After reading the last post on Texas A&M's capitulation to corporate interests, one may ask what is the future of public higher education? The Chronicle of Higher Education has a piece up this evening which looks at that question.
The mid-20th century suddenly appears to have been a golden age for higher education, said Wendy Brown, a professor of political science at the University of California at Berkeley.This is not a pretty picture, but I think it may be an accurate one.
"That era offered not only literacy but liberal arts to a mass public," Ms. Brown said. "But today that idea is eroding from all sides. Cultural values don't support the liberal arts. Debt-burdened families aren't demanding it. The capitalist state isn't interested in it. Universities aren't funding it."
The danger, Ms. Brown said, is that the public will give up on the idea of educating people for democratic citizenship. Instead, all of public higher education will be essentially vocational in nature, oriented entirely around the market logic of job preparation. Instead of educating whole persons, Ms. Brown warned, universities will be expected to "build human capital," a narrower and more hollow mission.
And faculty members are unlikely to resist those changes at a time when two-thirds of them are on contingent appointments instead of the more secure tenure track, said Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors. They simply do not have enough power within the institution.
During a plenary lecture earlier Thursday, Mr. Nelson, who is also a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said he believes that the era of "incremental state funding for public higher education is basically over." For the foreseeable future, he said, the traditional battles for higher state appropriations are bound to be losing ones.