Tuesday, June 18, 2013

How The American University was Killed, in Five Easy Steps

 From the Homeless Adjunct courtesy of Eschaton:

Under the guise of many “conflicts”, such as budget struggles, or quotas, de-funding was consistently the result. This funding argument also was used to re-shape the kind of course offerings and curriculum focus found on campuses. 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 de-funded…” 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 de-value 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”.

More here.

Probably the biggest impediment to explaining the decline of American civilization is that doing so involves discussing gigantic institutions and systems which are accompanied by assumptions, both true and false, that most of us take for granted.  That is, most of these conversations about "what's wrong with America" are embedded with ideas that nobody really questions.  So, for instance, we talk about how the government is "going broke," which necessitates "spending cuts" to important social programs, but observing that the vast amount of resources and wealth which continue to be under the nation's control might be harnessed to address this "fiscal crisis" is such an out-of-bounds idea that people just look at you funny when you make the assertion, and then go on with the discussion as though you had said nothing.  Going off script to address the things that people don't usually address is an invitation to obscurity, whether you're right or wrong.  Emperor's new clothes, and all.

This is exactly what's happening with what serves for public discourse on the state of university education in the US these days.  When you say something, as the linked essay does, like this, "Within one generation, in five easy steps, not only have the scholars and intellectuals of the country been silenced and nearly wiped out, but the entire institution has been hijacked, and recreated as a machine through which future generations will ALL be impoverished, indebted and silenced," you will very likely be perceived, and immediately dismissed, as a tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy nut.  There are just too many unquestioned assumptions that need to be addressed in order to take such an assertion seriously, and most people simply won't do the intellectual work of revisiting those things they think they already know.

All of this is, of course, extremely ironic because revisiting assumptions and questioning beliefs are some of the intellectual values absorbed and embraced by university educated Americans a generation ago.  Not so much today.  Which kind of proves the point.