I have the same mixed feelings as most of the folks who teach at private universities about the increasingly consumerist nature of the whole enterprise. We old folks often complain that paying students are encouraged to feel entitled to any number of things -- our time, a grade, a degree -- while the financial constraints often mean that we serve a fairly narrow social group (although like at most costly institutions, a minority of the people there pay full tuition). Interestingly, in discussing teaching with my colleagues from "the former countries of real socialism" (anyone remember that phrase?), many of them have the sense that high tuitions mean that the people paying them are more likely to be highly motivated than just passing through. For people in the teaching field, it often seems as though the goal is something not entirely realistic, providing knowledge and insight to people who really want it but do not really need it. I render this with a little bit of irony, but still hold to the belief that the best students will usually be the ones who have chosen what they are doing, for reasons of which they are aware.
For those reasons and a bunch of others, the Toronto-basedAnarchist U(niversity, no?) project looks very intriguing. It is not entirely new, having operated since Fall 2003. And it is not so big, with just three courses this term and not much more than five or so in other terms. Courses are free (there may be a charge for books and copies) and non-credit, and most of them are on political and social themes. Although it seems that course development and enrollment are e-mail and wiki-based, the classes themselves are nonvirtual, with people gathering in rooms at particular times.
Probably this sort of model is not likely to substitute for the kinds of institutions where most instructors and students find themselves now. But it looks like a mighty good way of making it possible for both teachers and students (broadly, rather than professionally, defined) to do a bit more of the stuff that attracted them to the world of knowledge in the first place.