5.6.18

SOCIAL CONTRACTS BROKEN ON ALL SIDES?

Alternet correspondent Debra L. Scott details How Higher Education Was Destroyed in 5 Basic Steps.  Regular readers will find in these steps material that is familiar, as well as food for thought.

Start with the "loss of Eden" myth as understood by advocates of business as usual for the welfare state university.
Let’s go back to post-World War II, 1950s when the GI bill, and the affordability – and sometimes free access – to universities created an upsurge of college students across the country. This surge continued through the ’60s, when universities were the very heart of intense public discourse, passionate learning, and vocal citizen involvement in the issues of the times. It was during this time, too, 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.
Build straw men much?  Condescend much?  Virtue-signal much?  Those all appear to be common errors on the part of supposedly educated people, who would rather blame all their troubles on false consciousness or Koch money or something, rather than consider the possibility that their policy prescriptions don't bring a new birth of freedom.

What, then, are the five steps?

Step I: Defund public higher education.

Her interpretation of what happened is partially correct.
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. [Anna] 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.

Another argument used to attack the humanities was “…their so-called promotion of anti-establishment sentiment. Gradually, these arguments translated into real -- and often deep -- cuts into the budgets of state university systems,” especially in those most undesirable areas that the establishment found to run counter to their ability to control the population’s thoughts and behavior. The idea of “manufactured consent” should be talked about here – because if you remove the classes and the disciplines that are the strongest in their ability to develop higher level intellectual rigor, the result is a more easily manipulated citizenry, less capable of deep interrogation and investigation of the establishment “message.”
There might be something to the dumbing down of the humanities and the social sciences, but that might be as much from the fashionable nonsense masquerading as developing rigor as it might be animus on the part of legislatures.

Step II: Deprofessionalize and impoverish the professors (and continue to create a surplus of underemployed and unemployed Ph.D.s).

That has been coming for a long time, starting as early as (gasp) those enlightened 1960s as administrators confronted the effects of reduced birth rates at the end of the baby boom.

Whether as a pragmatic adjustment, or as a way to free up resources to expand employment of deanlets or deanlings, or as a way to kill interest in academic vocations, it's not pretty.
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. Unlike those communist countries, which sometimes executed their intellectuals, here we are being killed off by lack of healthcare, by stress-related illness like heart-attacks or strokes. While we’re at it, let’s add suicide to that list of killers.
There's an unexploited gain from trade here, as opponents of the radical dispensation in higher education such as Martin (Impostors in the Temple) Anderson and Allan (Closing of the American Mind) Bloom and Charlie (Prof Scam) Sykes have suggested that adjunctification is part of the rot, not a clever ploy to sharpen capitalist tools.

In addition, those critics of higher education who object to Student Affairs taking over the curriculum will find much to like at the third step.

Step III: Move in a managerial/administrative class that takes over governance of the university.

Exactly. Consider, though, the subtleties in her elaboration.
If you are old enough to remember when medicine was forever changed by the appearance of the HMO model of managed medicine, you will have an idea of what has happened to academia. If you are not old enough – let me tell you that once upon a time, doctors ran hospitals, doctors made decisions on what treatment their patients needed. In the 1970s, during the Nixon administration, HMOs were an idea sold to the American public, said to help rein in medical costs. But once Nixon secured passage of the HMO Act in 1973, the organizations went quickly from operating on a non-profit organization model, focused on high quality health care for controlled costs, to being for-profit organizations, with lots of corporate money funding them – and suddenly the idea of high-quality healthcare was sacrificed in favor of profits – which meant taking in higher and higher premiums and offering less and less service, more denied claims, more limitations placed on doctors, who became a “managed profession.”

You see the state of healthcare in this country, and how disastrous it is. Well, during this same time, there was a similar kind of development, something akin to the HMO — let’s call it an “EMO,” Educational Management Organization, began to take hold in American academia. From the 1970s until today, as the number of full-time faculty jobs continued to shrink, the number of full-time administrative jobs began to explode. As faculty was deprofessionalized and casualized, reduced to teaching as migrant contract workers, administrative jobs now offered good, solid salaries, benefits, offices, prestige and power. In 2012, administrators now outnumber faculty on every campus across the country. And just as disastrous as the HMO was to the practice of medicine in America, so is the EMO model disastrous to the practice of academia in America, and to the quality of our students’ education. Benjamin Ginsburg writes about this in great detail in his book The Fall of the Faculty.

I’d like to mention here, too, that 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. We have to add here, too, that president salaries went from being, in the 1970s, around $25K to 30K, to being in the hundreds of thousands to MILLIONS of dollars – salary, delayed compensation, discretionary funds, free homes, or generous housing allowances, cars and drivers, memberships to expensive country clubs.
The "health management organization" was an attempt to contain expenditures in a line of business that was becoming increasingly reliant on third-party payments and separated from market tests.  Where there are third-party payments, it's easier for the managers to engage in expense-preference behavior.  The extension to the educational management organization is straightforward, and it leads directly to her fourth point.

Step IV: Move in corporate culture and corporate money.

Again, there's plenty of blame to go around.
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.
It probably came to this when higher education sold itself with the slogan, "to get a good job, get a good education" back in those Prosperous Early Sixties.  Likewise, it probably came to this when the competition for prestige included the competition for grants, whether federally funded, or by politically-motivated foundations, or by Big Pharma and the corporate interests Ms Scott invokes.

It's not a good place.

Step V: Destroy the students.

Just go, read that part, then think about treating faculty as professionals, about recognizing that Northern Illinois or California Polytechnic at San Luis Obispo are in the same business as Wisconsin or Northwestern, about the effect of third party payments on the behavior of financial aid offices.

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