Category Archives: Neoliberalism

Goldman Sachs report looks at higher education

The costs of higher ed have risen exponentially over the last few decades. That goes without saying. UC Berkeley in the 1980s cost $650 a semester. UT-Austin now costs about $5,000 a semester. No wonder the rate of return or the VFM (value for money) for students is decreasing. The causes of that rise aren’t questioned at all in the report.

What’s tragic (and self-serving in documents such as the Goldman Sachs higher ed report) is that states, prodded in no small part by the dilemmas of finance capitalists, have been funding public higher ed less and less for decades, forcing these institutions to re-shape themselves, not only as conductors of an ever-growing list of state and federal policies, but as foundation grant seekers, real estate development businesses (with a side mission of education), and deploying more and more adjunct and contingent faculty labor, leaving these institutions ever more focused on administrative priorities and employees rather than instructional priorities and employees.

Essentially, the neoliberal state has abandoned the idea of public (higher) education, forcing these institutions to turn themselves upside-down to mimic business efficiencies (i.e., corporatization in higher ed), and then to be found wanting for not purely running like very successful businesses; and forcing students and families to bear more and more of the costs while instructional quality declines through the over-use of professionally less supported part-time instructors, and then declaring that now might be the time for businesses proper to step in and do the job of training (educating?) workers (students?) properly.

We seem to have, at bottom, a metaphor problem, simultaneously talking about higher education through a lattice of mutually defeating terms: customer, worker, student, consumer, vocation, education, skills, training. The list goes on and branches out: teacher, educator, trainer, instructor, coach, faculty, mentor, facilitator, professor, guide, leader. Or on another branching semantic axis: discipline, practice, service, studying, product, support, offering, degree, certificate, grade, project, assignment. Some of these words line up with each other better than they do with others listed, and the ensuing cognitive dissonances mar policy and civic discourse.

We have almost completely lost the point of what higher education is and what it is for. If it is just job training, then I’m sure a good deal of higher education will be found wanting in terms of such vocational VFM, especially in liberal arts fields which will survive, surely enough, in only elite institutions. Now why is that? It’s not only that the privileged attendees can afford it, but that they value it for the larger things such a heady education permits them to survey. (original post)


Comment at the new rules of work. This is the future of college

“Experts say that within the next 10 to 15 years, the college experience will become rapidly unbundled. Lecture halls will disappear, the role of the professor will transform, and technology will help make a college education much more attainable than it is today, and much more valuable. Indeed, a number of institutions may shut down. But those that survive will be innovative and efficient. ”

So, as stated at the end of the article, why can’t “society afford to lose the university”? What great purpose does it serve, according to the account offered in this article, beyond job training? And why should the public pay for such job training? Isn’t the free public K-12 education enough tax-payer money? As the article notes with the sterling example of The College for America, employers who want a certain kind of training (critical thinking and communication skills without a liberal arts education), can send people to vocational schools that offer “communication development,” free-form, workshop, in the celebrated “Kindergarten” style. This is all the more so because so many of the key “competencies” that employers want are, as observed in the article, “not learned in school.” Won’t a student learn more critical thinking at a for-profit school, backed by employer money, than would ever be possible in a college or university? Why do we think colleges have anything to do with critical thinking anyway?


The ideals of learning versus authoritarian corporatism in higher ed

Coming out of a California JC in the 80s, paying only $640 a semester at UC Berkeley, and having valued what I learned at both places before going to IU-Bloomington, I don’t recognize all the complaining about terrible professors. Not all professors in my experience were incredible, but I never had a truly terrible professor. As far as I could tell, they all cared a lot about their work and wanted their students to appreciate their fields. Now, if we are talking about students not always being committed to the ideals of learning, and what effects that can have on the morale and justification for what happens on a campus, e.g., the oft-repeated circumstance of faculty being pressured to lower standards, make classes easier and less demanding, etc., then we are more on the right track. Resentment against professors and academics isn’t going to fix things. Figuring out ways to help students see the value of education, to do other things with their lives until they are ready to study seriously–that’s more constructive.

The Neoliberal corporatization of colleges & universities is a national, global tragedy. The money flowing disproportionately to management and away from the actual missions of instruction, learning, and sustained critical inquiry via a huge and growing reliance on adjunct faculty, paid poverty wages, and denied many of the dignities, like phones and offices, of the worthy work they do, is unethical & immoral. We’re already beginning to pay the price of less democracy and more authoritarianism in our lives.

The Material Conditions of Rhet-Comp

As a community college professor, with a PhD from Schilb’s institution, I have to say that I would skip reading CE’s recondite, patiently spun articles on Lincoln’s, or Obama’s, or Bush’s rhetoric. I’m much more keenly interested however in how best to teach FYC, especially in an era when the AAUP is on the ropes, when we as a discipline have lost our voice and authority with the public, when corporatization of the academy is everywhere on the march, when degrees in academic management are advertised on this very page of Inside Higher Ed, and when for-profit “universities” are crawling everywhere out of the web. These things just might affect the quality and direction of what gets taught in Rhet-Comp. The following question then seems small and insignificant until it is linked to a threatened academic freedom, to what will get taught to our nation’s freshman writers, a concern, let me add then, of importance even to the future of the state: What approach should one use in Rhet-Comp? (The title of the article seemed–seemed–so spot-on.)

There are many approaches to choose from. Scholars like Richard Fulkerson have made a mini-field simply out of taxonomizing the different approaches to Rhet-Comp, which seems to lurch from staid textbook encrusted writing-in-the-modes inertia to ethnographic approaches, critical pedagogies, visual literacies, and, now, digital humanities, etc. (The whole “digital convergence” will have humanities disciplines competing for relevance even while it creates, usually snake-oil, opportunities for for-profit and online education.)

Currently the field is atwitter about genre writing, especially teaching discipline specific genres. For some, “academic writing” is considered an empty term, an Erehwonian “mutt genre.” People like Anne Beaufort worry that we don’t teach engineers enough about how to write like engineers. People like David Smit contemplate the elimination of English comp altogether to be replaced by dual-specialists who can teach writing and something else. Stanley Fish wants us to just teach linguistics and grammar and plenty of blinkered, well-meaning traditionalists in his NYT blog comments threads as well as, frankly, reactionaries seem to want us just to teach sentence diagramming. And when will students actually write and what will they write about? Content rears its ugly head yet again, meaning that college professors and English departments–if they have the freedom–have to decide what content to teach in FYC. While actual intellectual and scholarly content from the rich tradition of humanistic writing is there waiting to be read and written about, plenty of people both inside and outside the discipline don’t think our students can handle classic Western Civ texts, let alone textbooks like Jacobi’s World of Ideas or Ways of Reading by Bartholomae and Petrosky.

The MLA left Rhet-Comp years ago in the hands of organizations like NCTE, CEA, CCC, and TYCA. As fine a thing as it is, there are bigger, more urgent fish to fry at this–sorry to urge something so overwrought and formulaic–crisis moment, than Lincoln’s beautiful rhetoric.

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