How higher education in the US was destroyed in 5 basic steps
October 19, 2012
(Note from The People’s Record: This post is partial, taking only segments from each of the five bullet points in the original article and none of the conclusion because people don’t like long articles on tumblr. In this case, I would recommend following the link at the bottom and reading the whole thing if you have a few moments. I think it’s important.)
It was during this time (the 1960s), when colleges had a thriving professoriate, and when students were given access to a variety of subject areas, and the possibility of broad learning. The liberal arts stood at the center of a college education, and students were exposed to philosophy, anthropology, literature, history, sociology, world religions, foreign languages and cultures. Of course, something else happened, beginning in the late ’50s into the ’60s — the uprisings and growing numbers of citizens taking part in popular dissent — against the Vietnam War, against racism, against destruction of the environment in a growing corporatized culture, against misogyny, against homophobia. Where did much of that revolt incubate? Where did large numbers of well-educated, intellectual, and vocal people congregate? On college campuses. Who didn’t like the outcome of the ’60s? The corporations, the war-mongers, those in our society who would keep us divided based on our race, our gender, our sexual orientation.
But a country claiming to have democratic values can’t just shut down its universities. So, how do you kill the universities of the country without showing your hand? As a child growing up during the Cold War, I was taught that the communist countries in the first half of the 20th century put their scholars, intellectuals and artists into prison camps, called “re-education camps.” What I’ve come to realize as an adult is that American corporatism despises those same individuals as much as we were told communism did. But instead of doing anything so obvious as throwing them into prison, here those same people are thrown into dire poverty. The outcome is the same. Desperate poverty controls and ultimately breaks people as effectively as prison…..and some research says that it works even more powerfully.
Step I: Defund public higher education .
Anna Victoria:. Funding for public universities comes from, as the term suggests, the state and federal government. Yet starting in the early 1980s, shifting state priorities forced public universities to increasingly rely on other sources of revenue. For example, in the University of Washington school system, state funding for schools decreased as a percentage of total public education budgets from 82% in 1989 to 51% in 2011.”
That’s a loss of more than a third of its public funding. But why this shift in priorities? U.C. Berkeley English professor Christopher Newfield, in his new book Unmaking the Public Universityposits that conservative elites have worked to defund higher education explicitly because of its function in creating a more empowered, democratic, and multiracial middle class. His theory is one that blames explicit cultural concern, not financial woes, for the current decreases in funding. He cites the fact that California public universities were forced to reject 300,000 applicants because of lack of funding. Newfield explains that much of the motive behind conservative advocacy for defunding of public education is racial, pro-corporate and anti-protest in nature.
Under the guise of many “conflicts,” such as budget struggles, or quotas, defunding was consistently the result. This funding argument also was used to reshape the kind of course offerings and curriculum focus found on campuses. Victoria writes, “Attacks on humanities curriculums, political correctness, and affirmative action shifted the conversation on public universities to the right, creating a climate of skepticism around state funded schools. State budget debates became platforms for conservatives to argue why certain disciplines such as sociology, history, anthropology, minority studies, language, and gender studies should be defunded…” on one hand, through the argument that they were not offering students the “practical” skills needed for the job market — which was a powerful way to increase emphasis on what now is seen as vocational focus rather than actual higher education, and to devalue those very courses that trained and expanded the mind, developed a more complete human being, a more actively intelligent person and involved citizen.
Step II: Deprofessionalize and impoverish the professors (and continue to create a surplus of underemployed and unemployed Ph.D.s)
We have 1.5 million university professors in this country, 1 million of whom are adjuncts. One million professors in America are hired on short-term contracts, most often for one semester at a time, with no job security whatsoever – which means that they have no idea how much work they will have in any given semester, and that they are often completely unemployed over summer months when work is nearly impossible to find (and many of the unemployed adjuncts do not qualify for unemployment payments). So, one million American university professors are earning, on average, $20K a year gross, with no benefits or healthcare, no unemployment insurance when they are out of work. Keep in mind, too, that many of the more recent Ph.Ds have entered this field often with the burden of six figure student loan debt on their backs.
This is how you break the evil, wicked, leftist academic class in America — you turn them into low-wage members of the precariat – that growing number of American workers whose employment is consistently precarious. All around the country, our undergraduates are being taught by faculty living at or near the poverty line, who have little to no say in the way classes are being taught, the number of students in a class, or how curriculum is being designed. They often have no offices in which to meet their students, no professional staff support, no professional development support. One million of our college professors are struggling to continue offering the best they can in the face of this wasteland of deteriorated professional support, while living the very worst kind of economic insecurity.
Step III: Move in a managerial/administrative class that takes over governance of the university
Universities often defend their use of adjuncts – which are now 75% of all professors in the country — claiming that they have no choice but to hire adjuncts, as a “cost saving measure” in an increasingly defunded university. What they don’t say, and without demand of transparency will never say, is that they have not saved money by hiring adjuncts — they have reduced faculty salaries, security and power. The money wasn’t saved, because it was simply re-allocated to administrative salaries, coach salaries and outrageous university president salaries. There has been a redistribution of funds away from those who actually teach, the scholars – and therefore away from the students’ education itself — and into these administrative and executive salaries, sports costs — and the expanded use of “consultants,” PR and marketing firms, law firms.
Step IV: Move in corporate culture and corporate money.
To further control and dominate how the university is “used” — a flood of corporate money results in changing the value and mission of the university from a place where an educated citizenry is seen as a social good, where intellect and reasoning is developed and heightened for the value of the individual and for society, to a place of vocational training, focused on profit. Corporate culture hijacked the narrative – university was no longer attended for the development of your mind. It was where you went so you could get a “good job.” Anything not immediately and directly related to job preparation or hiring was denigrated and seen as worthless — philosophy, literature, art, history.
Step V: Destroy the students.
While claiming to offer them hope of a better life, our corporatized universities are ruining the lives of our students. This is accomplished through a two-prong tactic: you dumb down and destroy the quality of the education so that no one on campus is really learning to think, to question, to reason. Instead, they are learning to obey, to withstand “tests” and “exams,” to follow rules, to endure absurdity and abuse. Our students have been denied full-time available faculty, the ability to develop mentors and advisors, faculty-designed syllabi which changes each semester, a wide variety of courses and options. Instead, more and more universities have core curriculum which dictates a large portion of the course of study, in which the majority of classes are administrative-designed “common syllabi” courses, taught by an army of underpaid, part-time faculty in a model that more closely resembles a factory or the industrial kitchen of a fast food restaurant than an institution of higher learning.
The Second Prong: You make college so insanely unaffordable that only the wealthiest students from the wealthiest of families can afford to go to the school debt free. Younger people may not know that for much of the 20th century many universities in the U.S. were free, including the CA state system: you could establish residency in six months and go to Berkeley for free, or at very low cost. When I was an undergraduate student in the mid- to late-1970s, tuition at Temple University was around $700 a year. Today, tuition is nearly $15,000 a year. Tuitions have increased, using CA as an example again, over 2000% since the 1970s.