An Intellectual Call to Arms
Fall Session's theme, Managing Conflict by Balancing Principle and Pragmatism, was addressed by three keynote speakers. The first, AAUP staffer marcus harvey, chose to concentrate on the second word in this theme, conflict in and around academia. He questioned what conflict needs to be managed? Conflicts, such as pedagogical and scheduling decisions are generally "managed" on campus, but the thrust of harvey's speech, to quote him, "belonged under the rubric of enduring, if not perpetual, conflict." the latter types of conflict arise out of competing world views about the role of academia.
Harvey likened the academy to the army, both being "pre-modern, pre-capitalist social formations that disproportionately influence large numbers of young adults."
But there are those who would like to see colleges become more like businesses, and over the last twenty years, more and more aspects of the business model have insinuated themselves on to our campuses, evidenced by the replacement of academic administrative titles by business acronyms like CEOs, CIOs, etc., the fact that public financing of our institutions is gradually being displaced by private funding, and the weakening of the faculty voice by the shrinking of the tenure ranks in favor of larger and larger numbers of contingent faculty.
Under this business model, administrators resist the shared governance approach to decision-making, condemning its purported inefficiencies. The conflict here is between administrators seeking efficiency and faculty desirous of effective methods for accomplishing a particular objective. as harvey pointed out, ".educational quality is not best served by accelerating student completion or maximizing profits from tuition fees, but rather by nurturing students and ensuring their fullest possible development."
Traditionally, one of the faculty's principle objectives has been to mold students into valuable, contributing, thinking citizens of the world, of the state, of the city, of the university or college, and of the discipline.
Unlike business interests, academics have not been particularly interested is producing "profit-maximizing economic agents for whom the value added by education is a fiscally measurable added value." Under the business model, our view of education is in direct conflict with "administrative desires to tap new markets."
The balance of harvey's speech was used to demonstrate how the recent "Academic Bill of Rights" campaign (ABoR) is a manifestation of the attack on academia and is part and parcel of the movement to commoditize higher education. The thesis of those that support the ABoR is to view students as consumers who should, therefore, have a determinative say in the content of their classes, a bizarre claim predicated on the idea that "students already know-and are qualified to assess-what they are to learn well in advance of actually learning it." those who espouse the aboR say that professors have a liberal bias, a view that has two insidious objectives. First, it demonizes the liberal view of the world, and second it plants the idea in the public consciousness that the opinions of academics-experts in their fields-should no longer be trusted to represent objective views of the world. as harvey succinctly postulated, "if a preponderance of experts tell you x, then perhaps the problem lies with those who insist on continuing to believe in y."
The result of these attacks on academia has put many of us on the defensive. Should we speak up less often about controversial subjects? Should we divorce ourselves from the political process? The answers are a resounding no and no! Harvey urged us to stand up to this attack by responding, unapologetically, to the criticism. It is ridiculous to suggest that we should apologize for taking principled positions, including political positions, because that is what higher education is all about. In its PR, the marine corps is not shy about saying that it will transform its recruits into something better than they already are. We should be less cautious about trumpeting the same message.
We do change our students for the better when we teach them to be critical thinkers, and we should be proud of that!
To sum up his message, harvey challenged us to fight more aggressively for our construct of higher education:
"We are under siege and you as faculty leaders are our shock troops in the culture war. Faculty have to become serious about positioning ourselves in the public debates of the day and stop apologizing. I came here to remind you that there are some things for which we just have to fight like hell."
Marcus' speech in its entirety can be found on the Academic Senate website at: http://www.academicsenate.cc.ca.us/Events/sessions/fall2005/Materials.htm
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