May 28, 2013;

Last Friday, a letter was sent by several of the Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences to their dean, asking for a faculty committee to be established to aid in the development of ethical guidelines for HarvardX and edX, the nonprofit MOOC provider created by Harvard and MIT. The faculty members cite ethical concerns that range from faculty oversight of HarvardX to its impact on “the higher education system as a whole.” This letter comes in the wake of increasing concern from faculty and some university administrators, including one concern raised through a letter from the faculty of San Jose state to a MOOC-creating faculty member at Harvard.

Both the San Jose State and the Harvard letters suggest that faculty members are waking up to the implications of MOOCs for higher education. Although faculty first focused on the learning outcomes at MOOCs, they are coming to realize that the licensing at the heart of the business model implies dramatic consolidation in the field and a two-tiered model of higher education. Such consolidation is perhaps inevitable, given the rising number of institutions offering higher education and rising tuition costs in the wake of declining state revenue (see Gary King’s analysis for more).

It’s noteworthy that both the Harvard and the San Jose letters have been largely rebuffed by administrators. The licensing contracts have already been signed by several universities, making backtracking from these decisions much more difficult.—Michelle Shumate