Friday, April 18, 2014

“Academy Fight Song” The Baffler No. 23, 2013 Thomas Frank


Key Points:

·      The American University as utopian imaginary and a four-year degree represented as guaranteeing individual class ascendancy and national competitiveness; contrast this against the reality of the contemporary university (i.e. crippling student debt);

·       Contemporary University as supply-side education: “a ‘credential’ that’s ‘a prerequisite for 21st century jobs’,” an economic input,  but this is a higher education cliché; “no one really knows the particular contents of the education that is supposed to save us”;

o   college grads as colonizing an entire economy, perpetuating their “worth” via networking;
o   powerful quote: “Get something else, like a cosmetologist license or a membership in the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and you lose
o   powerful quote: “What they sell, in other words, is something we believe to be so valuable it is almost impossible to measure”;

·      The University as academic capitalism: patents and startups; self-description as “entrepreneurial” institutions; outsourcing of operations; antagonistic to worker organization; wealth managers;

·      Selling the imaginary of the University to naïve student consumers: Grant to an industry control over access to the good things in life; insist that it transform itself into a throat-cutting, market-minded mercenary; get thought leaders to declare it to be the answer to every problem; mute any reservations the nation might have about it – and, lastly, send it your unsuspecting kids, armed with a blank check drawn on their own futures;

o   American student as “cash-cow” (monopolies and oligopolies: text book industry, standardized test industry, test-prep industry, enrollment management consultancies
o   Universities as luxury good (tuition hikes, Starchitect buildings)
o   Proliferation of university administrators with bloated salaries – their expanded role in governance; management theory and jargon
o   De-professionalization of faculty: proliferation of adjuncts and contingent labor

·      Academic capitalism has been chronicled for decades.  What “ought” to happen is that trends described should be put in reverse, but what “will” happen is a bubble bust, followed by more deep marketization

·      The “only way out”: student activism

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