The Common Application

Given our nominal democratic ideals of ever-expanding college access, we ought to be a more and more reason-based society. As the recent elections shows, nothing could be farther from the truth. I think one good reason that our politics have become so profoundly anti-intellectual– often counter-factual if not paranoid– is that our higher education system is so focused on what a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article called “institutional self-interest.

It’s the all too visible hand of the market. Decades of attacks on federal funding in general, and on higher education in particular, have helped to produce a hyper-competitive administrative culture bent on a cutting costs by shrinking full time employment and increasing revenues through expanded marketing. Whatever the drawback of the traditional liberal arts system, and there were many, it at least promoted the ideal of substantive learning.

Mass-marketing can’t focus on the personally transformative, difficult work of learning. It promotes the “college lifestyle”– a sentimentalized image more directed at parents than students. Perhaps this baby-boomer nostalgia is inescapable. The real damage is deeper: the undermining of full time employment and resulting loss of academic freedom of speech. If we don’t promote challenging thinking, we don’t get it, especially in elections.

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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