How soon will it drown us all in its insistence on small government and free markets, competitiveness, deregulation and privatization? Its celebration of ever-lower taxes, consumerism, individual empowerment and self-interest has had dire effects on education in general and on higher education in particular.Was it the Chamber of Commerce, or the nonprofit Advertising Council, that, before anybody coined the word "neoliberalism" (originally to distinguish the Gary Hart Democrats from the Hubert Humphrey Democrats) was pushing "to get a good job, get a good education?" Fifty years of hearing that (it's inaccurate advice, but that's Mike Rowe's bailiwick) is likely to turn a lot of matriculants instrumental in their focus.
Tuition skyrockets, students bear staggering debt burdens, cost cutting must always be prioritized -- even over learning. Institutions lean ever more heavily on poorly paid contingent faculty members (don’t even ask about fringe benefits), pit faculty against administrators and create a culture of accountability that takes time and energy away from the important and difficult work of teaching. Students focus on earning a credential and pray that all the debt they are taking on is worth it. (No wonder many of them only seem to care whether this information will be on the exam and if a course fulfills a particular requirement.)
Life as a faculty member is not what it was when I began my first full-time job. As the dean of my college said just a few weeks ago, we used to have fun. We used to deal with everyday, mundane concerns. We used to complain about grading and entertain each other with amusing stories about hapless students. We would cheer when we passed something by vote in a faculty meeting because it was so uncommon.Perhaps fretting about attrition rates reflects the business fad of being "data driven." (Translation: you only do things you can measure.) But perhaps attrition rates are a consequence of the access-assessment-remediation-retention mindset, where access is a euphemism for "admitting unprepared students." And the battles with the administration? Those deanlets and deanlings might exist in order to avoid prosecution by the Office of Civil Rights, or perhaps to implement the identity-politics priorities the faculty were complicit in implementing without proper review, that is, until the demands of the special education bureaucracy made it impossible to teach at the college level any more, even if the intake of Distressed Material was under control.
Now we debate the meaning of DFW rates (drop-fail-withdrawal -- funny how no one talks about grade inflation these days) and wonder not whether, but how much, the budget will be cut this time. We obsess over retention and graduation rates and wait on tenterhooks to find out if our summer courses have sufficient enrollment to be taught and allow us to support our families through those months. We feel pitted against our administration rather than valuable, and valued, partners with it.
Start treating college like high school, don't be surprised when it turns into high school, complete with the cliques and the burnouts.