Many people do not understand how very new the current University system is, nor how that system is currently disintegrating under stresses imposed by economic and ideological interests. To the first part, the contemporary University in general traces its roots back to the very late 18th to early 19th centuries in Europe, while in this country it really only came to form itself after the Second World War. Now, there have, of course, been Universities for some thousand years or more in Europe, with the University of Bologna being formed in 1088. But the medieval and early-modern universities were primarily focal points for the indoctrination of scholars for their entry into sharply defined orthodoxies; the idea, much less the practice, of academic freedom simply did not exist. In contrast, our age has witnessed a scintillating, Camelot-like moment in history, when there was a dream (if something less than an ideal-practice) of academic scholarship coupled with freedom of thought and inquiry.
But despite what the right-wing media would have you believe, it is not the demands for fairness from oppressed groups (the challenges dismissed as “political correctness” which, in fact, challenge institutionalized forms of power and bigotry expressed and manifested in language that those in power would have you believe is innocent) nor is it in the protests of youth demanding that culpability be acknowledged and justice faced, that we will find the genuine threats to the contemporary University. No, the death of contemporary academia is being inflicted in the name of business, money, “efficiency,” and capitalism. Higher education is coming to be dominated, at the highest echelons of administration, by persons who are not scholars, but are business “entrepreneurs.” Welcome to the “Corporate University,” where students are “customers,” education is a sellable commodity, and the professoriate is replaced by disposable teaching staff with neither wages, nor benefits, nor job security (in other words, easily intimidated lackeys), whose only option is to cave and cavil to their corporate directors, or face the abyss of being independent. Continue reading