The Return of the Privatdozent in the Platform University

I’m increasingly convinced we are seeing the return of the Privatdozent in the contemporary university. As David Owen and Tracy B. Strong explain in their edition of Weber’s Vocation Lectures:

German students used to have a Studienbuch, a notebook in which they registered the coruses they were taking in their field. They then had to pay a fixed fee for each course. For staff on a full salary – that is, professors – these tuition fees were a welcome extra. For the unsalaried Privatdozent, these fees were the sole source of income. Science as a Vocation, pg 2. 

By Privatdozent I mean unsalaried or precariously employed scholars with doctorates who are entering into direct financial relationships with students. One example I’ve followed for a while is Johannes A. Niederhauser who produces an immensely high quality YouTube channel on classical philosophy. I’m assuming from YouTube subscribers (4.2k) and the frequency/popularity of his videos that he’ll be making some income from YouTube but he also runs a private philosophy academy and does one-to-one tuition. Another example which prompted this post was coming across which has a similar model of online courses run by a specialist.

Obviously it’s not new for academics to teach outside the university, either face-to-face (consider public lectures) or through media (consider the teaching company). However the creator-turn in platforms (YouTube, Substack, Patreon) and the ease of establishing one’s own ecommerce website has lowered the threshold of entry to this while the university system has produced qualified candidates in droves, by minting more PhDs than it can possibly absorb into academic roles. I think there’s something very interesting happening here which still in its earliest stages and could grow significantly.

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