What good is a university if it doesn’t educate students?
Strange question? Not in the ever more bizarre world of the American public university.
Don’t get me wrong: many American public universities still do a great job of educating students, but creeping rot is indubitably here (including at my own university). The worrisome trends are plain to see. Higher education is being defunded, the university is being corporatized. Universities are being driven ever further from their core mission of educating the future citizenry.
Full disclosure: I’ve got skin in the game. After all, I’ve worked in an American public university for more than half my life. In that time, I’ve watched the developing crisis up close.
The two most commonly cited causes of the crisis are ever decreasing allocations from state legislatures and ever increasing costs of facilities and services. No doubt, these causes are real. Less frequently mentioned, however, is the equally real runaway corporatization of the university.
The perception has steadily gained ground in the last couple of decades that a public university should be run like a private corporation, rather than treated as a common good in which citizens invest for the well being of the society we all live in. As if private corporations—the same polluting, gouging, hierarchical, non-accountable private corporations that have presided over and enabled an enormous transfer of wealth to the already wealthy in the last few decades—are such great models of spreading benefits to society at large! (For a critical analysis of the private corporation, see: Cultural Critique and the Global Corporation, ed. Purnima Bose and Laura Lyons, Indian UP, 2010.)
It’s not hard to see how corporatization creates and adds to the crisis of defunding. Who really benefits from corporatization, after all? Certainly not students, whose tuitions have gone up year after year, who are piling up debt, and who are being offered distance learning and online classes in place of classrooms. And certainly not permanent faculty, whose numbers have dwindled year after year, to be replaced by super-exploited adjunct labor.
No, think of corporatization this way: it is the redirection of funds to an ever larger and ever more well rewarded managerial class of administrators and their cronies outside the university. This class knows nothing about a classroom, which is at best a distant memory and at worst alien territory (students? what students? we manage clients!). No wonder resources for students and faculty are scarce.
The American university today is a crime scene. The perpetrators of the crime are the heedless members of a managerial class in cahoots with naked business interests outside the university. And the crime? Nothing less than a callous disregard for the dreams and hopes of students, many from difficult backgrounds. Sadly, my own university is not exempt—it too is witness to the slow murder of real education by corporatization and cronyism. (See http://fixuhmanoa.wordpress.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/IMuaManoa.)
We need to save the university from the managerial class. It’s time for class warfare on college campuses.