Admirable as his cause may be, says TIME Digital editor Joshua Quittner, Saylor will face challenges on his way, the least of which will be financial. (It's also not entirely new; Britain since the '60s has had its highly regarded Open University, an increasingly Internet-oriented, low-cost institution where lectures are given over TV channels and assignments are handed in via e-mail.) "I have a feeling that $100 million will be a mere drop in the bucket," says Quittner. But assuming the school comes to fruition, it could easily attract investors with the lure of say, advertising banner space. In the end, the biggest roadblock may be technological. "Distance learning won't be ideal until major technological hurdles crumble, until we have super-fast connections to the Net that will allow people to send and receive video as easily as they e-mail each other today," says Quittner. Still, he says, Saylor's donation will go a long way toward legitimizing distance learning a trend that could, in the long run, turn the world's ivory towers into museums.
Say good-bye to touch football games on the quad, and hello to intra-class Tetris tournaments. In an attempt to bring the wired world together, Washington, D.C., Internet billionaire Michael Saylor will gather the press corps on Thursday and pledge $100 million to the creation of an online university of, as he puts it, "Ivy League quality." Happily, Saylor's students won't pay the Ivy League's staggering prices; the school would be free to anyone who had access to the Internet, and would, in Saylor's vision, eventually compete academically with the best universities in the world by attracting top teaching and research talent. Saylor's ideal is an utterly democratic institution borne out of a period of frenzied capitalism. "Universities will lose control of knowledge, as they should," Saylor told MSNBC. "We all share the right to our leaders and geniuses."