Academics and social movements must reclaim the university and transform it into a public space.
No matter what you think about “higher” education, and I am highly critical though engaged, Giroux’s argument is valuable and recommended reading. I like his insistence on a pedagogy of disruption. Giroux’s argument is adapted from a speech he gave to educators as a keynote speaker at a recent conference. So, he’s tailored the argument for the NEA and AFT crowd.
Missing from neoliberal market societies are those public spheres - from public and higher education to the mainstream media and digital screen culture - where people can develop what might be called the civic imagination. Tied largely to instrumental ideologies and measurable paradigms, many institutions of higher education are now committed almost exclusively to economic goals, such as preparing students for the workforce - all done as part of an appeal to rationality, one that eschews matters of inequality, power, public values and the ethical grammars of suffering. (6) Many universities have not only strayed from their democratic mission, but also they seem immune to the plight of students who face a harsh new world of high unemployment, the prospect of downward mobility and debilitating debt.
The question of what kind of education is needed for students to be informed and active citizens in a world that increasingly ignores their needs, if not their future, is rarely asked. (7) In the absence of a democratic vision of schooling, it is not surprising that some colleges and universities are increasingly opening their classrooms to corporate interests, standardizing the curriculum, instituting top-down governing structures that mimic corporate culture and generating courses that promote entrepreneurial values unfettered by social concerns or ethical consequences.
Central to this view of higher education in the United States is a market-driven paradigm that seeks to eliminate tenure, turn the humanities into a job preparation service and transform most faculty members into an army of temporary subaltern labor. For instance, in the United States out of 1.5 million faculty members, 1 million are “adjuncts who are earning, on average, $20K a year gross, with no benefits or healthcare, and no unemployment insurance when they are out of work.” (8) The indentured service status of such faculty is put on full display as some colleges have resorted to using “temporary service agencies to do their formal hiring.” (9) A record number of adjuncts are now on food stamps and receive some form of public assistance. Given how little they are paid this should not come as a surprise, though that does not make it any less shameful. (10) As Noam Chomsky has argued, this reduction of faculty to the status of subaltern labor is “part of a corporate business model designed to reduce labor costs and to increase labor servility.” (11)
While it has been clearly recognized that the ideal of shared governance between faculty and administrators has broken down, what has not been analyzed is how the Walmart model of power and labor relations - in both the university and the larger society - is connected to the massive inequality in wealth and income that now corrupts every aspect of US politics and society. No democracy can survive the kind of inequality in which “the 400 richest people … have as much wealth as 154 million Americans combined, that’s 50 percent of the entire country [while] the top economic 1 percent of the U.S. population now has a record 40 percent of all wealth and more wealth than 90 percent of the population combined.” (12) On a global scale, anti-poverty charity Oxfam reports that it expects “the wealthiest 1% to own more than 50% of the world’s wealth by 2016.” (13)