Apple U: Education or Indoctrination?

Wednesday saw an interesting development in the academic world when Yale’s Dean of the School of Management announced he was departing for greener orchards. Specifically, Joel Podolny will be helping start Apple University, with a target time frame of early 2009.

Don’t get your application package together just yet, as the nature of what exactly is meant by “university” in this case remains unclear. Neither Apple nor Podolny are disclosing details of his engagement for the time being, in a typical move by the notoriously tight-lipped Cupertino.

There are a number of possibilities as to the nature of Apple U, ranging from the fantastic to the mundane. Let’s look at some of the ideas floating around  and see if we can’t drill down to some likely theories.

First there’s the possibility that the “educational initiatives” mentioned in Yale University President Richard C. Levin’s letter announcing the departure do not indicate something so grand as an actual school. Apple University could refer simply to Apple’s University marketing and sales programs, i.e. Apple (for the) University. If we’d heard the term “Apple Enterprise,” for instance, there’d be no confusion. Higher education market share for the computer company may be high, but their representation, in terms of being the platform of choice for the institution itself (i.e. faculty and administration), is still an area with plenty of growth opportunity.

Then there’s your pie-in-the-sky speculation, like the idea that Apple could be starting their own educational institution. This possibility actually has some legs, considering similar programs started up by other companies, like McDonald’s own Hamburger University, as Gizmodo points out. Animation Studio, Pixar, boasts a similar program, providing a template within easy reach of Steve Jobs, who sits on the company’s board of directors. Add to this the fact that Podolny is leaving Yale, not Scranton Community College, and it actually seems like not that bad of a bet. To add even more fuel to the fire, recall that only a few scant weeks ago Apple began a legal dispute with a Victoria, B.C.-based school over logo trademark infringement. The school’s main argument against the complaint was that it was an educational institution and consumer confusion was therefore impossible. In retrospect, this could’ve been a preemptive strike on Apple’s part.

An Apple school could vary in purpose. It might be an internal-only, staff/management training and indoctrination program, like the rigorous process of becoming a Subway Sandwich Artist. It might also be an attempt to get a piece of the burgeoning developer education market, which would help continue to expand the growing pool of applications available on OS X and the iPhone platform. Were it a distance education program, Apple could truly jump-start their uptake in business and commercial use, since accreditation and certification would be far more accessible to a much broader audience.

For now, though, we’ll just have to wait and see what Apple has in store for us in the Winter semester. I don’t know about you, but I’m requesting an copy of my official college transcripts and some recommendation letters from former profs, just in case.


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