The Emperor Looks Increasingly Naked

Unfortunately, Mr. Vaidhyanathan says, the discussion of college reinvention represents a watering down of higher education’s social contract—a process that has been in the works for decades. “What it is going to take to reinvigorate higher education in this country,” he says, “is a strong political movement to champion research, to champion low tuition costs as a policy goal, to stand up against the banks that have made so much money lending for student loans, and to reconnect public institutions to their sense of public mission.”

“That is going to be a long process,” he says. “It has taken 20 years to press universities down into this cowering pose, and it is going to take 20 assertive years to get back to the point where Americans view American higher education the way the rest of the world does.”

For Whom Is College Being Reinvented?” Scott Carlson and Goldie Blumenstyk

When I lived in the Philippines as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the 1980’s, the first measure of wealth wasn’t what people owned, as it was in the U.S., it was the condition of the roads. I live in Conception, Tarlac, a few hours north of Manila, the hometown of President Aquino, and the roads were constantly under construction. Filipino’s used to joke that each region should get its own president, in turn, so that every region could be developed.

Roads are a part of the social wage, the often unspoken benefits we get simply because we are citizens. We have great roads in the U.S., at least in most places, but no national health care or pension system. It’s no coincidence that most of the stimulus money went to building roads. Other parts of the infrastructure– airports, fiber optics, sewage, garbage collection– are just as important, of course, but roads have a special place in the American heart.

In the 1950’s and 60’s the social wage grew to include a cheap college education. The Reagan Revolution changed all that; we had less and less money for roads and infrastructure and college grew increasingly expensive. The social wage stagnated, shrank; we can’t get national health care, our pension systems are in trouble. We tend to think of roads– and cheap education and good infrastructure– as our birthright but they are not.

The social wage existed and grew because we fought for it, through unions. A lot of people thought that technology was going to make this social process– grabbing our share of profits in the form of the social wage– obsolete. Let them raise tuition; we’d use the internet to make education so ubiquitous it would be nearly free. (“Virtually” free, I should say.) Perhaps 2012 is the year that we began to realize that there’s no detour around the class struggle.

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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