherwise have imagined and that their creation and study can be an ends rather than just a means in the fulfillment of our lives. This last sentence I heard from Dr. Roach himself.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Here I Stand

Here I Stand on the Value of the Study of the Liberal Arts

"Nearly all contemporary human problems are more failures of 1) communication, 2) cultural memory, 3) introspection, 4) observation, 5) analysis,  6) interpretation, 7) common sense, 8) integrity, 9) courage to act, 10) civility, 11) compassion or 12) imagination than they are insufficiencies of material means to solve them. Developing these skills is the prime directive of engaging with the liberal arts." 

John Freed, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Humanities
Brandman / Chapman University

A Charter Member of New Media's Gift Economy

The unmediated life is not worth living.”

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Higher education at your fingertips and free as oxygen in the wind

Higher education at your fingertips and free as oxygen in the wind

I'm a repeat and huge promoter of the work of the Saylor Foundation ( ) because of its vast treasure trove of semi-vetted OER's (Open Educational Resources) organized by discrete courses and complete undergraduate programs; Coursera ( ) because of its wonderful array of world-class MOOC's (Massive Open Online Courses) and Open Yale University's complete course lectures from some of the foremost scholar-teachers in America ( ).

Especially note Yale's entire “Understanding Autism” seminar materials at .

This month I am taking a Coursera course originating from the University of Copenhagen entitled – "Søren Kierkegaard - Subjectivity, Irony and the Crisis of Modernity.”

If you can't find anything to stimulate your intellect in the above resources, you may be certifiably brain-dead.

John Freed, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Humanities
Brandman / Chapman University

A Charter Member of New Media's Gift Economy
The unmediated life is not worth living.”

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

How do you get to Broadway?

Q: How do you get to Broadway?
A: Carefully study the Open Access Resources of the American Theatre Wing  below.

In 2012, the American Theatre Wing is celebrating 95 years of service to the American Theatre. For nearly a century, the mission of the Wing has been to serve and support the theatre by celebrating excellence, nurturing the public's appreciation of theatre, and providing unique educational and access opportunities for both practitioners and audiences. Traditionally, ATW has done this by encouraging members of the theatre community to share their off-stage time and talent directly with the theatre audience at large--whether it was singing for the troops in the Stage Door Canteen of the 1940's, or sharing their stories on a podcast today.

Best known for creating The Antoinette Perry "Tony" Awards®, now presented with The Broadway League, ATW has developed the best-known national platform for the recognition of theatrical achievement on Broadway. Yet ATW's reach extends beyond Broadway and beyond New York, with educational and media work that offers the very best in theatre to people around the world. 

Media and Educational Outreach Programs:

  • Working in the Theatre: An acclaimed fixture on New York television and in the theatre community for more than 30 years, this program offers an unprecedented forum for the meeting of theatrical minds and presents a rare opportunity for students and audiences to get a glimpse inside theatre. 

  • Downstage Center: ATW's acclaimed theatrical interview podcast, Downstage Center spotlights the creative talents on Broadway, Off Broadway, across the country, and around the world with in-depth conversations posted to ATW's website and iTunes. In the coming year, listeners can look forward to a rotating cast of interviewers carefully matched with each guest, creating intimate conversations between artists that are not available elsewhere.

  • The American Theatre Wing Archive: Features more than 800 hours of archived media available for free online. It includes all ATW's programming including special feature series like our "Career Guides" that help chart a path for those wishing to work in the field and "In The Wings" that goes behind the scenes to examine how theatre works. Additionally, the archive provides unprecedented public access to media produced by our partner organizations including the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation's "Masters of The Stage" program and the Broadway League's "This is Broadway."

The above introduction to the American Theatre Wing's open-access resources was taken from the following URL – ..

Here is a downloadable interview with Edward Albee from 2001. 

Here is a downloadable conversation with playwrights Lydia Diamond, Suzan-Lori Parks and David Henry Hwang from 2012.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Film School Masquerading as a Website

Are you looking for a film school that you can afford?

It's a click away.

[Note: Sometimes you may need to click on this link more than once, but don't give up. The site is well worth your investigation.]

The "MakingOf" website is constructed and maintained by Christine Aylward and was begun with her friend Natalie Portman.

Above is a sampler from an interview with the Oscar and Emmy award winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, which I am using for a course that I am developing for Brandman University--  ENGU 348: Writing and Producing for New Media in the 21st Century."

Below is another interview from the rookie screenwriters of the hit film "500 Days of Summer" Scott Neustadtler and Michael Weber.

[Note: Sometimes you may need to click on these links more than once, but don't give up. The site is well worth your investigation.]

Another good YouTube film resource is DP/30

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Why knowing about cultural marginalization is important for everyone

I use the following quote from Howard Glickman about the novelist Walter Mosley to introduce the civic engagement exercise in my Intercultural Communication class.

The novelist Walter Mosley, was wonderfully provocative as he reflected on what he calls 'the great equalizing effect of aging.' Mosley, whose mother was Jewish and whose father was black, put it this way:  'White people become black people when they can no longer care for themselves.' The older you get, he added, 'the more you move into the Third World – marginalized by the rest of society.'”

 Aging is the great equalizer and hopefully humanizer.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Literature and Intelligent Living (with pic.)

Here is a great quote about the value of experiencing good literature:

Each good literary work teaches us how to interpret it just as each life experience forces us to interpret its meaning.
In this way good literature is an often entertaining -- and relatively safe -- proving ground for intelligent living.”
John Freed

The author

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Liberal Arts for What They're Worth

What is a liberal arts-based education?

A brief manifesto from the introduction to Dr. Freed's
PHLU 304: Multicultural Ethics class at Brandman University

"Nearly all contemporary human problems are more failures of 1) communication, 2) cultural memory, 3) introspection, 4) observation, 5) analysis,  6) interpretation, 7) common sense, 8) integrity, 9) courage to act, 10) civility, 11) compassion or 12) imagination than they are insufficiencies of material means to solve them. Developing these skills is the prime directive of engaging with the liberal arts." 

The teaching methodology for this course is chiefly “inductive” – posing the significant questions for the start of a set of “threaded discussions,” producing a wide-range of relevant [and hopefully intrinsically interesting] primary materials aided by student commentary through the “discussions” as data to be drawn upon, and challenging students to arrive at their own supportable syntheses and answers through the many short writing assignments and required rebuttals.

Brandman University believes strongly in “discovery learning,” which means that students only truly learn what they discover themselves. “Learn by doing” is squarely in the John Dewey, Jean Piaget and Jerome Bruner traditions. Learn natural or social science by doing experiments and research. Learn art by painting or making a film. Learn writing by writing a poem or short story. Learn ethics by thinking and acting ethically. And all students can access this type of learning whether they are in pre-school, college or graduate school.

The objective of this course is to confront us all with a wide range of real issues that replicate how philosophical knowledge about multicultural ethics is constructed and communicated. The ability to absorb, critique and construct new knowledge is our indicator of a truly educated person. Brandman believes that most of these people have had liberal arts based educations – the kind that you get at Brandman.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Cut Pine Moon

cutting a tree

seeing the sawn trunk it grew from

tonight's moon
Matuo Basho

on the intended ambiguity of poetic imagery
from "The Heart of the Haiku" by Jane Hirshfield read by John Freed:

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A Happy Christmas Present:The best access to free cultural & educational media on the web

“Open Culture” is truly what it self-advertises – “The best free access to cultural & educational media on the web.”

It is the richest and easiest to navigate treasure trove that I have come across for open access to complete major university courses, to streaming classic films, to textbooks, ebooks and audio books as well as language and science lessons that are free for use by instructors or learners or the merely indulgers of art, science and global cultures.

If Tolstoy could learn to ride a bicycle at age 67 without the endless resources of the internet, just think of your unlimited possibilities with them. 

Dr. Freed's Caution: Once you start examining the virtual gems discoverable in “Open Culture,” you might never return to the real world.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Finding Equality Through Logic

Yvette Doss

Pasadena, CA

What follows is a link to my featured speaker of the week, Yvette Doss, for my LBSU 402 class at Brandman University -- "The Ways and Rhetoric of Knowing" from NPR's "This I Believe" series.

This is the prologue for the class.

Listen to Yvette's essay "Finding Equality Through Logic" by clicking on the following URL: .

Friday, September 30, 2011

At Curriki - A Survivor's Guide to College Writing

Free Instructional Materials for Teachers and Texts for Students

Aligned with Meeting State Educational Standards

Here is a New York Times article that will introduce you to "Curriki" -- a great, free curriculum materials resource that can be aligned with individual state standards-- for teachers.

What follows is the URL to the posting of my expository writer's handbook on the "Curriki" website for your edification and re-distribution -- "A Surviver's Guide to College Writing."

You're on your own to explore the rest of "Curriki's" instructional riches.

A Survivor's Guide to College Writing

by Dr. John Freed

click on the following link for this free writing guide:

Friday, September 23, 2011

What Dr. Freed did for his sanity this Summer

click on the image to enlarge

"Tend your own garden, Candide."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Happy Hundredth Birthday, Mr. Tennessee Williams

My dear wife, Stacy, gave me the best gift this past week -- a ticket to a truly riveting performance of Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize winning play, "A Streetcar Named Desire" at the Actors Theatre in San Francisco.

Rachel Klyce as Blanche and Jennifer Welch as her sister Stella did the maestro proud.

The following link is to all of the Bay area's current (Spring - Summer 2011) theatrical productions with bargain ticket pricing to boot.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Internet as Gift Economy: Exemplar 2

OpenOffice with full MS Office compatibility for free


MS Office Suite 2010 for $279

The following is an article on why you might want to consider using OpenOffice 3.3.0 for free instead of paying $279 for MS Office:

Pass it on.

The Internet as Gift Economy: Exemplar 1

Rosetta Stone Language Study – one language for $599

The Gift of Language Study

Choose either:

Rosetta Stone Language Study – one language for $599


BBC Languages for free


LiveMocha Languages for free

Here is an article on why the free LiveMocha is better than the $600 Rosetta Stone:

Pass it on.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Where to Acquire a Library of over 3,000,000 University-Level Books on the Internet:

The University of California at Berkeley Doe Library

University of California's copies of mass-digitized books and serials have been loaded into the HathiTrust, and are discoverable there. In addition, our digitization partners (Google and Internet Archive) also host copies of the UC books they have digitized. In all cases, copyright status determines whether books can be viewed in full. There are many access points where Google and Internet Archive books are surfaced. The following are details of access points for UC items in particular. Over 3,000,000 books have been digitized and are eligible for free downloading. Click on the hyperlinks below to search for and acquire them..


University of California Libraries books and serials in the public domain in HathiTrust are open to all researchers whoever and wherever they may be. Content in HathiTrust is discoverable through both bibliographic and full-text search with no authentication, login, or password required. As it becomes possible to expand access to the materials through permissions or other agreements, other materials will be made available.

Google Book Search

UC Libraries books and serials in the public domain are generally fully viewable and downloadable. UC Libraries volumes made available through Google Book Search that are in copyright are subject to limited views. Google indexes the full text, but does not serve or display the full-sized digital image or make available for printing and/or download unless Google has permission or a license from the copyright owner to do so

Internet Archive

UC Libraries books and serials in the public domain are generally fully viewable and downloadable. Internet Archive offers a variety of viewing options, including the Flip Book reader which recreates the experience of reading a printed book.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Another Holiday Present -- Mark Twain's Autobiography vol. 1

One of the biggest events in academic publishing this year is the release of volume 1 of Mark Twain's Autobiography by the University of California Press. The hardcover edition is currently out of stock at and discounted at $19.22. The Kindle ebook version is available for wireless downloading at $9.95.

But the best news is that the entire electronic book, along with scholarly editions of "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and "Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Among the Indians" is available free of charge at the following University of California Library website:

This is my additional holiday present for my blog followers.

Have a Happy Christmas!

John Freed

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Media Distraction Factor in Education

Every prospective teacher or parent of middle to high school-aged children should watch the following video:

The Media Distraction Factor in Education

from The New York Times:

"Fast Times at Woodside High" (Nov. 20, 2010)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tour of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel

Posted by Picasa
Click here for a 360 degree tour of the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Patrick Stewart in "Macbeth" and Ian McKellen in "King Lear"

Macbeth on PBS

Click on the following URL for the complete PBS performance of “Macbeth” starring Patrick Stewart.

Click on the following hyperlink to watch the full episode.

Watch PBS's "Hamlet"

Watch PBS's Great Performances 2010 Production of "Hamlet"
Patrick Stewart as King Claudius in "Hamlet"

Here is the link to the performance: Great Performances -- Hamlet

Also Watch "The Making of PBS's Hamlet":

Watch the full episode. See more Great Performances.

A Reading by Jamaica Kincaid at MIT
Jamaica Kincaid

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Reading by Seamus Heaney at MIT

Seamus Heaney

Saturday, July 10, 2010

You Need This -- Open Access Navigation to Media on the Web

This link will get you started to over 400,000 internet accessed videos:
Connect to Clicker.

This link from PC World explains what it is and why you need it" Clicker Hands-On: Web Potatoes, You Need This

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Open Access Educational Resourcing from Columbia University

For an in-depth explanation of the issues and best practices for using open content media for educational purposes, link to the following URL:

It's the entire 2007 conference on video.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Happy Christmas, 2009!

Click on image to enlarge card.
photo collage by John Freed

A Lunar Christmas Gift Link

from John Freed courtesy of Jeanette Winterson and the BBC

in commemoration of the 40th Anniversary
of the first U. S. moon landing and an
exemplar of a noted novelist's integrating art, culture and science

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A Poem Be

I'm one of the ones who constantly hear the music in poetry and smile at the words.

What follows is a nice explanation of the "thing in itself" that good poetry is by Billy Collins and the violations that most bad teachers and students of poetry so often inflict upon it. With an appreciative acknowledgment to Jeanette Winterson. Her fruitful website is located here:


by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a colour slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
And feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

As Archibald MacLeish so adroitly put it, "A poem should not mean / but be."

Exactly the same thing should be said about music.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Summer Gifts from the Internet for My Media Courses

Chapman University College

(July 2009)

Examples of "iTunes University" and Free [Gift] Economies of New Media

1. Summer Mix gifted by partnership of iTunes and Stanford:

2. Stanford on iTunes:

3.Media Convergence documentary for Harry and the Potters:

4. Chris Anderson, editor of Wired Magazine, state of New Media's Gift Economy: (free audio version of the book “Free.”

5.The State of Media Education in Canada:

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Dr. Freed Comments on Edutopia Question

What is so patronizing about this week's Edutopia question [“Does teaching low-performing and high-performing students together benefit the whole class?”] is that it contains a caste-ing notion of "low-performing" and "high-performing" students as if they were genetically determined.

Learners are simply "learners" with the success of their performance often having more to do with the quality and imagination inherent in teacher assigned tasks and their readiness for them and interest in them than with individuals' supposed aptitude.

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs would have surely washed out of their doctoral programs, for example, while most Ph.D.'s don't even realize that anything exists outside of tiny measurable boxes.

I teach adult-learners who wish to complete their undergraduate and / or graduate educations. Nearly all of them were labeled at one time or another "low-performing" students. And I'm sure that tattoo across their foreheads was an impediment to their return to higher education. Their current learning profiles, however, equate to the honor students I have previously taught at traditional universities.

As Shakespeare wrote, both the "readiness" and the "ripeness" are more necessary for actualization than the "groupness." Ok, ok, he never used the word “groupness,” but you get my drift.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Observe and Listen to James's Faith

Observation / Listening Exercise:

An effective observation/listening assignment is to have my class transcribe all of James's statement in this video and comment on the quality of his faith in God as well as the following questions:

Is he a nobody and therefore not credible or someone that we all could learn from relative to dealing with adversity? Is James a manifestation of Richard Wright's “Man Who Lived Underground” --“I am the statement”?

The YouTube link to James is the following URL:
Video used with permission by its creator, my wife, Stacy Alexander Freed.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Farewell Gifts to my Chapman Classes

Learn a Language for Free: Another Gift from the Internet

“I personally use both of these resources to learn Spanish. It is my parting gift to my Chapman classes at Walnut Creek and on-line this year.”

endorsement by John Freed. Ph.D.

1. BBC Languages / Spanish – “Mi Vida Loca”:

2. LiveMocha / Language plus Social Interaction:

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Gift from the Internet

The most delightful free service that I have come across on the internet is Pandora Radio.

You can exactly match your background music to your mood.


A Gift from New Media for Educators

As part of a recent fund raising pitch by San Francisco’s premier public radio station KQED, the announcers directed their listeners to this site on the radio’s web-page which I had previously not known about.

I found this a particularly effective way to raise contributions since it demonstrated how much KQED was itself “giving back” to the community.

It is a perfect example of new media’s “Gift Economy” at work. From KQED - San Francisco click on KQED Education

Note that contributions to public radio and television are actually referred to as gifts and are both voluntary and tax deductible.


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Very Important Alert for Higher Educators

The following is a "reprint" of a commentary piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education:

What Colleges Should Learn from Newspapers’ Decline


Newspapers are dying. Are universities next? The parallels between them are closer than they appear. Both industries are in the business of creating and communicating information. Paradoxically, both are threatened by the way technology has made that easier than ever before.

The signs of sickness appeared earlier in the newspaper business, which is now in rapid decline. The Tribune Company, owner of the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, is bankrupt, as is the owner of the The Philadelphia Inquirer. The Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer are gone, and there's a good chance that the San Francisco Chronicle won't last the year. Even the mighty New York Times is in danger — its debt has been downgraded to junk status and the owners have sold off their stake in the lavish Renzo Piano-designed headquarters that the paper built for itself just a few years ago.

All of this is happening despite the fact that the Internet has radically expanded the audience for news. Millions of people read The New York Times online, dwarfing its print circulation of slightly over one million. The problem is that the Times is not, and never has been, in the business of selling news. It's in the print advertising business. For decades, newspapers enjoyed a geographically defined monopoly over the lucrative ad market, the profits from which were used to support money-losing enterprises like investigative reporting and foreign bureaus. Now that money is gone, lost to cheaper online competitors like Craigslist. Proud institutions that served their communities for decades are vanishing, one by one.

Much of what's happening was predicted in the mid-1990s, when the World Wide Web burst onto the public consciousness. But people were also saying a lot of retrospectively ludicrous Internet-related things — e.g., that the business cycle had been abolished, and that vast profits could be made selling pet food online. Newspapers emerged from the dot-com bubble relatively unscathed and probably felt pretty good about their future. Now it turns out that the Internet bomb was real — it just had a 15-year fuse.

Universities were also subject to a lot of fevered speculation back then. In 1997 the legendary management consultant Peter Drucker said, "Thirty years from now, the big university campuses will be relics. ... Such totally uncontrollable expenditures, without any visible improvement in either the content or the quality of education, means that the system is rapidly becoming untenable." Twelve years later, universities are bursting with customers, bigger, and (until recently) richer than ever before.

But universities have their own weak point, their own vulnerable cash cow: lower-division undergraduate education. The math is pretty simple: Multiply an institution's average net tuition (plus any state subsidies) by the number of students (say, 200) in a freshman lecture course. Subtract whatever the beleaguered adjunct lecturer teaching the course is being paid. I don't care what kind of confiscatory indirect-cost multiplier you care to add to that equation, the institution is making a lot of money — which is then used to pay for faculty scholarship, graduate education, administrative salaries, the football coach, and other expensive things that cost more than they bring in.

As of today, there's no Craigslist busily destroying the financial foundations of the modern university. Teaching is a lot more complicated than advertising, and universities have the advantage of sitting behind government-backed barriers to competition, in the form of accreditation. Anyone can use the Internet to sell classified ads or publish opinion columns or analyze the local news. Not anyone can sell credit-bearing courses or widely recognized degrees.

But the number of organizations that can — and are doing it online — is getting bigger every year. According to the Sloan Consortium, nearly 20 percent of college students — some 3.9 million people — took an online course in 2007, and their numbers are growing by hundreds of thousands each year. The University of Phoenix enrolls over 200,000 students per year. In one case, the dying newspaper industry itself is grabbing for a share of the higher-education market. The for-profit Kaplan University is owned by the Washington Post Company.

And it would be a grave mistake to assume that the regulatory walls of accreditation will protect traditional universities forever. Elite institutions like Stanford University and Yale University (which are, luckily for them, in the eternally lucrative sorting and prestige business) are giving away extremely good lectures on the Internet, free. Web sites like Academic Earth are organizing those and thousands more like them into "playlists," which is really just iPodspeak for "curricula." Every year the high schools graduate another three million students who have never known a world that worked any other way.

Some people will argue that the best traditional college courses are superior to any online offering, and they're often right. There is no substitute for a live teacher and student, meeting minds. But remember, that's far from the experience of the lower-division undergraduate sitting in the back row of a lecture hall. All she's getting is a live version of what iTunes University offers free, minus the ability to pause, rewind, and fast forward at a time and place of her choosing.

She's also increasingly paying through the nose for the privilege. Few things are more certain in this uncertain world than tuition increasing faster than inflation, personal income, or any other measure one could name. People will pay more for better service, but only so much more. And with the economy in a free fall, more families have less money to pay. The number of low-cost online institutions and no-cost alternatives on the other side of the accreditation wall is growing. The longer the relentless drumbeat of higher tuition goes on, the greater their appeal.

Institutions that specialize in their mission and customer base are still well positioned in this new environment, much as The Chronicle is doing a lot better than the Rocky Mountain News (RIP). Tony liberal-arts colleges and other selective private institutions will do fine, as will public universities that garner a lot of external research support and offer the classic residential experience to the children of the upper middle class.

Less-selective private colleges and regional public universities, by contrast — the higher-education equivalents of the city newspaper — are in real danger. Some are more forward-looking than others. Lamar University, a public institution in Beaumont, Tex., recently began offering graduate courses in education administration — another traditional cash cow — through a for-profit online provider, with the two organizations splitting the profits. It's an innovative move and probably a sign of things to come.

But the public university still looks like something of a middleman here — and in the long run, the Internet doesn't treat middlemen kindly. To survive and prosper, universities need to integrate technology and teaching in a way that improves the learning experience while simultaneously passing the savings on to students in the form of lower prices.

Newspapers had a decade to transform themselves before being overtaken by the digital future. They had a lot of advantages: brand names, highly skilled staff members, money in the bank. They were the best in the world at what they did — and yet, it wasn't enough. The difficulties of change and the temptations to hang on and hope for the best were too strong.

That's a problem for more than just newspaper shareholders. A strong society needs investigative journalism and foreign bureaus. It needs knowledgeable local reporters who can ferret out corruption and hold public officials to account, just like it needs faculty scholarship and graduate programs and even an administrator or two. Undergraduate education could be the string that, if pulled, unravels the carefully woven financial system on which the modern university depends.

Perhaps the higher-education fuse is 25 years long, perhaps 40. But it ends someday, in our lifetimes. There's still time for higher-education institutions to use technology to their advantage, to move to a more-sustainable cost structure, and to win customers with a combination of superior service and reasonable price.
If they don't, then someday, sooner than we think, we're going to be reading about the demise of once-great universities — not in the newspaper, but in whatever comes next.

Kevin Carey is policy director of Education Sector, an independent think tank in Washington.
Section: Commentary
Volume 55, Issue 30, Page A21