WISR Faculty Member, Art Warmoth wrote on January 27th :

I have had several thoughts about WISR’s strategic position following the December faculty meeting and in anticipation of the upcoming Seminar on the Education & Social Change Committee on the 28th. Much of this could go on Wisrville, but I am not exactly sure how to organize it as there are several topic areas. So for now I will just address three topics:
I believe that WISR is on the cutting edge of where higher education needs to go in the Internet age. The traditional role of the university as the custodian of knowledge is obsolete, as a superabundance of information is available on the web. There is still a role for research universities to generate new knowledge and information, but most of the personpower in higher ed will be devoted to:
o Mentoring & Coaching: Helping students learn how to sort through the available information and to use it to pursue personal and professional goals in their own lives and communities.
o Assessment & Documentation: Helping students evaluate their learning and communicate that evaluation to others. Portfolios are an excellent way to document and communicate learning, and there is a lot of work being done on creating online portfolios that WISR faculty and students should look into.
o Developing Projects to Apply Knowledge and Information to Addressing Local Needs: The action research agenda does this, and perhaps it could be expanded by focusing on faculty-student organized projects is specific areas where funding could be sought.
It seems to me that these are areas in which WISR already has a track record. I will send a couple of papers that provide rationale in separate e-mails, since AOL zips multiple attachments and some people have difficulty downloading them. Mine could be posted online. If we want to post Liza Loop’s, I can ask her for permission.
Basically, therefore, my conclusion is that it is not worth the investment of human and financial resources that accreditation would cost (although at some point WASC might be interested in looking at WISR as a prototype). My impression is that WISR is educating social entrepreneurs, and those are the kind of people who are in the forefront of addressing social needs. Advising students about WISR’s ability to support (or not) their career goals and documenting what faculty, students, and graduates are doing is the way to expand WISR’s niche. I suspect that the typical graduate would not want to work in a setting that would not acknowledge the value of a WISR degree.
Social Change
As indicted above, I see WISR’s role as educating social entrepreneurs who are in the forefront of social change in their respective communities. There are probably several approaches that could highlight this role. Organizing learning communities online and in geographic space is one. The more learners get networked, regardless of their degree objectives, the more valuable their information commons becomes.
One approach it to look at local connections with the Occupy Movement. The Occupy protests are reminiscent of the anti Vietnam War protests of the 60s and 70s. The tactics are very similar, although they have been refined by tactical sophistication growing out of the traditions of nonviolence and consensus decision-making. However, the goals are very much more complex. We know when a war ends, but achieving economic democracy is an iterative process with no clear end point.
I see a need for organizations that are already working on pieces of an economic democracy agenda to reach out to the protesters to create strategies to address the multitude of complex issues involved. There are a few things I think WISR could do:
o We could attempt to identify specific issues that are involved in the movement in order to support the development of appropriate action research strategies. (My preliminary list that can be refined by discussion is contained is attached.)
o WISR faculty and students could publicize the relationship of project they are engaged in to the Occupy economic democracy agenda.
o WISR as an institution could focus on issues of particular relevance to students, which include making quality education universally available and affordable through student loan reform, advocating for public support for the value of education as a public good, and restructuring educational institutions for the 21st century environment.
The Cost of Higher Education.
One comment that came up in the faculty meeting was the goal of reducing the cost to students. Actually, WISR is now less expensive than Sonoma State. My approach to making education affordable would not be to try to make it cheaper, but rather to develop multiple funding streams to support it.
One approach would be to make some of the cost payable in complementary currencies. There are a variety of established local currencies in various parts of the world, and the Time Banking model has proven valuable in what the founder, Edgar Cahn, call the core economy: family, neighborhood, community, and civic society. There is an international mutual credit system called Friendly Favors that was created by Sergio Lub, who lives in Walnut Creek. Sergio has also created a dynamic learning community of cultural creatives that sponsors several events every month.
I noticed in this morning’s Chronicle that ING Direct is opening a coffee house branch in the City where customers can bank with ING online. This could be combined with the model of a Coffee House College, funded by Time Dollars and Friendly Favors, that I have been toying with for years. This could be a partnership with existing one or more existing coffee house with wi-fi. It would just be a question of having faculty available for coffee and conversation at predictable hours.
Another approach could be for faculty to organize fundable projects that could involve paid student involvement. One example could be a project I am developing with the Sonoma County Commission on Human rights to promote FDR’s agenda for economic rights. Another is a proposal I am working on with an MFT colleague to incorporate storytelling as a way of involving families in their children’s education in the Latino community. Faculty and students will undoubtedly have more ideas.
Let me know where you think this can go. In the meantime, I am looking forward to the meeting on the 28th
Marilyn Jackson wrote on January 27th:
Hi all.
This is just a reminder about the seminar tomorrow. Attached [contact WISR for these attachments] are several thought provoking articles by WISR Faculty member, Art Warmoth. Several of the themes relate not only to our discussion tomorrow but to our discussion of the 99% movement at the All School Gathering on February 11, particularly the one called Research and Action Areas. My hope for tomorrow is that everyone has ample opportunity to introduce themselves and to say what topics interest them the most and why and that we can cover some of the topics listed in the announcement just below here and talk about how to follow up.
Saturday, January 28th 10am-12pm
Marilyn Jackson, PhD, Michael McAvoy, MA & Art Warmoth, PhD, Facilitators.

Please join us to talk about how WISR can develop its role as a center for lifelong learning, building on participation by neighbors in the past and the new community learner invitation to pay $100 to have a blog at and also to be part of a Mediation Beyond Borders (MBB) chapter. We will discuss plans for follow up to the Paul Freire study group by connecting this to Myles Horton and the Highlander Center and also how to engage the wider community in discussions around the 99% Occupy movement)

WISR PhD Student, Chris Peck wrote on January 27th:

I think if you want true dialogue about how to make WISR viable for the future, you shouldn’t pre-empt the discussion with your own opinions, that is a turnoff to me. DON’T BE AFRAID TO HEAR WHAT OTHERS THINK. I have been involved with WISR since 2004–working on my PhD. I don’t have time to call in but I have expressed my opinions at the all school gatherings, etc on many occasions. WISR is good about offering a place for individuals to do their own thing in exploring whatever moves them and with no limitations as to where it might go. It is WISR’s uniqueness. Small is good but WISR needs to grow just a little more in order to be sustainable for the future. John and the board have been able to manage on a shoe-string budget for over 35 years and it is commendable. I understand that enrollment is up too!! However, eventually John will retire and thus to me it is important to look at the reality of sustainability in the next 10 years or so. Can we begin the process of accreditation with the MFT program which is a strong component of WISR and then launch an on-line program that goes after accreditation and finally the PhD and BA programs? Accreditation is costly, I know but in the long-run it will bring more people to WISR.
WISR has tried a lot of small-scale fundraising which has been good to get people together but it doesn’t solve the long-term sustainability that WISR needs: Information tables, doing WISR small scale projects, etc. We have to think big and move on to what will sustain WISR for the long-term .
This is my opinion only. What about having a blog or survey or something to get out everyone’s ideas.
I frankly believe that a little growth is good as well as change that are in themselves evitable as WISR tries to look at where is its direction for the future.
Sincerely, Chris
On January 27th, WISR Faculty Member, John Bilorusky wrote:
Hi Everyone, Chris makes some good points. A couple of “facts” to keep in mind when thinking about accreditation. It is not possible to accredit only one or two programs. All accreditation agencies require “institutional” accreditation–meaning that they say “yes” or “no” to all programs offered. We did look into the possibility (leaving aside issues of labor/time/energy and $ involved) from a nationally-recognized but somewhat open-minded/innovative accreditation agency–the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) several years ago. They are not authorized by the “meta-accrediting agency” and the USDE to accredit institutions with PhD programs. If we dropped our PhD program and made it an EdD then we could pursue accreditation with them if we could marshall the necessary labor and $ to accomplish it. (The $ involved is probably well over $50,000 not counting the $ to pay for lots and lots of time to do self-study, etc.). When we informally mentioned this to students, the general sense was that people preferred an unaccredited PhD to an accredited EdD. Still, one day DETC may get approval to evaluate schools with PhD programs.
With regard to the brief version of some of my thoughts, I do think WISR is at a place where we could handle greater growth–certainly going from 40 students to well over 50, but for the time being quite a bit less than 100. If we accomplished this, we would have the funds to hire one or two people at least half time who could be “groomed” to take my place when I retire, get dementia, or die, whichever comes first. Right now, I’m not even close to retiring, but we can’t predict the future, and it is important to plan ahead rather than finding oneself in a crisis.
Another opinion: bringing more people to WISR just because we’re accredited is a double-edged sword. Certainly there are many people who would be great WISR learners who don’t enroll because of the lack of accreditation. On the other hand, many people for whom WISR isn’t quite right would probably come in droves and dissuading them from enrolling would be a new, very labor intensive task. Just food for thought.
I very much agree with Chris that we need to think “larger” and more “sustainable”–and not waste our valuable time on small scale fund-raising.
I have lots of other ideas about this and I’m sure others do, too. It’s very good to talk about these matters and throw out suggestions that are a bit “out of the box” like Chris did. Thanks Chris for your thoughtful comments and your encouragement for us to “think bigger.”
Best regards, John
On January 27th, Community Learner and Friend of WISR, Eleanor Walden wrote:
Hi John,
I recently saw a PBS TV program that talked about the huge profits inherent in the profusion of the new trend to on line colleges like Phenix. Unhappily much of that profit is due to shady recruiting techniques such as the military uses to influence young people. While overblown promises on the benefit of their degrees are outside of the ethical salesmanship in which WISR would engage if education/corporation is a money making business for some unscrupulous agencies why would it not be possible for WISR to market education that will contribute to a more responsible world and still grow and make salary for it’s staff and accredit its curriculum?
I hope to be at the meeting Saturday morning.
On January 27th, WISR Faculty Member and PhD student, Larry Loebig wrote:
Accreditation is worthy of serious exploration and to be realistic needs to be viewed in the context of ” WISR the next generation”
Thinking in terms of potential creative funding from past and future enrollees – what is the monetary and utility value of a degree earned from an accredited vs. not an accredited institution?
There was some aspect regarding “grandfathering” current activity… What if we ask a different question …. Would you prefer to have your PhD grandfathered and accredited and then have future graduates limited to EdD?
Brings up interesting possibilities and changes to what we do and how we do it and in order to be successful could require some well crafted WISRized reengineering – this look at economic value of learning brings us to another interesting aspect of viability and sustainability for the future and affordability of personalized learner-directed, coach-based program for anyone other than the 1% who can afford to pay the price.
On January 27th, WISR PhD Student, Erin Alexander wrote:
Sponsors and donors can provide funding (grants and scholarships); Large companies/entities that exist nation and worldwide, for example AT&T, NIKE, Microsoft, etc. Bill Gates is giving away millions of dollars for education. Grant writers can write proposals, etc. All of this can be turned into a project for current students.
Miss Erin (S-M-I-L-E-!!!)
On January 27th, WISR PhD Student, Chris Peck wrote:
I like what John and others have said. We definitely want to keep attracting students that like WISR’s focus and not for the sake of accreditation alone. Let’s keep thinking bold!
On January 29th (following the stimulating discussion in the seminar on the 28th), WISR Faculty Member, Art Warmoth wrote:
This has been a useful exchange that raises a number of good points. With regard to Larry’s point about looking at “monetary utility value”, I would just add, “monetary utility value based on the experience of students for whom WISR’s self-directed learning model is appropriate and attractive.” I suspect that accreditation would add less lifetime value for those students than it would for students looking for a more conventional approach to education and careers. My impression is that WISR students are self-directed learners who tend to work in innovative institutional contexts that appreciate creative, values-oriented, self-directed professionals more than academic credentials. I also suspect that there are a lot of those potential students in the world who have not yet heard of WISR.
With regard to Saturday’s Education & Social Change discussion, it has not changed the views I expressed in the posting that started this thread. But it did sharpen my views in the areas I discussed previously:
Accreditation: Michael [faculty] and William [student] very forcefully argued the position that WISR should focus on its core mission, and if it does so other things will fall into place. There seemed to be a consensus on this point, and the core mission was articulated as “higher education for social change,” or perhaps “social change through higher education.” The core resource for implementing that mission is a learner-centered pedagogy based on mentoring, with the content of the curriculum generated by the interests of students (except for the core of action research methodology).
There were several useful ideas of ways this approach could be broadened as a community-based support system for lifelong learning, including CEUs, partnerships, community learning events, and projects or learning communities organized around the interests of students and faculty. (A good example of the last was [community learner] Taylor Fischer’s in exploring the historical crucible of African-American cultural identity.) All of these could involve learners who are not necessarily degree-oriented. They could generate community awareness of WISR, including awareness among potential degree-seeking students. They could also generate resources, including modest amounts of U.S dollars and the “worker bees” that WISR currently needs. And they would all contribute to social change, especially in the Bay Area.
It should be noted that John Vasconcellos, when he was chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, spearheaded creation of the state approval process (in the late 60s or early 70s, I believe) as a way to support innovation in higher education. John represented Silicon Valley in the Assembly and finally the Senate. He was active in the humanistic psychology movement, and he was one of the longest serving members of the California legislature when he was recently termed-out.
Social Change: It seemed clear that social change is central to WISR’s mission. The question is how to prioritize the areas in which we collectively choose to act. The Occupy movement presents the challenge of formulating a comprehensive contemporary agenda for social change. My outline of “Research and Action Areas” forwarded by Marilyn with the first email in this series is a stab at identifying major areas of focus. I have two suggestions:
o WISR should network with other organizations involved in the movement and support faculty and student involvement in whatever areas they decide to take on.
o As an institution, WISR should focus on issues in the field of higher education, including the need for pedagogical and curricular reform, finding new ways to think about education for work and career, and access and cost for students.
The Cost of Higher Education. WISR’s tuition is lower than the tuition in state universities, and should be enough to support the degree-granting aspect of our mission, perhaps with the recruitment of a few additional matriculated students.
As I suggested earlier, my approach to mobilizing additional resources would be to develop a multiple funding stream accounting system using local currencies and time banking. There is a recent book by Gwendolyn Hallsmith and Bernard Lietaer , Creating Wealth: Growing Local Economies with Local Currencies (Gabriola Island, BC: New Society, 2011) that lays out the theory behind this approach and gives several practical examples where the idea has been tried. Also, as I indicated at the meeting, I am interested on offering a course (for Time Dollars and Friendly Favors) starting in the summer on Economic Democracy: The Next Revolution. That course will cover these and related ideas using a conversational format in which the students will ultimately be responsible for creating the syllabus. If you might be interested, let me know.
–Art Warmoth
On January 29th, WISR Faculty Member, John Bilorusky wrote:
Hi everyone, and Art, especially–
I think that Art’s perspective on these issues about WISR’s role is both innovative and a creative further extension of WISR’s mission and history. His analysis is based on a very astute “listening eloquently” to what a number of us at WISR have expressed, in terms of WISR’s strengths and potential. Beyond this, Art brings some important and “new” to WISR insights and possible directions to our dialogue and thinking.
I am very excited about the various ideas that everyone participating in this e-mail dialogue, and in Saturday’s seminar, have brought to our discussion of both how to further develop WISR and how WISR can contribute to larger social change. There’s more I can say, want to say, and will say in subsequent meetings, conversations and sharing some writing on all this. For now, I want to emphasize how much I value and appreciate the insightful and heart-felt contributions Art, Larry, Chris, and all of Saturday’s seminar participants have been making to stimulating and furthering these important and promising dialogues.
Best regards, John
On January 30th, WISR PhD Student, Steven Fletcher, wrote:
Greetings to Everyone From Sanya, Hainan, the Southern Most City in China:
I have been here for a month, working long days typing my dissertation and trying to avoid making friends (difficult), stay of the internet (also difficult) and get enough sleep and food – as I want to focus on getting a really good first draft done by February 15 when I will return to my university in Guiyang.
I have watched with interest the email exchanges of the past week or so about WISR and its future. Knowing that it is important to me, but having not much to add I waited. Tonight, during a break for dinner, I read John’s email and decided to jump in. Here are some brief thoughts:
1) Accreditation – One position on this is that someone within WISR should be tasked with the annual job of seeing if anything has changed. If some new easy way opens, then the board could consider the option quickly, and if the path is “easy” (time and money) to go for it. And if not, wait for next year and take another look at the state of things. This clear “plan” might help put the issue to rest for a time.
2) We should find a more effective way to describe WISR’s current state. I know there are legal issues here but surely we can do a better job of describing WISR “status” (For example in Oregon, there is a legal recognition of WISR’s status as of course there is in California) We should be able to create a 200 words of less way to describe WISR’s status that is accurate and attractive to potential students.
3) Personally, I think implicit in WISR’s ability to survive long-term there is also a need to describe its methods and assumptions in a more succinct and powerful way. I was going to try this with my development of the “WISR Secret Sauce” but I did not succeed (maybe a better way to say this is I did not try !!). I think someone, perhaps a PhD student, could be enticed to find the “WISR Secret Sauce” and describe it succinctly. Why? Because once we all agree on what WISR is, we can more easily see how to perpetuate it.
That’s my three cents worth. Now, back to work.
Love to everyone,
On January 30th, WISR Faculty Member, Larry Loebig wrote:
A quick bit of research indicates The States of Washington, Oregon, Georgia and Virginia have laws prohibiting the use of non accredited degrees … and more States are in the process of passing legislation banning the use of non accredited degrees (an article about the Washington legislation mentioned there are 7 states with bans.) Also there are some laws on the books that are prohibiting the marketing of non accredited degrees. When I first brought this to WISRs attention there was one state – Oregon. At one point Maxine Waters was trying to introduce legislation for a ban in California. The attack on non accredited degrees is being waged by liberals and conservatives.
On January 30th, WISR Faculty Member, Michael McAvoy wrote:
Thank you for this summary of the conversation on Saturday from which I learned a great deal. I hope to find time to summarize what I think I learned and offer it back for reflection and reaction soon. This is such an important and difficult process – rebirthing a transformative pedagogy and educational structure to support it. I feel fortunate for this context in which to work and learn with and from all of you.
On January 30th, WISR Faculty Member, John Bilorusky wrote:
[regarding Steve Fletcher’s comments above]
Hi Steven,
#1 is a good idea, in my opinion.
#2, I think has been addressed on WISR’s website in a couple of places. When you have time, see how easy or hard it is to find, and what you think of it.
#3 is a very good idea, but the “succinct” version is WISR’s website and that’s not succinct. I don’t think there is a succinct version–because those versions are by definition only the tip of the iceberg. Nevertheless there are several “succinct” (one page or less) versions on WISR’s website. However, having more specific images and stories of WISR’s “secret sauce” is a way to portray what is special about WISR. So for example, if one wants to know about “horses” one can read a definition of “horse” and one can see a picture of one horse, and even see a picture of way horses are used by people (plowing a field?). But to really understand horses, one needs a book with lots of pictures and text about different kinds of horses (different breeds) with different sizes and appearances, about different way horses are used and live in the world (for racing, for pleasure riding, for herding cattle, for plowing fields, to love as a pet, to run wild with a herd of mustangs, to be hunted by lions as zebras are on the plains of Africa, etc.), along with people telling stories of what horses mean to them, or what a particular horse has meant to them. This might also include the history and evolution of horses, in different parts of the world, in different climates and different cultures, as well as prospects for the future of horses. A lot has already been written about WISR, and some of it is succinct–e.g., one page on “What is special about WISR?” on the website–but still there is a lot more to be learned and articulated.
Best regards, John
On January 30th, WISR PhD Student, Chris Peck wrote:
Hi all,
I think another aspect of the accreditation issue is the fact that students could qualify for student loans and perhaps grants too. I think in my case, as well as possible many others, with the financial in place one can concentrate on one’s studies. And with more students=more faculty=more diversity. It seems that part of this whole discussion is: how does WISR keep its core values, character, while looking at where we go from here. I believe that a long-term strategy needs to begin to develop WISR strategy for staying power in the 21st century through input from students, faculty, board and alumni. Small is okay but it appears that WISR needs to grow slightly bigger…John said maybe 40 or 50. At the same time putting in place large scale fundraising that will start to bring in other streams of income.
On January 30th, WISR Faculty Member, John Bilorusky wrote:
Access to financial aid could be useful for students wishing to gain access to student loans administered by banks. Student loans and grants that are administered by colleges are not feasible for colleges under 200 students (rough approximation). The huge infrastructure required of colleges to administer such federal aid programs would require administrative staff that by itself could easily raise tuition by $2,000/student, whether or not that student was on financial aid. Most WISR students would not qualify for grants, and so students would have to take out loans that would, in substantial part, be paying for tuition costs associated with administering student aid programs. Having said this, some students could benefit from loan programs administered by banks (but generally at double-digit interest rates). . . . The advantages of accreditation for most WISR students are access to some specific jobs that they might not otherwise get access to.
Large-scale fund-raising to create a revolving loan fund (which we temporarily had, funded in part by $55,000 from the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund–10 years ago–monies since exhausted partly by a few students still enrolled at WISR and partly by some students defaulting on their repayments) and a scholarship fund might be a good strategy worth considering.
Best regards, John
On January 30th, WISR PhD Student, Chris Peck wrote:
sounds like a good idea John.
thanks, Chris
On January 31st, WISR Faculty Member, Torry Dickinson wrote:
Hi everyone,

I’ve been reading this discussion about WISR’s future with great interest.
I’d say that all of these issues have been talked about for at least twenty years. They are important issues because WISR’s integrity and longevity is at stake. I hope we continue to discuss all of this openly, knowing that there are many paths forward, some which may intersect.

A question I ask myself is: How do I see WISR in twenty years, in 2032? Or in 2052? So much will be important: laws about whether unaccredited degrees are accepted, the state of the global economy, the political structure of the U.S., and things like who is on the Board of Directors and who makes up the student body, particularly at critical moments in time.

Last night I had an expected thought. What if WISR teamed up in some way and did not go on alone? For example, WISR could join with a like-minded educational organization that would enable us to make the minimal thresholds for obtaining accreditation, enabling students to get students loans (and grants?), and enrolling veterans who have funding? Then we could keep the Ph.D. program. I would like to believe that WISR would be able to continue in much the same way it has since it became an independent non-profit. But it was born at UC-Berkeley and maybe it is time to ask whether it might be time to consider preparing to go through another transition. Maybe WISR could even become more international. I am just thinking about the possibilities. The world will be going through a process of being shaken up. How can we survive or even thrive during this process and how can we contribute to change that will be surrounding and encompassing us?
Torry Dickinson

On January 31st, WISR Faculty Member, John Bilorusky wrote:

Hi Torry,
Excellent questions. Let’s think about all these. One factual point. WISR’s birth had nothing to do with UC Berkeley, except that it was born in the shadow of UC Berkeley (geographically and perhaps slightly culturally). Three of the four of us who founded WISR left a philosophically promising, but dysfunctional, alternative (private non-profit) University Without Walls-Berkeley, in order to found an alternative with similar (but not identical) philosophical principles that would not be so (educationally and administratively) dysfunctional. In a way, we were trying to realize some of the hopes of the 60s and early 70s while avoiding some of the pitfalls that many were falling into, in order to be “alternatives to the conventional.” One other comment, I think we should seriously explore develop a PhD program in collaboration with another institution WHILE ALSO RETAINING OUR OWN INDEPENDENT PHD PROGRAM. This would be a way of “hedging our bets”–using the strength of a cooperating institution while not making all of our PhD endeavors subject to decisions made by another. I’m quite skeptical of the ability of others in other institutions to appreciate the “WISR way” in all of its subtleties, unless we can continue to “show the way” by having a PhD program the way we think (and have come to know) that it “should” be done. Our PhD program is in my view academically speaking, the “heart and soul” of how we approach learning. . . . I think, for example, we could consider even joining with a number of other solid, academic programs that offer doctoral degrees but aren’t accredited (e.g., the Sanville Institute in Berkeley), form a new non-profit that offers a doctoral program among the consortium of institutions (sharing faculty, resources, etc.), and that would in total be larger than 100 students, but perhaps not by a lot, and then seek accreditation as that new non-profit. Still, each individual institution could continue to offer prospective students the option of either an individual, State approved PhD through one of the individual institutions (e.g., WISR or Sanville, etc.) or a PhD through the consortium that is moving toward accreditation (regional or national).
Best regards, John

On January 31st, WISR PhD Student, Erin Alexander wrote:

I agree, John. Collaborating with another university would be a good idea. That would resolve the financial issues and the accrediting issues.

On January 31st, WISR Faculty Member, Torry Dickinson wrote:

Yes, I am imagining that WISR would maintain control over its own Ph.D. program. I know this could be difficult given the strange “takeovers of boards” that I have seen in non-profits. You have spelled out some different ways that we could retain our own independent Ph.D. program, which I find very interesting. If we were going to have a consortium that provided accredited degrees, we’d still need to have enough enrolled students to go through accreditation and whatever else we’d want to do.

Does WISR need to build shelter with others in order to make it through the next wave of history?
On January 31st, WISR PhD Student, Chris Peck, wrote:

I like the idea of thinking outside the box, and while doing so, I also agree that the WISR way means not sacrificing our core values in creating this new direction.

On January 31st, WISR MA Student, Suzie Rudloff, wrote:

I’ve been getting this chain of emails, and understand that people have a lot of concerns regarding accreditation. One question I have is whether the current students could get a school ID? I’ve found this could be a very beneficial thing. A lot of people I meet don’t know about WISR and its hard explaining the program
Suzie Rudloff

On January 31st, WISR PhD Student, Jake Sloan, wrote:

I think you are on to something, John.
Jake Sloan

On January 31st, WISR Faculty Member, John Bilorusky wrote:
Hi Torry,
I think we should be on the alert about certain issues–in particular making sure that State Approval doesn’t vanish as a survival option (it probably won’t in California, but there is movement in a few other states to do this, which could limit the use of our degrees for certain hiring purposes in those other states). However, I think the most straightforward way for us to preserve our core values and still survive and even thrive further (with expanded faculty and resources) is to simply make ourselves more visible to more people. I’m completely convinced (based on our effectiveness in attracting talented, progressive students from many cultural and geographic backgrounds, etc.) that there are literally tens of thousands of people (if not more!) who would like to pursue degrees at WISR (and for whom learning and a degree at WISR would be very helpful to their purposes). So, by becoming more visible we can increase our enrollment, become financially stronger and increase our faculty and resources over time. Also, an increased learning community will enhance collaborative options and word of mouth communication to others about WISR (like a growing snowball rolling down a hill).
This is why my preferred strategy for much of my energies, and for the energies of many wanting to help WISR, is to get the word out to groups and people who might be likely prospective students and who would know prospective students. Our improved website and wisrville are helping with this, but I’m sure there is a lot more we can do to get the word out.
This doesn’t preclude other strategies, such as the grant you and Rainelle are working on, or other initiatives that people may want to take. But it is an easy strategy to pursue, because even a small step or two results in a new student or two, so there are “immediate” benefits without having to leap over some critical threshold (as is the case with getting accreditation for example).
Best regards, John
On January 31st, WISR PhD Student, Steven Fletcher wrote:
There are two threads here that are especially interesting and MAY have potential:
1) the joining (carefully) with other institutions
2) the international approach
Higher education in the US (by some odd organic process) is neither totally independent (every institution sets it own standards and issues its own degrees) nor is it totally centralized. There are anomalies. States have power but the “A” word (accreditation) has been taken away from them. Washington, DC (not the federal government the DC government) has a different process of “legalizing” institutions of higher learning than California or New York. So too does Guam, American Samoa et all. Canada uses a different process than the US and China has yet other ways.
WISR should last as long as it is useful (ie provides some service in a way that no other institutions of higher learning serve). It should not seek to survive just to survive.
China has a large part of the world’s population and is growing in stature and is thirsty for international cooperation and recognition. There are lots of possibilities here.
There was another thread that was brought up some time back and was not seen as practical or was seen as dangerous. That is creating, in conjunction with other WISR-similar institutions and an accrediting institution that is:
* well thought out
* simple (in its accreditation process)
* has a good quality process (I don’t know what this looks like)
* affordable
* and did I say simple?
Every industry tends to develop such accrediting / licensing bodies. For the WISR’s of the world there still is not a suitable one in the higher education industry.
Just more thoughts here, no conclusions. No suggestions.
On January 31st, WISR Faculty Member, John Bilorusky wrote:
Hi Steven,
Thanks for the further thoughts. Let’s think about these and keep hearing others.
On January 31st, WISR Faculty Member and PhD Alumnus, David Yamada wrote:
Hi Everyone,
I am just getting caught up on this thread but very much appreciate the thoughtful contributions. At the risk of being (accurately!) accused of making an opportunistic sales pitch, these are among the topics we can discuss at our seminar on the future of non-traditional higher education, next Friday, February 10. I hope you’ll be able to join us!
I wish that I had time here to respond to many of the good points made, but I’ll have to settle for a few overall responses:
1. WISR’s Ph.D. program — I agree with John that the Ph.D. program is WISR’s signature offering. There’s nothing else like it, anywhere. If I had my druthers, I’d add a bit more structure to it, but I like what it’s about, substantially, as is. From a standpoint of marketing, I’d prefer the program being one of “Adult Education and Social Change,” as “Adult Education” more accurately describes how many WISR Ph.D. learners and graduates use the degree, and I think it might attract a few more applicants.
By contrast, there are a TON of regionally accredited, distance-learning, social-change oriented Ph.D. programs out there, at much higher cost and with considerably more program structure. Union, Fielding, Walden, and Saybrook are among the obvious examples. (I considered all of them before enrolling in WISR.) If we talk about adding, partnering, etc., we need to remember that many of these approaches may already be offered, more or less, by other schools.
2. WISR’s purpose and mission — There is something wonderfully unique about WISR that attempts to bridge, sometimes awkwardly or uncomfortably, but always in meaningful ways, the gap between “alternatives” and the conventional world. WISR allows us to delve deeply into the alternatives, but typically with an eye toward applying our learning to the conventional. It’s not always easy, but that tension is where, I submit, a lot of important social change is initiated. WISR’s flexibility allows its learners to explore alternative modes of thinking and doing without gaining prior “permission” or external validation.
I wouldn’t want us to lose that quality. Being small, personal, and a little under the radar screen has its advantages as well.
3. Accreditation, tuition, and debt — All things being equal, regional accreditation, or even DETC accreditation (should they add Ph.D. programs), would be a big boost to WISR and enhance the value of a WISR degree. However, accreditation creates an almost inevitable rise — often significant — in tuition; it costs money to keep jumping through hoops set by accreditation agencies. I admit that I winced at the mention of the availability of student loans as a benefit of accreditation, because I’ve watched student loan debt skyrocket over the past 20 years, esp. in graduate level programs. I realize that WISR’s tuition, paid out of pocket or through credit cards, is a burden to many learners, but if we want to consider accreditation, we also have to imagine tuition roughly doubling in a short time, with many learners consequently taking on student loans that will be repaid over a course of 10-15 years.
Also consider: (1) There are very, very few federal student grant programs for those pursuing graduate work at accredited schools — Pell Grants, for example, are for undergraduates, not grad students; and (2) Student loans are not dischargeable under current bankruptcy laws.
4. WISR’s growth — I do believe that WISR can grow modestly without accreditation. But our very modest tuition — our main source of revenue — does create limitations, especially when it comes to office staffing, faculty, and (a more pie in the sky possibility) buying a building that would be ours to call home. And until we come to grips with issues of financial capacity and revenue streams, many of our discussions about building out WISR in some ways are somewhat fanciful.
I shudder at the phrase “strategic planning” because I’ve seen how frustrating and ultimately fruitless that process can be at many institutions, but I do think WISR would benefit by engaging in some concrete planning and sticking to it.
Best, David
David Yamada
Read my blog, Minding the Workplace, at:

On January 31st, WISR PhD Student, Erin Alexander, wrote:
Well said.
Miss Erin (S-M-I-L-E-!!!)
On January 31st, WISR Faculty Member, John Bilorusky wrote:
Hi everyone,
David just made some great comments, and for now rather than my making any further comments, I’d like everyone to think carefully about what he said and about what thoughts that stimulates for each of you.
Best regards, John
On January 31st, WISR PhD Student, Jake Sloan, wrote:
I agree with David.
Jake Sloan
On January 31st, WISR Faculty Member and PhD Alum, Marilyn Jackson, wrote:
Hi all,
I didn’t mean to start something here and though it’s been good, we should continue the dialogue at the wisrville site as soon as one of us is able to post it there. If you don’t want your comments posted there, please let me know. Larry, David, John or whomever, if you can do the work of posting it on the Commons blog before me, please check with me and I can let you know if I have heard whether anyone does not want their comments there.
Thank you.

Profile photo of John Bilorusky

About John Bilorusky

John Bilorusky is President of WISR and Member of WISR's core faculty. John was one of WISR's four founders in 1975, and WISR has been, and will continue to be, the hub of his professional and community involvements. John received his BA from the University of Colorado (cum laude in Physics and cum laude in General Studies) in 1967. He received his MA from the University of California at Berkeley in 1968 and his PhD in Higher Education from UC Berkeley in 1972. He has also held major faculty appointments in the College of Community Services at the University of Cincinnati (1971-73), in the Social Sciences Interdisciplinary Studies at UC Berkeley (1970-71) and at University Without Walls-Berkeley (1973-74). He has actively written and published in the field of adult learning and social change. He lives with his wife, Janet, and 18-year-old twins, Kyle and Nicole. Janet is a nurse at the Regional Center of the East Bay, serving and supporting people with developmental disabilities. Kyle and Nicole are currently enrolled at Berkeley City College. He has an adult son, Clark, who has a Master's in Asian American Studies from San Francisco State, and who lives with his wife, Donna, and their two children, Ilaw and Tala, in Vallejo, CA. Clark provides Tech Support in the Union City School District.
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  1. On Feb. 10th, WISR PhD student, Steven Fletcher sent this e-mail: Hi everybody…

    I want to point out a technical (totally non-pedagogical) reality. That is “push versus pull”.

    This (push versus pull) has meaning as a technical method and may or may not be of interest to most of you and has NOTHING to do with the discussion itself. In technical terms when your phone rings (at home) it is a “push” – content is pushed to you without you’re consciously going out to look for it. Your friend calls and a dialogue is started. The dialog was started by a push. Your cell phone is the same. As long as you have it turned on, you receive messages and calls by a “push”. Most of us check our email regular, so it too becomes a push. You check your email and without your conciously thinking or willing something to happen content comes to you. However, when you go to the web, it is a “pull” – you decide when and where to look for what content – you pull content to yourself. The wiserville blog is not different. When we go there it is a “pull” as we are searching for and pulling content to ourselves. This discussion, this very rich and important discussion, would be nice to have there. At least it seems it would be nice, but the reality is that we are doing this by email. We do it because the evolving content is pushed to us.

    This thread, this discussion has waxed and waned, like the tide coming in and out. Using “push” (in this case email) makes it seem (and really is) more “real time” this way it is more like a face to face conversation.

    For a blog to work well, there must be something there for each of us every time we go there.

    I think this conversation would not have been so alive, with so many inputs, with such wonderful thoughts if it only took place on the wiserville blog.

    Which is all to say, “I love you all”


  2. On Feb. 8th, WISR PhD alumnus and faculty member, David Yamada wrote:
    Hi Everyone,

    In light of the recent lively exchange about higher education, I thought I’d put together a quick one pager, pasted below, in anticipation of our Friday seminar at 5:30 on the future of progressive higher education. It’s more of an invitation to learn more, with suggested readings, than a stand-alone handout, but it may be of interest to folks who want to do further research on this topic.

    Best, David

    What is the Future of Progressive, Non-Traditional Higher Education?

    In contemplating the future of alternative, experimenting institutions of higher education devoted to social change, it may be useful to examine the histories of schools that have faced these questions before and made considerable changes that may have strayed – deliberately or not – from their original missions.
    1. CHANGE: The New School for Social Research (New York City)
    Then look at Peter M. Rutkoff & William B. Scott, New School: A History of The New School for Social Research (1986).
    2. DISCORD: Union Institute & University (Cincinnati, main campus)
    Then read Constance Cappel, Ph.D. (editor), A Union of Voices: Accounts of the Union Institute & University (2004).
    3. QUICK EXTINCTION: The University for the New World (Sion, Switzerland)
    Founding bulletin:
    Then read about the university’s quick journey towards extinction in John Coyne and Tom Hebert, This Way Out: A Guide to Alternatives to Traditional College Education in the United States, Europe and the Third World (1972), pp. 185-92.
    4. FOR-PROFIT: Walden University (Minnesota, main office)
    Then read Wade Keller, Aspire toward the Highest: Bernie and Rita Turner and the Founding of Walden University (2009).

  3. On Feb. 8th, WISR President and co-founder, John Bilorusky, added to this thread of dialogue:
    Hi Everyone,
    David’s recent contribution, and the rather enthusiastic and legthy e-mail exchange of a week or so ago, have motivated me to share two articles, which, in retrospect, I perhaps should have shared more freely and often with others. Both articles are ones that I co-authored with others, and both articles give important insights into some of the ideas behind WISR’s founding and subsequent efforts to keep WISR alive and “true to its early principles.”
    The first article was written with a colleague of mine in the College of Community Services at the University of Cincinnati (1971-73), Harry Butler. Upon my arrival at the U of Cincinnati as a very young idealistic professor, I persuaded Harry to work with me to convince others at the College to allow us to initiate an experiment there–an “Individualized Learning Program.” We got the program off the ground in the 1972-73 academic year, with about 30 undergraduates participating, and with Harry and I as the main faculty involved (along with several others on a more peripheral basis). Most of these 30 students helped us to plan the implementation of the program, and when I left to return to the Bay Area after that academic year, the students who had not yet graduated worked energetically and resourcefully to preserve the program’s integrity at least for a couple of years. The program continued to exist on paper quite awhile after that, however. Harry and I felt it was important to articulate many of the nuances which distinguished this experiment (kind of an early version of WISR that existed within a traditional university) from most other efforts to create “innovative” and “individualized” approaches to higher education in the 1970s. In reading this article again tonight, I am aware that the distinctions that we emphasized then still hold true today, and the qualities of the “experimenting community” and script improvisation approach that we were attempting to practice are qualities that are very important even today in what some of us call the “WISR way.” Those who wish a copy of this aticle should request a copy by e-mailing me at:
    The second article was written in 1980 by three of us who founded WISR (along with a fourth colleague, Barbara Valentino). That article looks at the “bigger picture” of needed social change for social justice, and asks the critical question, “does alternative higher education need an alternative.” In re-reading the article tonight, I believe that we saw even then how most of the best efforts to create alternatives in higher education were being co-opted, and despite the best intentions of some, these efforts were moving toward support of the status quo rather than progressive social change. This article may be found at:
    I believe that a critcal examination of the valid points as well as the limitations of these articles and perspectives may provide for further dialogue at WISR as we discuss how to move forward in ways that keep the best of WISR and WISR’s integrity intact, while aiming to enable WISR to make a most significant impact on society, for example, by supporting some of the most important sentiments and commitments thus far expressed in the 99 percent/occupy movement.
    I hope that many of you will take the time to read these articles, and formulate your own ideas and questions for further discussion.
    Best regards, John

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