Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Five Steps to Killing Universities

In August of 2012, the website The Homeless Adjunct ran the post "How the American University Was Killed, in Five Easy Steps." While "kill" might be a bit of an overstatement, the post definitely gives a picture of how US colleges and universities have been clobbered, and clobbered hard. Let's see if any of these steps look familiar two years later.

Here are the HA's five steps.

1) Defund the universities. This can be done in the context of "solving" any number of crises in public institutions (particularly those that show left-leaning tendencies). Yup. In PA. we've been slashing funds to colleges and universities like crazy, aided by a drop in the college-age population which exacerbates the same effect.

2) Deprofessionalize and impoverish the professors. This can take the form of shifting from full-time lifers to temporary adjuncts who are both paid less in the salary short term and cost less in the long term (no pensions or, in some cases, no benefits). This also goes hand in hand with creating a great mass of unemployed PhDs clamoring for the few meagre jobs available.

3) Move in a managerial/administrative class who take over governance of the university.Stop having universities run by academics and professors, and bring on the bean counters. Make a business style your priority. This helps re-inforce the first two steps, as bottom-line thinking keeps your focus on cutting costs.

4) Move in corporate culture and corporate money. "Academia should not be the whore of corporatism, but that’s what it has become." We've begun to see the stories of corporate sponsors making sure that economics, for example, be taught by professors who think the right way. Goodbye, academic independence; hello, corporate suck-ups.

5) Destroy the students. Well, leave them crushed by debt, anyway. Encourage them to over-extend themselves with a massive load of student loans. In return, give them a courseload that emphasizes spoon-feeding and regurgitation of basic ideas instead of thinking.

While the rhetoric may be a bit heated, the ideas are actually pretty recognizable to those of us public pre-college education. It's worth remembering that the reformsters are interested in "fixing" sectors of the education world beyond just public schools, and that public school teachers and college profs share, or should share, some concerns. From cutting funds, to bringing in TFA et al to minimize teaching lifers, to injecting corporate culture into schools through regulation and charterization, to trying to turn students into test-taking data-generation units, this all looks pretty familiar.

The writer develops these ideas with considerable more detail; this is definitely one of my "you should go take a look at this" posts.


  1. Yes Peter- this is familiar and we even have our own version of Race to the Top with all the same emphasis on competition and ratings based on student performance measures.

  2. Also see Jacques Barzun on the subject. His books, The American University and Begin Here, document a half century of ignorance and incompetence about teaching and learning. Discouraging, because although 50 years is a long time, few listen to curmudgeons. Encouraging, becasue if you and Mr. Barzun are telling the Truth, you will prevail.

  3. I can sort of see why it broke down this way with the students funding their universities more and more through tuition. I doubt the government of California ,for example is interested in following "conservative" principles. It probably came about due to the fact that subsidy to universities is subsidy to the middle and upper class. These are people with the money to pay. They probably said "In the case of the poor, we'll give them financial aide to make up the difference." This is perhaps a more honest method of taxation. Those using the service with the greatest ability to pay, carry the heavier burden.