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Coursera Brings In Longtime Yale President Rick Levin as CEO

Does Coursera have ambitions of usurping the role of traditional higher education? No.

Coursera, the massive-open-online-course provider with the most funding and the most students in the space, is shaking up its leadership.

The company has named Rick Levin, formerly president of Yale University for two decades, as CEO.

So in case you were still wondering if Coursera might have ambitions of usurping the role of traditional higher education, the answer is no. Levin’s latest book, “The Worth of the University,” argues for the critical role of the university in society.

With the entrance of Levin, previously an adviser to Coursera, co-CEOs Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller, both professors on leave from Stanford, will take different operational roles.

Ng will be chairman, with a focus on “MOOC pedagogy” and expansion to China. Koller will be president, with a focus on partners and operations. Former President Lila Abrahim will be chief business officer.

“I think of this as a very additive change to the organization,” Ng said in an interview Monday. “I don’t think of Rick joining as CEO as signaling any important change. Honestly, I think Coursera is doing well, and he is joining to further our progress.”

Though chairman might sound like a more distant role — and perhaps a move that might be expected for Ng, given that his research field of deep learning is blowing up right now — he insisted that was not the case. “I am still very actively involved in the company,” Ng said. “We talked about having even more titles, but I think it doesn’t matter.”

Levin, whose experiments with online education date back to 2000, called Coursera’s purpose “an unmitigated public good” in a statement.

Based in Mountain View, Calif., the 100-person company now has 600 free courses and seven million registered students around the world.

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