Dear Commons Community,
The Chronicle of Higher Education has a featured report this morning commenting on the dire state of American public higher education, a regular topic on this blog. The title says it all: An Era of Neglect: How public colleges were crowded out, beaten up, and failed to fight back! It traces how state politics have rendered a system that was seen as a public good to one that is seen as personal benefit that should be funded by students and their families. Here is a brief excerpt from one of the articles:
“The story of public higher education’s transition from a key national priority to an increasingly neglected special interest is untidy. It cannot be traced to any single moment in time. It cannot be laid at the feet of any one individual or ideology. Rather, it is the story of dozens and dozens of consequential moves made by individual actors across the country. They are lobbyists and activists, antitax conservatives and big-government liberals, conflicted idealists and self-preservationists. Even college leaders themselves. They are the American public.”
The article is well worth a read and summarizes interviews with several players in this transition. One question I would ask: where was the US Department of Education during all of this? The answer: Absolutely nowhere and where it continues to be.
The article is crap. Contrast:
“To get to this point, there was no one vote taken, no single cut made, no lone backroom deal struck. Rather, many, many individual choices together weakened the bonds…”
“In 1971, Lewis Powell (before assuming his post as a Supreme Court Justice) authored a memo, now known as the Powell Memorandum, and sent it to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The title of the memo was ‘Attack on the American Free Enterprise System,’ and in it he called on corporate America to take an increased role in shaping politics, law, and education in the United States.”
“(The) ultimate objective, as outlined in the (Lewis Powell) memo, was to purge respectable institutions such as the media, arts, sciences, as well as college campus themselves of left-wing thoughts. At the time, college campuses were seen as ‘springboards for dissent,’ as Newfield terms it, and were therefore viewed as publicly funded sources of opposition to the interests of the establishment. While it is impossible to know the extent to which this memo influenced the conservative political strategy over the coming decades, it is extraordinary to see how far the principles outlined in his memo have been adopted.”
“[T]he most important thing to keep in mind is this: The real winners, the only people truly benefitting from the big-picture meltdown of the American university are those people who, in the 1960s, saw those vibrant college campuses as a threat to their established power. They are the same people now working feverishly to dismantle other social structures, everything from Medicare and Social Security to the Post Office.
“Looking at this wreckage of American academia, we have to acknowledge: They have won.
“But these are victors who will never declare victory — because the carefully-maintained capitalist illusion of the ‘university education’ still benefits them. Never, ever, admit that the university is dead. No, no. Quite the opposite. Instead, continue to insist that the university is the ONLY way to gain a successful, middle class life. Say that the university is mandatory for happiness in adulthood. All the while, maintain this low-wage precariate class of edu-migrants, continually mis-educate and indebt…the students to ensure their docility, pimp the institution out to corporate interests. It’s a win-win…”