Thursday, September 22, 2016

NEOLIBERAL ATTACKS ON LIBERAL ARTS



Harry Targ

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was founded in 1973 as an organization of corporations, lobby groups, and state-level politicians to propose and implement model legislation; prioritizing such policies as promoting educational vouchers and charter schools,  limiting the role of trade unions, restricting environmental regulations, and instituting voter identification rules. ALEC has established think tanks that address key issues of public policy. One such issue is education.

In a 2015 article Lindsey Russell, an ALEC Director of its Education Task Force, wrote an essay entitled “STEM-Will It Replace Liberal Arts?” In it he reports Bureau of Labor Statistics projections that from 2012-2022 there will be a growth of 13 percent in the STEM related workforce. As a result he poses the question reflected in the title of his article. His answer, although he does not say so directly is a qualified “yes.” He does quote a Forbes magazine article that suggests that STEM graduates need “critical thinking skills” to pursue their careers. These skills, the article asserts, along with those in communication, are what a Liberal Arts education can provide. In an interesting statement he says about STEM and Liberal Arts:

“STEM is the present and the future, and STEM related fields are projected to grow by more than 1 million by the year 2022….Liberal arts education may seem irrelevant today, but it is necessary if America’s youth are to become successful members of today’s STEM-dominated workforce.”

Although not central to discussions of the vitality of the Liberal Arts, it is useful to briefly refer to empirical studies that challenge the claims about preparing for a “STEM-dominated workforce.” Such analyses, and claims about shortcomings in the American educational system, go back as far as the Soviet Union’s launch of “Sputnik.” In a 2014 volume,  Michael Teitelbaum, Falling Behind? Boom, Bust and the Global Race for Scientific Talent, Princeton Press, challenges the periodically claimed view that the United States is somehow “falling behind” in the production of scientists and engineers and in his words, “advocates of these shortage claims have had a nearly open field in politics and the media.”

In addition, in a Bureau of Labor Statistics Monthly Labor Review, May 2015 article entitled, “STEM Crisis or STEM Surplus? Yes and Yes,” the following conclusions are reached based upon extensive research:

*Since the STEM labor market is heterogeneous there are both shortages and surpluses depending on the particular job market segment.”

*In the academic market there are noticeable oversupplies of Ph.D’s.

*In some sectors of government jobs there are shortages of STEM-trained personnel.

*In the private sector, there are some areas were STEM demand is great, in others where oversupply exists.

*Levels of oversupply or demand vary by geographic region.

Perhaps the most damning statement on STEM training and jobs comes from an article by Hal Salzman, “STEM Grads Are at a Loss,” US News, Sept. 15, 2014 declaring that: “All credible research finds the same evidence about the STEM workforce: ample supply, stagnant wages and, by 
industry accounts, thousands of applicants for any advertised job.”

While debates continue about the need to prioritize STEM in the educational process, a more important discussion should involve the substance and role of what usually is called “the Liberal Arts.” Should Liberal Arts be seen as only a training ground for honing critical thinking and communications skills or does the Liberal Arts project go much deeper? Henry Giroux, Professor of English and Cultural Studies, McMasters University, Hamilton, Ontario, posted an essay he called “Neoliberal Savagery and the Assault on Higher Education as a Democratic Public Space,” on September 15, 2016. His language is vivid, his critique of the growing connections between higher education and market needs is controversial. His grounding of the political pressures to change and marginalize Liberal Arts has its roots in the theory and practice of neoliberal ideology, an ideology based on a crude vision of markets, privatization of public institutions, and the reduction of all of social life to commodification.

The most important element of Giroux’s essay is the proposition that the university represents a “public trust” and a “social good.”  He correctly claims that in an age of concentrating media and a profusion of unsubstantiated information on the internet, the university remains a scarce and valuable venue for exposing young people to rich, complicated discourse and analysis of society—past, present, and future. Giroux’s words ring true in this regard as he claims the university is  “a critical institution infused with the promise of cultivating intellectual insight, the civic imagination, inquisitiveness, risk-taking, social responsibility, and the struggle for justice.” Giroux quotes Zygmunt Bauman and Leonidas Donskis: “how will we form the next generation of intellectuals and politicians if young people will never have an opportunity to experience what a non-vulgar, non-pragmatic, non-instrumental university is like?”

The tasks cultural theorists such as Giroux lay out do not, or should not, suggest that only through Liberal Arts can the civic responsibility of the university be maintained. But, and this is critical, Liberal Arts should be seen as a necessary partner in the intellectual development of each and every student and should be a vibrant contributor to the larger society in which we live.

Conceiving of Liberal Arts as just a limited instrumentality of a narrowly defined STEM education, as advocates such as the ALEC spokesperson above suggests, demeans not only the fundamental importance of the Liberal Arts for pursuing an intellectually curious and socially just society but the basic project of higher education.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

DEFENDING ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND DISCUSSION OF RACISM, SEXISM, AND THE FUNDAMENTALS OF THE ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL SYSTEM Part 2



Harry Targ

September 15, 2016

(With the return to colleges and universities for the fall, 2016 term, the issues of academic freedom have reappeared in the mainstream media. Recently a story was published about a letter the University of Chicago sent to its incoming students warning that all discourse was fair game, that “safe spaces” and warnings of uncomfortable subjects would not be encouraged in the class room. The hallowed idea of academic freedom was justified by University of Chicago authorities and echoed by administrators at various universities. Ironically, as two prior posted essays suggest, academic freedom has always been constrained or censured in higher education, not by radical students demanding more attention and sensitivity to issues of class, race, gender, sexual preference, and violence at home and abroad but those who oppose such discussions. Recently there has been a campaign to stifle those who are critical of Israeli policy towards the Palestinian people. Often, the defenses of academic freedom are designed to stifle the demands for open discussion on controversial issues rather than encourage them. The two essays written and posted in 2015 illustrate this contradiction. HT) 
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RED SCARES IN HIGHER EDUCATION: REWRITING THE NARRATIVE OF ACADEMIC FREEDOM

Harry Targ

May 21, 2015
 
Purdue University has become the first public institution of higher education to adopt a free speech policy called the ‘Chicago principles,’ condemning the suppression of views no matter how ‘offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed’ they may be. (Tyler Kingkade, “Purdue Takes A Stand For Free Speech, No Matter How Offensive Or Unwise,” Huffington Post, May 15, 2015).

“Colleges and universities often boast of their diversity in terms of race, sex, gender or sexual orientation, but too often they fail to encourage diversity of thought.” (Kathleen Parker, “In Name of Free Speech at Purdue, Beyond,” Lafayette Journal and Courier, Thursday, May 21, 2015, 7A).

To its credit, the Purdue University Board of Trustees recently passed a resolution defending free speech on its college campus. The new policy was strongly endorsed by the Purdue President Mitch Daniels who, quoted by Parker, condemned universities that spawn “a bunch of little authoritarians with an inverted view of our basic freedoms.”

While the policy is correct, the implied narrative of the threat to academic freedom and diversity of thought as coming from the Left, progressives or liberals, constitutes an extraordinary rewriting of the experience of a hundred years of higher education. Any serious revisiting of the history of the modern university shows clearly that the ideas, disciplines, purposes of higher education have been shaped and transformed by money, power, the perceived needs of United States national security, and conservative ideology.

For example, Ellen Schrecker documented the enormous impact that the Red Scare of the 1940s and 1950s had on higher education in her book, No Ivory Tower: McCarthyism and the Universities (1988).  She interviewed academic victims of McCarthyite attacks on faculty at prestigious universities.  They were subpoenaed to testify before state legislative or Congressional committees about their former political affiliations and associations.  As was the requirement of the times, those ordered to testify could not just admit to their own political activities but were obliged to give witness against others whom they may have known.

Some victims were former members of the Communist Party, others were signatories to petitions supporting the Spanish loyalists during their civil war, and still others had supported banning atomic weapons.  Perhaps the most troubling element of the Red Scare story was the fact that university administrations refused to defend those of their faculty who were attacked. Furthermore, Schrecker reports that some university officials demanded that their faculty cooperate with these committees.  Her subjects reported that they received little or no support from administrators because officials wished to protect their universities from funding reductions.

Since the end of the Cold War, some scholars have begun to examine other aspects of the anti-communist hysteria as it related to the academy. Elizabeth Fones-Wolf, in Selling Free Enterprise: The Business Assault on Labor and Liberalism: 1945-60, addressed the multiplicity of ways in which funding priorities, rightwing assaults, official pronouncements from government officials, lobbying efforts by big business groups, and shifting electoral political currents affected and shaped the content of academic programs since World War II

For example, disciplines then, and now, have been shaped by dominant "paradigms," or approaches which have included assumptions about the subject, aspects of the subject that deserved study, theories that were most appropriate for understanding the subject of the field, and the methods that should be used to study subjects in the field. 

Most important, all the social sciences and humanities adopted views of their disciplines that did not challenge ongoing U.S. Cold War assumptions about the world. In each case, dominant paradigms of the 1950s and beyond constituted a rejection of 1930s and 1940s thinking, which were shaped by the labor and other struggles of the Depression era.

In the words of scholar Henry Giroux, the military-industrial-academic complex influenced personnel recruitment and retention and the substance of research and teaching.  Disciplines with more ready access to research dollars -- from engineering to psychology -- defined their research agendas to comport with the interests of the government and corporations.

However, students in the 1960s began to demand new scholarship and education.  Opposition to the Vietnam War particularly stimulated demands on professors to rethink the historical character and motivation of United States foreign policy.  William Appleman Williams and his students, the historical revisionists, articulated a view that the United States practiced imperialism ever since it became an industrial power. 

Classrooms where international relations and foreign policy were taught became "contested terrain" for argumentation and debate between the older and more benign view of the U.S. role in the world and the view of the U.S. as an imperial power. 
The contestation spread.  Students demanded more diverse and complicated analyses of race and racism in America, patriarchy and sexism in gender relations, and working-class history.  Every discipline and every dominant paradigm was subjected to challenge.  The challenges were also reflected in radical caucuses in professional associations and even in some of the more upright (and "uptight") signature professional journals.  As a result there was a diminution of Red Scares in higher education, for a time.

The spirit of ideological struggle in the academy diminished after the Vietnam War and especially after Ronald Reagan became president.  Reagan brought back militant Cold War policies, radically increased military expenditures, declared Vietnam a "noble cause," and developed a sustained campaign to crush dissent and reduce the strength of the labor movement.  The climate on campus to some degree returned to the 1950s.

However a whole generation of 1960s-trained academics was now tenured faculty at universities around the country.  They had institutionalized programs in African American Studies, Women's Studies, Peace Studies, and Middle East Studies.  Critical theorists populated education schools, American Studies programs, and other pockets of the university. Faculty continued the debate with keepers of dominant paradigms, created interdisciplinary programs, and developed programs shaped by key social issues such as racism, class exploitation, gender discrimination, and war.

But by the 1990s, a new version of the Red Scare was surfacing.  Some conservative academics and their constituencies talked about declining standards they said were caused by the new programs.  Others criticized what they regarded as an insufficiently rosy view of United States history.  They claimed that the United States was being unfairly condemned for the killing of millions of Native Americans or because slavery and racism were presented as central to the history of the country.  They formed academic associations and interest groups to defend against critical scholarship.

Then David Horowitz came along.  Overseeing a multi-million-dollar foundation funded by rightwing groups, Horowitz launched a campaign to purify academia of those who had records of teaching, research, and publication that he saw as unduly critical of the United States, ruling political or economic elites, or the global political economy.  He opposed those scholar-activists who participated in political movements or in any way connected their professional and political lives.  And he opposed those academics who participated in academic programs that are interdisciplinary, problem-focused, and not tied to traditional fields of study.  

Horowitz published a book in 2006, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, in which he presented distorted profiles of illustrative faculty whom he believed violated academic standards.  Most of those identified either engaged in political activity and/or participated in interdisciplinary scholarly programs that he found offensive: Middle East Studies, Women's Studies, African-American Studies, American Studies, and Peace Studies.

In conjunction with the book and similar assaults on those he disagreed with on his electronic news magazine, Horowitz encouraged right-wing students to challenge the legitimacy of these professors on college campuses and encouraged  conservative student groups to pressure state legislatures to endorse so-called "student bill-of-rights legislation."  Such legislation would have established oversight by state legislatures of colleges and universities, especially their hiring practices.

In addition, with campaigns led by Lynn Cheney, the former vice-president's wife, and former Senator Joe Lieberman from Connecticut, an organization called the American Council of Trustees and Alumni was created.  As Giroux summarized it, ". . . ACTA actively supports policing classroom knowledge, monitoring curricula, and limiting the autonomy of teachers and students as part of its larger assault on academic freedom" (Giroux, The University in Chains, Paradigm, 2007, 162).

Horowitz, ACTA, and others conservatives who attacked the university targeted visible academics for scrutiny and persecution.  Ward Churchill, a provocative professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, was fired after a university committee was created to review his scholarship because of controversial remarks he made off campus.  Norman Finkelstein, a DePaul University political scientist who had written several books critical of interpreters of Israeli history and foreign policy, was denied tenure after a coordinated attack from outside his university led by Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz.  Distinguished political scientists John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt became the subject of vitriol and false charges of anti-Semitism because they published a long essay and book analyzing the "Israeli lobby." More recently, the University of Illinois reversed its contractual relationship with Professor Steven Salaita who posted electronic messages strongly critical of the state of Israel.

In addition, the new Red Scare has reinforced and legitimized the dominant paradigms in various academic disciples and created an environment of intellectual caution in the academy.  While the impacts are not easily measurable, untenured faculty cannot help but be intimidated by the public attacks on their senior colleagues.  The system of tenure and promotion in most institutions is vulnerable to public pressures, individual reviewer bias, and honest disagreements among faculty about whether published work and teaching is worthy of promotion and tenure.  Therefore, just as the administrators and faculty of the 1950s felt vulnerable to outside assault on their institutions, those passing judgment on today's faculty might see the necessity of caution in hiring and retaining faculty whose perspectives are new, different, radical, and engaged.

In short, the real threats to academic freedom and free speech on college campuses have almost always come from those who wish to defend the status quo in scholarship, teaching, advocacy, foreign and national security policy, and the way the economy is organized. 

One would hope that the new defenders of free speech and academic freedom, such as Kathleen Parker and the Purdue University Board of Trustees, will defend faculty who are critics of various public policies and the prevailing distributions of wealth, income, power, and unequal privileges based on class, race, gender, and sexual orientation. This would be an historic change from the practice of silencing progressive voices in higher education.

www.heartlandradical.blogspot.com

Thursday, September 8, 2016

DEFENDING ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND DISCUSSIONS OF RACISM, SEXISM, AND THE FUNDAMENTALS OF THE ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL SYSTEM: Part 1



Harry Targ

September 8, 2016

(With the return to colleges and universities for the fall, 2016 term, the issues of academic freedom have reappeared in the mainstream media. Recently a story was published about a letter the University of Chicago sent to its incoming students warning that all discourse was fair game, that “safe spaces” and warnings of uncomfortable subjects would not be encouraged in the class room. The hallowed idea of academic freedom was justified by University of Chicago authorities and echoed by administrators at various universities. Ironically, as two prior posted essays suggest, academic freedom has always been constrained or censured in higher education, not by radical students demanding more attention and sensitivity to issues of class, race, gender, sexual preference, and violence at home and abroad, but those who oppose such discussions. The defenses of academic freedom today are designed to stifle the demands for open discussion on these issues rather than encourage them. The two essays written and posted in 2015 illustrate this contradiction. HT)
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THE UNHAPPY MARRIAGE OF POLITICAL CONTROL AND ACADEMIC FREEDOM IN HIGHER EDUCATION

Harry Targ

December 1, 2015

And at college after college in recent years, students have rallied to block appearances by speakers whose views don’t jibe with current campus orthodoxy. Most of those speakers are conservatives. (Rem Rieder, “Campuses Need First Amendment Training,” USA Today-Journal and Courier, November 29, 2015, 8B).

Stories about academic freedom and free speech have been appearing in newspapers more frequently over the last few weeks. And curiously enough political actors on and off campus who traditionally have been least likely to be concerned about these subjects are becoming its major advocates. 

Historically, universities, like most institutions in society, have been designed by and served the interests of the dominant powers. Higher education in the United States from the seventeenth century until the civil war educated theologians and lawyers to take leading positions in the political and economic system. As the nation was transformed by the industrial revolution, universities became training grounds and research tools for the rise of modern capitalism. Young people, to advance the needs of a modern economic system, were educated to be scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and managers. Economists were produced to develop theories that justified the essential features of capitalism. 

After the rise of the United States as a world power in the twentieth century, higher education increasingly included studies of international relations, weapons systems, and the particular mission of powerful nations in the world. In sum, the historical function of the American university since the 1860s has been to mobilize knowledge and trained personnel to service a modern economy and a global political power.

The conception of the university articulated by intellectuals through the centuries, however, also implied a space where ideas about scientific truths, engineering possibilities, ethical systems, the products of culture, and societal ideals would be discussed and debated. During various periods in United States history, during and after the Spanish-American War, the Progressive era, World War I and its aftermath, the Great Depression, and the Vietnam War era, for example, the university became the site for intellectual contestation. But during most periods of United States history unpopular ideas introduced in the academy by faculty or students were subject to repression, firings of faculty, and expulsion of students. This was particularly true during World War I and the depths of the Cold War. 

It was out of the many forms of repression that faculty and student associations advocated for the idea of academic freedom. Articulated by philosopher John Dewey early in the twentieth century and formalized by the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), the principle, not the practice, was enshrined in official statements by both university administrators and faculty.

Despite the broadly endorsed tradition faculty were purged from universities during the 1940s and 1950s, not primarily because of their teaching and research activities, but because of alleged political associations off campus. Others were fired or did not have contracts renewed because their teaching and research challenged reigning orthodoxies about economics, politics, and war and peace. In the 1960s, universities sought to restrict the free speech rights of students as well. 

For a time as a result of the tumult of the 1960s, universities began to provide more space for competing ideas, theories, approaches to education, and allowed for some discussion of fundamental societal problems including class exploitation, racism, sexism, homophobia, and long-term environmental devastation. 

But by the 1990s, reaction against the expanded meaning of academic freedom set in. The National Association of Scholars was created by political conservatives to challenge the new openness in scholarship and debate on campus. Right-wing foundations funded David Horowitz to launch a systematic attack on faculty deemed “dangerous.” Horowitz unsuccessfully tried to organize students to lobby state legislators to establish rules impinging on university prerogatives as to hiring of faculty and curricula. Politicians targeted scholars deemed most threatening including such noted researchers and teachers as Howard Zinn, William Ayers, Ward Churchill, and Judith Butler. The attacks of the last decade were based more on the ideas which “dangerous” professors articulated than their associations.

Since the upsurge in police violence against African Americans and terrorist attacks on Planned Parenthood, and rising Islamophobia and homophobia, a new generation of student activists has emerged challenging violence, racism, sexism, and homophobia. Students have protested against police shootings everywhere and they have linked the general increase in violence and racism to the indignities they suffer on their own campuses. 

In response to the events at the University of Missouri, student activists around the country have brought demands to administrators challenging the many manifestations of racism and other indignities experienced at their schools. The response at almost all colleges and universities has not been to address the demands raised by students but instead to change the discourse from the original issues to the protection of academic freedom and free speech. In other words, university administrators and media pundits, as the quote above suggests, have swept student complaints under the rug and have used the time-honored defense of academic freedom and free speech to ignore the reality of racism, sexism, and homophobia. The defense of free speech has become a smokescreen. 

Academic freedom and free speech must be defended. But it must be understood that today those who most loudly defend them are doing so to avoid addressing the critical issues around class, race, gender, homophobia, and violence that grip the nation and the world. 

(For a more detailed rendition of political repression in higher education see Harry Targ (below), “Red Scares in Higher Education: Rewriting the Narrative of Academic Freedom,” www.heartlandradical.blogspot.com, May 21, 2015.)