Thursday, May 3, 2007

The Dismal State of Higher Ed

This week in the Huffington Post, Barbara Ehrenreich writes about the lack of value of a college degree. Yes, I know, this is the same Barabara Ehrenreich of Nickel and Dimed and who helped found (with SEIU) United Professionals, a quasi-union in order to help out white collar workers who have been downsized or can't find jobs. Unfortunately, while she talks about college grads in her "manifesto", she apparently believes that Higher Education is "a scam."


Chiding MIT for releasing the Dean of Admissions, Ehrenreich writes:


Can you be fired for doing a great job, year after year, and in fact becoming nationally known for your insight and performance? Yes, as in the case of Marilee Jones, who was the dean of admissions at MIT until her dismissal last week, when it was discovered that she had lied about her academic credentials 28 years ago.

And, the great insight learned from this action is that, "But in the last three decades the percentage of jobs requiring at least some college has doubled, which means that employers are going along with the college racket." She also goes on to say that she believes that most employers want college-educated students for one of two reasons: 1) Because they know how to conform or 2) they are in debt up to their ears and, therefore, become subservient employees unwilling to risk being unemployed.


What is even more depressing is the comments after the article. These are people who read the Huffington Post who are vehemently against colleges and believe them to be a racket as well. One notable post reads:


Nice post. 'Bout time.

My experience with Ivy League is that if you actually used your mind, i.e. challenged the tenured professor and the carefully crafted conclusions (history) then you would receive a grade reduction; regardless of how well argued your case.

Indoctrination.
How NeoCon.

I don't care if we launch Free Exchange on Campus, or FACE, or any number of other initiatives. The true NeoCons have done such a good job destroying the American academy with an "employment focused" and "market based" attitude with the complicity of the current American academics who refuse to enter into "political" discussions because it might "taint" their research. If this is what readers of the Huffington Post believe, then we are doomed.


I would also guess that most of them don't know that more and more of our teaching is being done by contingent labor. Employees who can be hired and fired at will, who keep their office hours in their cars, and can't take the time to remember their students' names because they have a thousand of them. Until we are successful at getting the Ehrenreichs and Huffinton Post readers of the world to understand where the American academy has changed, then we are going to be woefully unsuccessful in front of our own legislators.

3 comments:

byrdeye said...

Yes, soft liberal-arts humanities degrees are easy & worthless...although extremely pricey!

The only degrees worth anything are hard technical ones. You better bet I want engineers and scientists with real degrees building our cars & bridges!

dr said...

Well, my "soft liberal-arts humanities" degree equips me to notice that you have a very narrow conception of worth.

dave3544 said...

I have to admit I didn't read all the comments, but from the tone, we may be seeing a phenomenon that I am familiar with, hell advocated for awhile, and that is a "working-class" reaction against the "need" for a college education, which is still seen as pretty suspect among many, many people. To many people in my family, and others, those who went to college are seen as "la-tee-da," Lording it over those that didn't. The anti-college tone of my family followed that of many of the commentators, "I didn't go to college, but I have real world experience and 'college boy' don't actually know shit."
And yet, there was a deep respect for knowledge among many in my family, and I imagine among many people similar to those responding on the HP, but the denial of opportunity has breed a resentment.

Semi-interestingly, those in family family who did go to college often do have a little bit of a hard time hanging with those that didn't. When we move out of the realm of card-playing and/or catching up and start talking about "issues" or anything, then the college graduates are playing a different game and we have to be careful. There is such a thing as being too smart. Of course it doesn't help that the college graduates also have a little extra coin in the bank, so there becomes something of a class difference as well.

All of this is wrapped up in the Ehrenreich post and comments, but also in the state of funding for higher education today. I often think it is a shame that one of the few places where labor and higher ed meet (our union), often fails to recognize that this is a big factor in why the working-classes will vote against funding of higher education.

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