MIT Dean Takes Leave to Start New University Without Lectures or Classrooms

MIT Dean Takes Leave to Start New University Without Lectures or Classrooms

Christine Ortiz is taking a leave from her prestigious post as a professor and dean at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to start a radical, new nonprofit university that she says will have no majors, no lectures, and no classrooms.

Many details about the new school are still undetermined, she says, but the basic idea is to answer the question, What if you could start a university from scratch for today’s needs and with today’s technology?

Her venture is not the only effort to create a new kind of college – there’s the Minerva Project, created by a tech entrepreneur in San Francisco, and MOOC providers like Udacity, started by a former Stanford University professor.

Q. What made you decide to leave your post as a professor and dean at MIT to start your own university?

I’ve always been interested in curriculum and thinking about the future of the research university, and I did a lot of archival research on it.

I think we’re at a time where we can think about the future, and moving forward how to reshape it.

Seeing those different models, and seeing what was able to be done locally, motivated me to think, What would it look like to create a new model that integrates many of the things that have been successful at MIT? And of course, I’ve traveled to many universities around the world and thought about, What could we take from all these different experiments and models, and scale it up?

A. Basically the idea is that we’ll have a core that’s project-based learning, but where students can have a really deep, integrative longer-term project rather than shorter projects.

Q. So if you’re not using classrooms for lectures, what kind of space do you think you’ll need for the campus? What will that look like?

A. What I’m thinking of is huge project spaces.

Q. What about tenure? Will your university have that?

A. My thinking at this point is very much moving away from tenure.