Saturday, June 22, 2013

Killing the University

The title of the piece is "How the American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps." And it's appalling of course. I forget at this point exactly how I ran across this. But the subject always trips my trigger, so I thought I'd tell you about too. It's a long read, as these things go, but worth it, I think. Not only to get the argument, but to get it from the perspective of a guy named who's truly been victimized by the state of affairs . . . he's an adjunct professor somewhere, by definition overworked and grossly underpaid, and further a person devoted to learning and the life of the mind. This last description of course in this society designates him as somebody pretty much useless for any "productive" role in the economy. I was astonished to learn not long ago that 75 percent of the teaching faculty in American colleges and universities are temps and adjuncts. But upon reflection, I had to realize: but of course. It would have to be this way, given what the premise of the article is. That the American University is already dead.

Here's the way the argument runs, the five steps:
  1. First, you defund public education
  2. Second, you deprofessionalize and impoverish the professors (and continue to create a surplus of underemployed and unemployed Ph.D.s)
  3. Step #3: You move in a managerial/administrative class who take over governance of the university. 
  4.  Step Four: You move in corporate culture and corporate money
  5. Destroy the students
Obviously, all of these are filled out in considerable detail, but I want to highlight only the last "destroy the students." Let me quote:
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. 2000%! This is the most directly dangerous situation for our students: pulling them into crippling debt that will follow them to the grave.
Under this same general rubric, he also alleges an unholy alliance between the leading lending istitutions, our friends the big banks, and university financial aid departments, a "shady partnership" developing between them. After we've learn what else these banks have done, can we truly doubt that they've got their greedy tentacles around this victim too? 
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