The University in Chains

Most of the players in this market are for-profit institutions that are problematic not only for the quality of education they offer but also for their aggressive support of education less as a public good than as a private initiative and saleable commodity, defined in this case through providing a service to the military in return for a considerable profit. And as this sector of higher education grows, it will not only become more privatized but also more instrumentalized, largely defined as a credentializing factory designed to serve the needs of the military, thus falling into the trap of confusing training with a broad-based education. Catering to the educational needs of the military makes it all the more difficult to offer educational programs that would challenge militarized notions of identity, knowledge, values, ideas, social relations, and visions.

Henry A. Giroux, Inside Higher Education, August 7

I couldn’t agree with Giroux more, in many senses, but I also feel his positions on the military and the university has a built in class bias. It’s really a sin of omission rather than commission. I think this impact of this militarized, credentializing factory education system is going to be blunted at the high status research institutions where Giroux has spent his career.

Or, rather, it will be blunted for the privileged professors who work at these institutions and for their equally privileged students. It will be most sharply
felt at the lower ends of the educational hierarchy, in the community colleges and the online schools. That won’t change until the privileges rooted in the educational hierarchy change.

People sign up in droves for online classes and community colleges because these ‘instrumentalized’ credentials are real capital that can be successfully invested. They sign up because they don’t have access to the liberals arts education system. Perhaps they have been told that they are not “college material,” because they did poorly on a standardized test. Or perhaps they are put off by the risks of the debt needed to get a degree.

There are alternatives, of course. Wealthy research institutions could, for example, create a system of cheap, online education, staffed by tenured professors and specifically designed to meet the needs of these students. They would provide instrumental capital as well as the liberal arts education championed by Giroux. That won’t happen until the privileged professors turn their attention to getting their own houses in order.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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