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Bill Gates University: Why Not?

Should Bill Gates launch his own university?
It isn't as crazy as it sounds.

As an educational Johnny Appleseed, Gates has spent millions sponsoring innovative programs to improve the nation's high schools. It just kills the billionaire that 30% of all teenagers and about half of minority teenagers never earn a high school degree.

I know a little bit about Gates' heruclean effort because he's even thrown money at my son's charter school -- High Tech High in San Diego. Gates caused quite a media frenzy about three years when he gave Oprah Winfrey a guided tour of the school.

I was therefore intrigued when I read a letter addressed to Bill Gates in The Chronicle of Higher Education this week that urged Gates to create a model university for the 21st century. Kevin Carey, the policy director of the Education Sector, a respected think tank in Washington, argued that it would be easier for Gates to start a model university from scratch than to prod higher-ed administrators and faculty to abandon their hidebound ways.

So what would Gates University look like? Gates U., Carey envisioned, would ban legacy admissions. Tenure would be banished. And great teachers would be embraced even if they don't possess a Ph.D. But most importantly, the school would be virtual so it could be low cost and serve students from around the world.

Faculty at Gates U, Carey suggested, "would work hand-in-hand with colleagues around the world to develop curricula, enforce academic stands, and experiment with novel new ways to use technology to help as many students as possible earn high-quality, low-cost degrees."

Industrial magnants like Leland Stanford, James Duke and William Rice all slapped their names on universities and look how well they turned out. So why not Bill Gates?

Bill Gates image by Thomas Hawk. CC 2.0.

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