Monday, 2 September 2013

A decent Jeremiad



So, you know I've been trying to move away from the 'Jeremiad' school of university criticism (beautifully defined by Anthony Grafton). To do this, I've been trying to locate the genuine reasons for the pickle Australian universities are in, rather than point and whine. There are times that the system does not make it easy to stay as optimistic as I'd like to be in hoping for a productive university that is inclusive in both knowledge and people. But as my recent rant about whinging showed, I also lack patience for whiny Jeremiads.
just pointing vaguely to nebulous governments or declaring anyone forced to make a decision 'neo-liberal' (a word that is starting to take on the name-calling qualities of various stupid insults I recall from primary school).
This one got my attention today. There are lots of it worth quoting...I've pasted a quote below, but you should really read the whole thing. Some issues are specific to the USA, but most apply here and everywhere else too.
"The most poignant educational scandal of the moment concerns Cooper Union, the prestigious Manhattan art and architecture school which, from its founding in 1859 up till last year, offered an excellent education for free to everyone who was admitted. The way it did this was by carefully living on the limited funds generated by its endowment. Now that can no longer be sustained, and the school announced that it will begin charging students $20,000 for tuition next fall. The reason everything had to change is that Cooper Union, like . . . well, like every other institution of higher ed in America, decided a few years back that it needed to think big and embrace change and build the brand. The first step in that process: erecting a fantastically expensive bit of trophy architecture across the street from its main building. (There was also a growing corps of administrators, and a departing president who needed to be paid close to $1.1 million, but we won’t go into that now.) Unfortunately, Cooper Union couldn’t pay for this glamorous new tower, and so it had to borrow an enormous sum, like other corporations do. The “free education” thing was collateral damage. Better to be known for “vibrant” architecture, I guess, than for some old-fashioned nonsense about uplifting the non-wealthy. 
The story of Cooper Union is a typical anecdote of the age of collegiate capitalism, and it’s easy to come up with other examples of the lavish, unnecessary spending that characterizes American academia nowadays, that makes it “the best in the world.” It’s not just the showy new buildings, but the sports teams that give the alumni such a thrill, the fancy gymnasiums and elaborate food courts that everyone thinks you have to have if you want the cool kids to choose your diploma mill over all the others." 
It is Academy Fight Song, by Thomas Frank - find it at http://thebaffler.com/past/academy_fight_song 

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