The Future of Class is Here

At the opening talk, the speaker flew through a series of PowerPoint slides, sometimes three or four of them in a matter of a second or two. But I did learn that nationwide, more money is being spent on wealthier students, and less on low-income students in the form of grants, federal aid, and institutional aid. So, the speaker concluded, more money is going to students who don’t need it. In the past year, there’s been about 17% more money for low-income and about 35% more for high-income students. 60% in aid dollars go to students with no financial need …

At that point someone in the back, who I believe was with the speaker, shouted that it was “entirely possible to measure efficiency among faculty, it’s done in factories all the time!” I laughed, turned to the speaker, and asked him to readdress the question. He started to talk about how courses are taught, how many students one has, about hiring more adjuncts, and holding professors accountable for getting students through. I started to get chills.

I realized that I could meet all of his efficiency requirements by teaching a few 500-person sections, assigning crap work, and giving everyone an “A.” And that would be perfectly acceptable under his model…

It Is Us, by AndrewMc, 9/21/2009 07:00:00 AM, Progressive Historian

College professors don’t like to talk about it but class cuts both ways. On the one hand, a college degree is one of the most basic ways we determine who goes where economically. The United States is a big, complicated social system, but in essence the message is simple: get an education or stay relatively poor and powerless the rest of your life.

At one point, of course, a certain percentage of the working class or poor could side-step this devil’s bargain by getting a job at a unionized work site. Setting aside the potential loss of power represented by the (missing) cultural capital of a college degree, this was a relatively good ideal. As Tecumseh said, “A single twig breaks but the bundle of twigs is strong.”

Outside of the public school system, and a few colleges, there are few of these union jobs left. Too often, now, though, even a good education ensures very little economic security, even among those long thought fully insulated from the vicissitudes of the labor market. Professors are a case in point. For most of the last fifty or sixty years they naively counted on the power of a single twig.

That individualist strategy stopped working at some point in the 1980s or so. The recession cuts in both directions, not just limiting the aspirations of students but also limiting the aspirations of college professors. Capital, as a vulgar Marxist might say, loves a contraction because it can use the opportunity to pursue all sorts of agendas that would be impossible in a functioning economy.

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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