Militarized Conservatism and the End(s) of Higher Education

The Pathologies of War – Published on Truthout, by Henry A. Giroux,  April5, 2011.

There can be little doubt that America has become a permanent warfare state.(1) Not only is it waging a war in three countries, but its investment in military power is nearly as much as all of the military budgets of every other country in the world combined. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute states, “The USA’s military spending accounted for 43 per cent of the world total in 2009, followed by China with 6.6 per cent; France with 4.3 per cent and the UK with 3.8 per cent.”(2) The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost Americans a staggering $1 trillion to date, second only in inflation-adjusted dollars to the $4 trillion price tag for World War II.”(3) Pentagon spending for 2011 will be more than $700 billion. To make matters worse, as Tom Englehardt points out, “We dominate the global arms trade, monopolizing almost 70% of the arms business in 2008, with Italy coming in a vanishingly distant second. We put more money into the funding of war, our armed forces and the weaponry of war than the next 25 co … // 

… The War Against Higher Education:

Public spheres that once offered at least the glimmer of progressive ideas, enlightened social policies, non-commodified values and critical exchange have been increasingly commercialized or replaced by private spaces and corporate settings, whose ultimate fidelity is to expanding profit margins. For example, higher education is increasingly defined as another core element of corporate power and culture, and as such, has to be stripped of its role as a democratic public sphere vital to the ideals of democratization. In the current climate, what has become clear is that the neoliberal attack on the social state, workers and unions is now being matched by a full-fledged assault on higher education. Such attacks are not happening just in the United States, but in many other parts of the globe where neoliberalism is waging a savage battle to eliminate all of those public spheres which might offer a glimmer of opposition to market-driven policies, institutions, ideology and values. Higher education is being targeted by conservative politicians and governments because it embodies, at least ideally, a sphere in which students learn that democracy is, as Jacques Rancière suggests, a rupture, a relentless critique and dialogue about official power, its institutions and its never-ending attempts to silent dissent.(29)

As Ellen Schrecker points out, “Today the entire enterprise of higher education, not just its dissident professors, is under attack, both internally and externally.”(30) In England and the United States, universities and businesses are forming stronger ties, the humanities are being underfunded, student tuition is rising at astronomical rates, knowledge is being commodified and research is valued through the lens of an audit culture. In England, the Browne Report has established modes of governance, financing and evaluation that, for all intent and purposes, makes higher education an adjunct of corporate values and interests.(31) Delivering improved employability has reshaped the connection between knowledge and power, while rendering faculty and students as professional entrepreneurs and budding customers. The notion of the university as a center of critique and democratic public sphere vitally necessary in providing the knowledge, skills and values necessary for the production of a democratic polity is giving way to a view of the university as a marketing machine essential to the production of neoliberal subjects.(32)

The Browne Report’s guiding assumptions suggest that student choice, a consumer model of pedagogy, an instrumental culture of auditing practices and market-driven values are at the heart of the neoliberal university. Like most neoliberal models of education, higher education matters to the extent that it drives economic growth, innovation, transformation and promotes national prosperity.(33) Even though tuition will be tripled in some cases, numerous schools closed and higher education effectively remade according to the dictates of a corporate culture, the conservative-liberal government appears indifferent to the devastating consequences its policies will produce. Simon Head has suggested that the Browne’s policies represent a severe threat to academic freedom. In actuality, the neoliberal policies it embodies represents a threat to one of the few remaining institutions left in which dissent, critical dialogue and social problems can be critically engaged.(34) What is often lost in such criticisms is that democracy demands a critical formative culture and set of institutions in which complicated ideas can be engaged, authority challenged, power held accountable and public intellectuals produced. All of this is now threatened in England and other countries pushing neoliberal reforms. Under this economic model, there is no talk of social justice, addressing social problems, promoting critical thinking, addressing matters of social responsibility or engaging critically non-commodified values that might challenge the neoliberal world view. Where the British differ from their American counterparts is that the labor unions, workers, young people, students and members of the middle class are protesting in huge numbers the attack on the social state and the university as a social good.

In the United States, this neoliberal model takes a somewhat different form since states control the budgets for higher education. Under the call for austerity, states have begun the process of massively defunding public universities while they simultaneously provide massive tax breaks for corporations and the rich. At the same time, higher education in its search for funding has “adopted the organizational trappings of medium-sized or large corporations.”(35) University presidents are now viewed as CEOs, faculty as entrepreneurs and students as consumer. It gets worse. In some universities, new college deans are shifting their focus outside of the campus in order to take “on some of the fund-raising, strategic planning and partner-seeking duties that were once the bailiwick of the university president.”(36) Academic leadership is now defined in part through one’s ability to raise funds, engage in strategic planning and partner up with corporate donors. In fact, deans are increasingly viewed as the head of complex businesses and their job performance ratings are dependent on their fund-raising performances.

As business culture permeate higher education, all manner of school practices from food service and specific modes of instruction to hiring temporary faculty are now outsourced to private contractors. Moreover, the most important value of higher education is now tied to the need for credentials. Disciplines and subjects that do not fall within the purview of mathematical utility and economic rationality are now seen as dispensable.(37) In the search for adopting market values and cutting costs, classes have ballooned in size, there is an increased emphasis on rote learning and standardized testing, and tuition fees have skyrocketed, making it impossible for thousands of working-class youth to gain access to higher education. One of the most serious consequences facing higher education in the United States under the reign of neoliberal austerity and disciplinary measures is the increased casualization of academic labor and the ongoing attacks on tenure and academic freedom.

College presidents not only now align themselves with business values, but they willingly and openly associate themselves with corporate interests. Moreover, as universities adopt models of corporate governance, they are aggressively eliminating tenure positions, increasing part-time and full-time positions without the guarantee of tenure and attacking faculty unions. In a number of states such as Ohio and Utah, legislatures have passed bills outlawing tenure, while in Wisconsin, the governor has abrogated the bargaining rights of state university faculty.(38) At a time when higher education is becoming increasingly vocationalized, the ranks of tenure-track faculty are being drastically depleted in the United States, furthering the loss of faculty as stakeholders. Currently, only 27 percent of faculty are either on a tenure track of have a full-time tenure position. As faculty are demoted to contingency forms of labor, they not only lose their power to influence the conditions of their work, but they are seeing their workloads increase, paid poorly, deprived of office space and supplies, refused travel money and subject to policies that allow them to be fired at will.(39) The latter is particularly egregious, because when coupled with an ongoing series of attacks by right-wing ideologues against left-oriented and progressive academics, many nontenured faculty censor themselves in their classes. At a time when critics within the academy are often fired for their political beliefs, have their names posted on right-wing web sites, are forced to turn over their email correspondence to right-wing groups,(40) and are harassed in the conservative press, it is all the more crucial that protections be put in place that safeguard faculty positions and academics to exercise the rights of academic freedom.(41)

What is clear is that the United States is in a state of permanent war and that the casualties are not just on foreign soil. The war at home is being conducted by the same people who benefit from wars abroad. Right-wing conservatives, politicians and corporate billionaires who engage in a full-fledged attack to destroy higher education as a democratic public sphere exhibit not only an almost pathological scorn for the social state, trade unions and workers, but also for any institution capable of producing “an educated population [willing] to sustain a vibrant democracy and culture that provides a key component of the good life.”(42) Viewed as simply a training ground for the corporate order, higher education has defaulted on its promise of a democratic future for young people. It has also failed in its traditional call to invest in a social state capable of creating the conditions in which it becomes possible for young people to imagine another world outside of a permanent warfare state and its accompanying economic Darwinism that now bears down on every aspect of their lives … (full long text and Notes 1 – 42).

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