Monday, June 13, 2011

A Smidge on Higher Education in America....

Well, I've been posting in the old days and thinking of adding posts on the topic of why college education matters, why a liberal arts college education matters. In part this is because of what has been going on my campus this past year, but also because of things we have witnessed on the national scene as well as in various states. Attacks on the value of a college degree, attacks on teachers and their role in education, attacks on faculty, and more. It is more than high time we responded. But before I could, the National Review did in this article. It's the National Review, old school conservative. That's a different kettle of fish altogether than the current neo-conservative and tea-party crowd that would like to bring us back to the 19th century.

When nearly a quarter of state legislators do not have a college degree, folks largely voted in in the last election, and largely funded by a handful of neo-conservative billionaires and groups (Koch brothers, Dick Army, I'm looking at you), well, you put those two things together and you have an anti-education platform. Why? Why would these folks benefit from an anti-education platform? from the resultant uneducated electorate?

We've already seen the purpose behind this backlash against faculty, teachers, and college education. We can tsk tsk about the Koch brothers giving money to a university and for the cash they get to approve the new faculty members, the Koch brothers (or their intermediaries) decide who will be considered, who gets hired, and will give annual reviews to ensure that the content is Koch Industry approved, else they will withdraw their considerable "gift. Nor is the Florida State case just referred to the only one: the Koch brothers have similar conditional agreements at George Mason, West Virginia, Brown, Utah State, and other institutions, or at least programs within institutions. Some of those agreements include not just funding a particular view of society and political structures, but require the reading of Charles Koch's book! What's the goal? Rather than free thinking and critical thinking, the goal is indoctrination. For years, the right has been accusing faculty in academia of indoctrination and making students into leftists. While we know that's not true, since it's hard to talk about Beowulf as a "save the whales" text, we do know that much of the neo-conservative movement and the newish tea-party movement use a strategy that accuses their opponents of something that the neocons and tea partiers themselves do. You know, like Gingrich going after Clinton for having extra marital affairs while Newt himself is busy divorcing his wife who lay in the hospital dying of cancer so he could marry his mistress. Or Eric Cantor demanding that Weiner resign while defending Republicans who did far worse, like Vitter.

So, the more that they cut our budgets, the more we will be dependent on organizations like the Koch brothers charity who will kill intellectual freedom by attaching strings and conditions to their "gifts" ensuring an indoctrination of students rather than an education. This silences dialogue. This silences debate. This silences argument. This is the opposite of education.

So back to the beginning. There are those who want to create a society in their own image. They will spend billions to do so. They do not want the current faculty empowered or able to respond, rather discredit the current faculty so that they can be replaced with faculty more in line with the "party."

Part of weakening the current faculty is to reduce student bodies. Fewer students means that fewer faculty are needed. Thus, discourage students from going to college. That further weakens colleges and universities so that they *NEED* cash from such organizations that will stipulate who to hire and what to read.

Of course, they are wrong: a college degree is worth the investment in the long run, yes even a *gasp* liberal arts degree. In the long view, a college degree gets the student on average more than $20 grand a year in income to pay back those loans rather faster. An educated public *should* be able to see through this. I haven't even begun to discuss the problems with "Academically Adrift", but one thing we all agree on: modern companies, business, law, political, scientific...., need people who can not only be trained to handle technology, but also to assess, evaluate, and deem worthy or unworthy a vast amount of information and develop fresh, innovative, creative ideas. No one is more equipped to that than a college graduate with a liberal education.


David Friedman said...

"and largely funded by a handful of neo-conservative billionaires and groups (Koch brothers, Dick Army, I'm looking at you)"

A very small amount of research should convince you that, whatever else the Koch brothers are, they are not neo-conservatives. For one thing, they are major funders of the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank generally critical of neo-conservative foreign policy, militant policing, the war on drugs. Also generally pro-immigration. The sort of people that David Frum, who is a neo-conservative, has been attacking lately as leading the Republican party astray.

If you are going to comment on political matters, it's worth paying the same attention to the relevant facts that you pay in your academic work. Otherwise you end up, as here, with the equivalent of someone labeling Thomas Aquinas as a prominent Muslim.

theswain said...

Thanks for the comment, David, however belated I am in posting it.

First, I'll point out that your analogy at the end (Aquinas is to a Muslim leader as the Koch brothers are to neocons) is fallacious. It largely depends on seeing and defining the Cato Institute and libertarianism as sufficiently different from the neo-conservatives as in comparison to medieval Christianity and medieval Islam. But that simply doesn't work.

More importantly, yes, the Koch brothers have given funds to the Cato Institute, which leans libertarian. But they have also funded the Heritage Foundation, a decidedly neo-conservative think tank, not to mention the originators of Freedom Works, a tea party group, headed by former Koch associates, Kibbe and Armey, both before the current tea-party stuff, were well associated with neo-conservatives. They also support the American Enterprise Institute, a group of folk who were instrumental in formulating the policies of G. W. Bush and coinciding with the rise of the neo-con agenda under that President. Further, just this past week the Center for American Freedom was announced made up of neo-con of whom formerly wrote for the Weekly Standard and now boasts the Koch brothers as clients in his lobbying firm. He refused to say if the Koch brothers were funding the new Center...which means they either want it kept quiet or negotiations are in process.

Whatever else they be and believe, the Koch brothers have had long-term neo-conservative ties, and a very small amount of research would have convinced you of that.