The Age of the Personal Bathroom Pod

We commend to your attention Cohen Quadrangle of Exeter College Oxford which has boldly adopted a system of personal bathroom “pods” which are pre-constructed off site to provide each resident with his or her own personal bathroom.

This long overdue innovation will save countless hours of time waiting for sinks, toilets, and shower stalls that have long been the bane of most residence halls. No longer will students find themselves in contention over who can use the facilities or face embarrassment from stray odors or wardrobe malfunctions.

This bold civilizing innovation will be a core element of any housing systems we adopt for our new institution.

This critical convenience be a major incentive in recruiting top students.

For an extended treatment of this topic, see The Modular Building Institute‘s monograph Saving Time With Modular Bathroom Pods.

Collegiate Gothic

When we think of University Architecture several styles spring most readily to mind. Of these Collegiate Gothic offers the most powerful evocation of the University’s Medieval roots. This style emphasizes verticality with pointed arches and ribbed vaults, narrow windows, and in some cases gentle nods to the flying buttresses that enabled European Cathedrals to span broad spaces without succumbing to the outward forces transmitted through the arch onto their exterior walls.

The style is executed to best effect in narrowing the focus of the mind to things academic and timeless when used to construct fully enclosed quadrangles, perhaps with a cloister ringing their interior.

Princeton (6035183309) Princeton University’s Holder Hall with the tower of Rockefeller College

The Range of Legal Considerations We Will Face

As we begin to think about how to re-envision The University of the Future will need to address a whole host of legal issues ranging from how to apportion ownership of intellectual capital developed by the community to the most appropriate business form or forms for the enterprise.

Perhaps the deepest legal and pedagogical question we will have to answer is whether we want to purse the legal authority to charge tuition and issue traditional academic degrees.

If we opt to do so, we will be subjecting ourselves to multiple Federal and State regulatory frameworks and reporting requirements and binding ourselves to play under accreditation rules controlled by established academic institutions whose political and economic self-interests would not likely align well with ours. While the quality of our graduates would no doubt make the withholding of accreditation untenable in the long term, there would no doubt be several classes of graduates whose credentials would not initially be recognized.

If we don’t use the name University​*​ or attempt to issue degrees as such, we will be placing our students at relative disadvantage unless we are in the position to directly or indirectly assure them of gainful near term employment in such a way as was to help them spin off their own sustainable businesses or to provide them with a resume entry that corporate employers at large will view as being of comparable or superior value to a formal degree .

This raises a host of Tax Law considerations vis-a-vis the desirability of seeking a Section 501(c)(3) Not-for-Profit Public Charity designation from the Internal Revenue Service. If secured, this status would make our project vastly more appealing to those high level donors whose philanthropy is a function of their Tax Planning, while also subjecting us to sever restrictions on what kinds of profit making activities our Students and Researchers might engage in under the direct auspices of our institution per se. We may of course be able to structure each activity in such a way as to secure a Private Letter Ruling that it is not in fact generating Unrelated Businesses Income. However this will entail a very close reading of the applicable law and any cases arising from its application.

This discussion only scratches the surface of the many legal considerations that will come into play, which suggests that having our own College of Law capable of performing this sort of analysis in-house would be highly desirable.

  1. ​*​
    Under States’ Corporation Law, corporate name choice is quite sensibly restricted to prevent deceptive and/or confusing practices like masquerading as a institution of higher learning when one is not. This is why without even considering the question of issuing academic titles, one doesn’t have to contend with one’s local dentist branding his practice “The College of Advanced Dental Technology” or an accountancy firm billing itself as a “Acme Legal Services”.

The New Media Reader

To chart our future course it is critical that we not loose sight of the best ideas of the past, particularly where they have fallen out of fashion.

The New Media Reader​*​ (ISBN: 978-0-262-23227-2) edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort is a critical volume assembling such classic papers as Vannevar Bush’s “As We May Think”, J.C.R. Licklider’s “Man-Computer Symbiosis”, and Douglas Engelbart and William English’s “A Research Center for Augmenting Human Intellect” along with complete documents and excerpts from countless other seminal works.​1​

These key references will directly inform the architecture of our information technology infrastructure.

  1. ​*​
    This title was also typeset as theNewMediaReader and comes bundled with a CD ROM of videos demonstrating many of the systems discussed.
  1. 1.
    Wardrip-Fruin N. The New Media Reader. MIT Press; 2003.

Binary Economics: The New Paradigm

The economics of getting a University education have become increasingly problematic over time.

It seems that while our great universities are sitting on mind bogglingly large endowments, they act like giant hedge funds investing in Wall Street rather than their own people.

Meanwhile, each new round of innovation seems to eliminate more jobs than it creates and recent graduates find themselves saddled with monstrous debt and little prospect for employment.

Even if they strike out on their own and found a High Tech Startup, they soon discover that the economics of venture capital markets are optimized to produce a minuscule number of hyper-profitable “unicorns” to maximize short term returns for the VC Fund. This leads most contenders to make a chain of often misguided business decisions that cause the vast majority of them to fail — even if they have sound ideas that would otherwise be able to generate more than adequate revenue to build careers, but for the lack of patient capital.

Moreover, the most currently desirable “exit strategy” of selling one’s technology to a quasi-monopolistic mega-corp, so it can avoid merit based competition, suppresses the widespread adoption of many good ideas — which runs counter to the mission of the University as a Fountainhead of Innovation.

Clearly we need to find better and more humane models of funding higher education and translating the fruits of its research into viable companies that provide our graduates with a comfortable middle class lifestyle and a realistic chance at doing better economically than their parent’s generation.

Robert Ashford and Rodney Shakespeare’s “Binary Economics: The New Paradigm” (ISBN: 0-7618-1320-9)​1​ provides the missing theoretical framework that we need to understand why the American Dream has been slipping away and what we can do restore it, without succumbing to the siren song of socialist wealth redistribution.

Moreover, their model suggests new possibilities for how our University of the Future might structure its funding and spin off ventures for the mutual benefit of its students, faculty, alumni and society at large.

  1. 1.
    Ashford R, Shakespeare R. Binary Economics. University Press of Amer; 1999.

Campus: An American Planning Tradition

As we think about a physical form for our future university there is no better text to start with than the revised paperback edition of Campus: An American Planning Tradition (ISBN: 978-0-262-70032-0).​1​

It provides a comprehensive survey of American Campus design from colonial days to the start of the ’90’s and contains many striking anecdotes along with a fascinating overview of shifting patterns of thought about the roles of culture and curriculum.

  1. 1.
    Venable Turner P. Campus: An American Planning Tradition. Mit Press; 1990.

The Great Schism — Paper, Bits, or Engrams

We are most conscious of supporting sustainability in all its forms and in light of The New York State Legislature’s bold moves to outlaw plastic bags and tax paper bags after the next election cycle, it behoves us to think about life on a paperless campus!

We were all set to get ahead of the curve and ban paper, pencils, pens, and ablative graphite removal technologies (i.e. erasers) along with calling for the installation of Three Seashells in all bathroom units.

But then we considered the electric power draw from accessing digital storage media and the electricity consumed while making hourly and daily backups — electricity which is often produced by dirty carbon spewing power plants. Clearly, computers are bad for the environment and in time politicians will get around to banning them too.

This leaves only Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 solution of memorizing our books.

All that matters must be committed to human memory.

Unfortunately this won’t leave us much time for creating new Knowledge, but Mother Nature will thank us — or not.