Critical University Studies

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Critics have always found a great deal wrong with education. Karl Marx, for instance, writes in Das Kapital that the teacher works in a teaching factory (418), and much of the sharpest criticism of schools comes from those who work for the owners of the teaching factory. Certainly, academics have found many faults with their universities. In a 2012 article, Hisashi Fujita notices that the French university is relatively weak, dependent on state funds and competing with other institutions (252), and so few philosophers of modern France have had much connection to the university or much to say about it, other than Derrida (263-64). German critics, on the other hand, have written a great deal about the strong university system in which many of them were educated and later worked, accepting along the way a narrative of continuity of university ideals and structures from the Middle Ages to today (260).

American scholars have largely accepted the notion of an ancient tradition of an independent association of colleagues, protected by ideals of academic freedom and the liberal arts, working within the education machine. An article by Jeffrey J. Williams in The Chronicle of Higher Education, also from 2012, describes the development of a new field of scholarship, "Critical University Studies." Much of the work of recent decades, that Williams includes in this field, looks at the ways in which teaching changed at the end of the twentieth century with the intrusion of corporate managerial practices. Change has been bad for the workers in many ways. But Critical University Studies also examines many of the issues long considered by cultural studies, not only the ways in which knowledge is created, but also "how higher education is an instrument of its social structure, reinforcing class discrimination rather than alleviating it." Louis Althusser's description of the power of schooling to protect the system of exploiter and exploited can still be seen (156). Recently, scholars of Critial University Studies have also identified ways in which higher education ties into other systems of oppression in modern society, such as racism, sexism, imperialism, elitism, and even the ways in which knowledge and rationality work to keep the power structure in place.


In the American context, much of the criticism of the university focuses on the failings of higher education to meet some ideal of learning for the sake of the individual or of the pursuit of pure knowledge. So, it can be helpful to consider how the long history of the university connects with such ideas over the course of time and what that history means for contemporary expectations. Krystian Szadkowski and Jakub Krzeski point out that Marx's reflections on teaching for profit have not been picked up for the development of any significant Marxist theory of higher education research (187). The concept of "academic capitalism" was used by Sheila Slaugher and Larry L. Leslie just to describe new methods of funding institutions amidst increasing competition and not their ideology (9). And so, the widely-held belief that the university has brought the world greater freedom and knowledge (Larsen 7) has only recently come under attack from those working there, who see it opposed to enlightenment ((Moten and Harney 101) and protest (Chatterjee and Maira 19).

History gives strong support to arguments that universities have always served injustice, despite any fantasies of liberation through knowledge. So, the university not only fails to meet its own ideals but serves the immoral ends of maintaining systems that work to oppress most people. Steven Jones claims in a book based on the principle that education is a public good and a human right (11), no less, that, "The history of higher education is littered with discriminatory and hierarchical cultures, a return to which would benefit no society" (36). Craig Wilder finds that not only is race problematic in the history of prestigious universities in the United States, but that their success significantly depended on the plantation economy and their arguments to legitimate slavery were a substantial part of academic scholarship (7-8 & passim).

Jacques Derrida writes in a 1983 article, "The Principle of Reason" that, "As far as I know, nobody has ever founded a university against reason. So we may reasonably suppose that the University’s reason for being has always been reason itself, and some essential connection of reason to being" (7). It is a place where people know how to learn and learn how to know (4). Ever since the Catholic Church became the provider of the highest levels of education in Western Europe, centuries ago, the study of theology or medicine or law came after years of training in reading and argumentation (Post 238-39). Students had to master reason before beginning to approach knowledge. As states became more involved in the support of universities, and even allowed them a degree of independence in some cases, the core of higher education more and more became reason, a search for eternal truth revealed not in faith or decrees but in rational thought (Haddad 4). Louis Althusser identifies education of all kinds as a major force in cementing ideology in modern life, stronger than faith and in fact replacing religion (152). Over the course of time, education as a hegemonic tool, as an institution of ideology, broke free from the church and came to serve the state (158). One could say, as Derrida does, that the foundation of a university is not rational, that it cannot truly connect with ideas of pure reason ("Mochlos" 18), set amidst the real political workings of society as it is. For many, however, "the true and adequate end of intellectual training and of a University is not Learning or Acquirement, but rather, is Thought or Reason exercised upon Knowledge, or what may be called Philosophy" (Newman 101).

The model for the university can be traced back to the teaching guilds of the Middle Ages. Even the creation of a masterwork to be admitted to the rank of master (magister), as well as a general education in the seven liberal arts being followed by years studying in specific graduate schools to gain a higher degree for some, all connect higher education to older conceptions of how to learn. It is important to understand, however, that the medieval university served the church (Fujita 271). All teachers were churchmen, and even students were considered a lower order of clergy. The license to teach at a school like Paris came from the church. What the masters fought for there was to have the authority to test candidates themselves before inception (Post 56). Popes were very important in this process, helping to increase the independence of the guild , the universitas, from local authorities, and to provide benefices to support students and teachers (Post 237).

By 1500 there were more than fifty universities in western Europe, many of them with the same legal structure of the university in Paris (Cantoni and Yuchtman 835). As the economy and government had grown in complexity, universities provided training in Latin, writing, debate, and laws to prepare men for administration in the church and at court (Cantoni and Yuchtman 826). All along, the unity and autonomy of the universitas that Derrida wrote about ("The Principle of Reason" 19) served the students in offering a route to career advancement while providing leaders with the staff they needed as they studied a knowledge that grounded the ideas of Aristotle in biblical truth (Scott 13). Academic freedom in this context meant that the masters decided the common syllabus with only basic oversight from the church and were also protected from harassment by local authorities.

Other routes to education always existed during the Middle Ages, including instruction for merchant children in many towns. Secular teachers provided training in exchanging money, writing letters, and giving speeches. By the fifteenth century, politics and trade in the wealthy cities of Italy offered new ways for education to pay off, with a focus on human things instead of divine knowledge so that merchant training became more attractive. The Italians found models for behavior and understanding in the ancient Roman literature that was becoming more available at the time (Hunter 13-15). So, the humanities offered an education that was less logical, more persuasive. "Humanists emphasized the individual, free will, and values" (Scott 3).

A great deal of scholarship in recent decades has stressed the importance of such urban education in defining early humanism. Seeking to know the world and express themselves well, humanists studied Roman literature intensely. Peter Denley stresses in his 2013 article that the Italian universities were neither opposed to nor isolated from these developments (490). While one could not get a degree in the humanities, the study of Ciceronian rhetoric and poetry had crept into the Italian universities by the mid-fifteenth century (502). Classical Latin, then Greek, became the mark of an educated person, while French and other modern languages came to be used in diplomacy. Ian Hunter observes that these skills came to be understood as essential to core education over the long course of Reformation and then Counter-Reformation, while the increasing focus on philosophy in the first years of study at universities created a myth that the humanities of the Magister Artium degree sought truth, while the higher faculties were only concerned with profit (Hunter 15-17).

By the time the various religious wars ended in seventeenth-century Europe, religion and the universities had come to serve the state, which tended to be much stronger than the regional lords who had ruled in centuries before. Higher education continued to receive government support, largely in return for the service it provided in educating clerks, clergy, and lawyers. The growth of education helped foster a variety of intellectual advances at the time that have come to be called the Scientific Revolution. Though many of the thinkers involved in these developments studied at a university, however, few of their innovations or even the culture of the Enlightenment that followed resulted from the research of professors. Scientific societies, their associated journals, and patronage drove much of the growth of science. One notable exception to this was Scotland. Economics, law, and medicine all flourished over the course of the eighteenth century among the scholars of Edinburgh and Glasgow, such as Adam Smith, David Hume, and William Cullen, who were not only members of reading clubs and authors, but also popular lecturers at the universities. While American and English schools followed limited curricula, students in Scotland could pick from a broad range of topics that allowed them to benefit from much of this scholarship (Browning 167).

Another place where Enlightenment thought became tightly connected with the university was Prussia. Under Frederick II, the universities were used to shore up the absolute rule of the monarch by training men to be skilled, obedient, and orthodox. At the end of the century, under a very different Kaiser, Immanuel Kant argues in his Conflict of the Faculties that it is proper for state to dictate what the clergy preach in an effort to ensure obedience among the populace (xvii). However, respect for science and education had risen so high by this time that Kant equates the teaching of the lower philosophy faculties with a search for truth. "So the philosophy faculty, because it must answer for the truth of the teachings it is to adopt or even allow, must be conceived as free and subject only to laws given by reason, not by government" (43). By encouraging the skills of reason, professors actually proved their obedience, doing their job of providing the best education for future ministers, as well as for the students who eventually will enroll in the theology, law, and medicine faculties. Kant highlights the degree to which the Enlightenment search for rational order has become part of German education with this argument, in that he divides the philosophical curriculum into two schools, historical knowledge and rational knowledge, each divided further into academic subjects, all of which the students needed to master (45). Of course, the Enlightenment, and Kant in particular, would be severely criticized by many in the twentieth century, most prominently by Horckheimer and Adorno, who included modern education among the means by which rationalism separated us from nature (154-55). "But as the real emancipation of humanity did not coincide with the enlightenment of the mind, education itself became sick. The less social reality kept pace with educated consciousness, the more that consciousness itself succumbed to a process of reification" (163).

Up to the modern period, England only had two universities, Scotland four, the same schools that were established before the Reformation. The legal independence granted to these universities, and their resident colleges, from the Catholic Church and the king had remained in place largely until the end of the eighteenth century (Jones 3). Schools in the American colonies followed the English model, needing to have a charter. Many of the early American schools received their charters from the governor of their colony (Browning 85). The number of schools grew a great deal after independence, mostly in response to religious divisions, though all had lay administration in order to receive a charter for their state (Levine 24). The important point is that, as in Europe, the legal identity of the university, earned through negotiation with various authorities, gave it a degree of independence, but this did not mean that schools had any sort of "utopic organization" or even true autonomy (Fujita 271). What it did mean, however, is that institutions could determine much of their organization and even curricula for themselves. States founded some universities, and in the nineteenth century would even fund them a great deal, but the federal government was left to offer funding for particular projects, topics, or even students that they wanted to encourage. The independent schools and the individual students took the risks of where to apply their time and money. The result has been an amazing array of educational models from junior colleges, liberal arts schools, and research universities (Dorn 9, 115). All share ideals of academic freedom, self-managed teachers, and useful knowledge that developed from the history of independent schools depending on tuition and a variety of state and private support.

In "Enlightenment and Education in Eighteenth Century America," Joshua Owens argues that the Protestant schools in the American colonies concerned themselves with training students to conform to their specific religious traditions. Much of the material and methods, and even many of the teachers, to do this came from from England. Higher education at colleges like Harvard and William & Mary served as fitting ends to this system, in that they had the main goal of producing clergymen for their churches. Study consisted of lectures, reading, and disputation (227-30). Then Enlightenment ideas flooded the country in the middle of the eighteenth century. Literature on independence and individual freedom circulated widely. Several schools, including the College of New Jersey and even Liberty Hall on the frontier, embraced Enlightenment ideals, which included more choices for students (233-35). It is important to realize, though, that little change came to the Classical education at older schools such as Yale (Brown 92). And Owens admits that republican schooling after the war returned to an emphasis on conformity (538).

Thomas Jefferson, of course, was very much a child of the Enlightenment. After serving as president of the United States, he soon set about on his next great project, a new university designed as an academical village where faculy lived among students, mentoring them in enlightened thought and republicanism (O'Shaughnessy 118). According to Emily J. Levine, Jefferson gave up on his attempts to reform the Anglican curriculum at William & Mary, his alma mater, and wanted to oppose the influence of northern schools. So, he created the decidedly secular University of Virginia to train a new generation in science and modern languages, alongside Roman history and philosophy (25-26). Andrew J. O'Shaughnessy notes that Jefferson saw higher education as essential to the success of the country's democratic experiment. Students needed to pursue truth, with free minds, in order to learn republicanism and useful knowledge (4-5). In the period when republicanism fostered an increase in conformity in American teaching, UVA offered a model that stayed true to many Enlightenment ideals, including efforts to ensure the best teaching and library possible, as well as electives for students, a secular commitment, and faculty governance (253-54). All of this received substantial funding from the state government. The continuing reliance on slavery in the academical village and generally the role of the university in creating a class of gentlemen who became prominent in the Confederacy have prevented scholars from recognizing the influence of UVA, writes O'Shaughnessy. However, many of the new schools that sprang up across the South in the following decades, including the state universities at North Carolina and South Carolina, imitated Jefferson's model, as did Michigan, MIT, and University College London (255-57).

Herbert Baxter Adams was one scholar who did recognize the significance of Jefferson's university. "Men should be viewed historically in their relation to society. Institutions are rarely the product of one man's original ideas" (15). Nevertheless, Adams did note that, "His system of higher education marks the continuation of his personal, vitalizing influence ... more truly than does any other of his original creations" (148). This book came after Adams had been appointed to Johns Hopkins University, where he created the history seminar, and it shows his focus on research that used documentation to support a methodical, in some ways scientific, approach to history. The book also serves as an example of how scholarship in the U.S. began to use the study of culture to tie America into a story of European progress. History, in this view, started with the freedom and democracy of true European culture during the Middle Ages and progressed through the work of Shakespeare and the sciences of the Enlightenment to culminate in the glories of the United States. The Classical models of Rome and Greece were irrelevant. This story led support to the firm belief that the teaching of the humanities in America linked the university, including its structure and ideals, to the medieval universitas (Derrida, "Principle of Reason" 19; Fujita 260).

James Turner and John H. Roberts argue that the American definition of the humanities offered a coherent curriculum after students opted out of studying Classics when given the choice (80-81). What made this invention possible was the growing specialization of academia. More and more scientists at the time focused on one field, but the driving force for the change came from the German universities, like Kant's in Prussia, which had spent the nineteenth century developing rigorous approaches to the subjects under the realm of philosophy, including math, all the sciences, history and literature. Many professors established a sponsored Lehrstuhl for the intense study of their specialty by advanced students in small seminars, which helped support their research (Levine 44). Whether it was shared in lecture halls or publication, or just in the seminar, the point was research (Weber 3). The world took note of the tremendous advances in knowledge coming out of these German research universities, and many traveled there to study, including many Americans (Ludmerer 13; Scott 23). They pursued advanced studies in not only medicine, science, and engineering, but also in the culture that both young countries sought to define for themselves. History, for example, was a great concern for nineteenth century German scholars (Hunter, "Historian" 15-17), and they taught many of the Americans who introduced the methodical study of the past to their college students back in the United States (Hunter, "Humanities" 23).

Critiques of higher education up to this point largely consisted of new visions of the university applied in the creation of new institutions. American calls for a greater focus on research, like in Germany, received its greatest support when the Johns Hopkins donation was used to build an orphage, a hospital, a medical school, and a research university for the benefit of Baltimore. What was new about the Johns Hopkins University was that seminars were organized around departments, instead of institutes, and students entered directly into graduate study in small seminars (Dorn 127). Many received fellowships for the work toward a doctoral degree, just as some of the teachers began with postdoc fellowships. Hopkins not only imitated the German education, but the efforts to achieve disinterested research marked its difference from the commercial nature of most American higher education, even schools supported by benefactors like Leland Stanford (Dorn 117). Eventually, the new president was compelled to include an undergraduate college to gain more support from the city (Levine 42, 47). The secular university with large classes of undergraduates and small seminars dedicated to graduate research gained many imitators in the United States over the next few decades. Old institutions developed their own research programs and graduate schools, even Woodrow Wilson, president of Princeton, who hated German education and his time studying at Johns Hopkins (Levine 57-59).

Around the middle of the nineteenth century, Cardinal John Newman of Ireland wrote that the university was a place of universal learning, which included training the habits of the mind (90). To do so, however, required that students engage in a great deal of reading (94). Broadly defined, Newman thought that higher education produced something useful in that it was good (117), and this was to be shared the the populace. "The more education they have, the better" (104). With his description of higher education as something for the common good of the nation, best shared with as many as possible, Newman predicted the views of progressive reformers of the next fifty years. Many of them thought that people's lives would benefit from taking part in modern education (Levine 27).

In the United States, the Progressive movement sought to bring rationality to the improvement of society by restructuring many institutions in response to conditions brought on by industrialization and the Gilded Age (Barrow 8). Toward the end of the nineteentch century, as higher education expanded dramatically, many efforts to improve how students thought and to increase the research focus of universities were described as Progressive efforts to improve the state of knowledge for the whole nation, in harness with the ideas of John Dewey (Ludmerer 10). As a way to do this, many reforms directly addressed commercialism in higher education, which viewed schools as money-makers and learning as a route to wealth (Dorn 9). Professors couched many of their complaints about their pay and status in the language of reform for thirty years, culminating in Thorstein Veblen's 1918 book The Higher Learning in America, a whithering condemnation of the university's betrayal of the people it was meant to serve (2). Like many, Veblen sees commercialism's greatest sin in the corporate structure that it brought to many college administrations (16). Governance structures "defeat the end for which a university is maintained" (165). The obsession of administrators to build an ever larger physical plant, with any funds they could find, hurt the ability of professors to teach and, really, the overall mission of the university (130).

Veblen's work followed the impact of the Abraham Flexner's report on how to improve medical training in the United States. Using Carnegie and Rockefeller monety, his 1910 report and later administrative roles in charitable foundations helped Flexner revolutionize the education of doctors, largely by improving school standards and working to close those that did not meet his standards (Ludmerer 3-7). Flexner took a similar approach in his lectures at Oxford comparing systems of higher education, published as Universities: American, English, German in 1930. Notable for his ludicrous predictions about the success of German universities and their failure in the U.S., the book still highlights the degree to which commercialism, careerism, and the hunt for prestige continued to diminish education even after decades of criticism (x). While Newman thought that traditional topics and methods could be used to train the mind and Veblen focused on securing the best practices of college teaching, Flexner says that the solution to what ailed higher education was for the university to be a place of research in the arts and sciences, with as few students as possible (194-97). High school and college needed improvement to show students that education led to a joyful life not just a career (131), but more importantly to bring better students to graduate school (68). In a later edition of the book, Clark Kerr makes the point that the university activities Flexner disparaged helped fund the research he promoted (xxi).

Flexner divides the goals of the American university into three: research, post-secondary education, and service, all of which were done poorly. In attempting this, however, the university has become something that, like other institutions, works "not outside, but inside the general social fabric of a given era" (3). Clyde Barrow sees the importance of the Progressive Era for understanding later developments. "The American intellectuals’ modern historical formation is a consequence not only of their professionalization and migration into the university, but also of class conflicts which emerged around efforts to construct an 'ideological state apparatus' that was centered on the university" (7). If we are to understand connections between business and education, as well as those between higher education and class in America, we need to recognize the efforts by leading capitalists to dominate the governance of universities and manipulate their funding. The most immediate result was that professionalization of the faculty fell in line with university ideals of self-management, though not real academic freedom (11-12), while ignoring institutional changes that kept salaries low for more than a century (163).

The Modern University

Christoper P. Loss, in his 2012 book, Between Citizens and the State, traces the later history of higher education in the United States to show that the university exists in many ways as a parastate, taking on functions of government (3). Unlike Barrow, Loss sees the state encouraging such developments not because of class conflicts but as a direct effort to make up for its political and bureaucratic weakness. Building on ideas of the value of higher education for the population from the Progressive Era, state efforts to use the university as a social tool for politics led to even more investment during the Great Depression and WWII (16). Social scientists came up with even stronger evidence over the years that education made for better citizens and helped soldiers re-adjust to civilian life (13), so the challenges of the Cold War were met with even more federal support for the expansion of higher education (9), as well as research funding. However, in the 1970s, an economic downturn, criticism of academia's connections to the technologies and policies used in Vietnam, and the greater costs of a new turn toward research and graduate students came at the same time that women and African Americans began to demand greater rights and representation in the universities that had begun to include them more. Not only did the creation of citizens for the good of the state come into question, but the whole point of higher education became much more personal as more people came to see it as support for their identies as individuals (222).

Universities had a hard time covering costs by the 1980s. Just as the erosion of unions increased the importance of a college education for securing a lifelong job, the Reagan administration found reasons to cut support for many aspects of higher education on campuses that they had come to see as hotbeds of sedition (Poovey 294; Dorn 207). Federal austerity measures forced schools to raise tuition and expand the number of students (Fabricant and Brier 8). Larger schools often often sought to pursue greater prestige through a new focus on research and flashy construction (Dorn 192), while community colleges and even many state schools were left with few options (Brown 193). This has led to decades of decline in many aspects of higher education in the time since. Even as schools have grown larger and used more technology, many teachers and students get less from them. "Within public research universities, fewer and fewer funds are devoted to instruction and more and more to research and other endeavors that increase institutional ability to win external funds" (Slaughter 12). Much of the recent critique of higher educatio finds fault with the ways in which changes to funding have warped the nature of its mission, in concert with dramatic shifts in the expectations from both students and government (Vest 37-38).

In a series of speeches in 1963, Clark Kerr described the research university as the creation of the federal government. Federal funding for research at a prestigious group of large private and state universities, themselves started with land-grant incomes, had created cities of intellect that combined Newman's teaching village with Flexner's scientific institution into the confusing multiversity, inhabited by a series of different communities all working toward education (31-35, 198). Boards of administration, tuition, endowments, and government money combined to make these schools very similar across the country. Though history had brought together several threads to shape the American form, Kerr stresses the importance of the twentieth century search for a "better use of the intellect" (199). Many scholars have accepted his history of the modern university and its understanding of undergraduate education as support for the researchers and facilities there, as well as Kerr's view of the university as central to the training of a manager class for American capitalism (Newfield, Unmaking 29).

Kerr identifies the political conflicts present in the multiversity between students, faculty, administrators, and public authorities, with professors having much less power than their responsibilities and history have led them to expect (15-22). In the 2001 edition of his lectures, Uses of the University, Kerr adds a look at some of the results of these fights over the course of forty years. Higher education had brought a revolution to American life with college enrollment tripling from 1955-70 and continuing to skyrocket with the growth of state and community college systems. People understood the importance of learning in good times and bad. Within the large universities, he writes, the shifting nature of economic support brought significant pathologies to the system: dependence on federal policies, favoring research over teaching and science over the humanities, and the birth of the faculty entrepeneur (199, 202). People came to school to get job training but generally accepted that they became "overeducated Americans," in the phrase of the time, along the way. The administrative focus on growth seemed to serve everyone in all of this. By the end of the century, however, costs continue to rise, and the system had few effective ways to maintain the quality of the education that people were buying (204-208).

Students, of course, remain central to education, and their tuition continues to provide the most income for schools. Yet their interests receive little consideration. In his comments on the 1968 student protests, Richard Hoggart notes that authorities "—essentially the professoriate—had too much centralised power, and were smug with it" (174). Students demonstrated to gain more influence over their campuses, but have had few long term gains over the years. As schools shifted to the active pursuit of as many tuition-payers as possible toward the end of the twentieth century, students have been reinvented as consumers, so that the alma mater no longer serves in loco parentis (Pusey 364). In some ways this has meant more attention from administrators (Slaughter 243), but the result has been weakening authority in the classrom and a move away from effective teaching (Cowden and Singh 4). Students, for their part, have responded with a preoccupation with the grades and degrees being offered as the product of higher education, rather than worrying about abstract ideas of learning (Collins 24). Generally, student participation and even student government, do little to protect the interests of students, who are seen as transients passing through the working institution (Steffen 24).

As Stuart Hall said in an interview with Grieg De Peuter in 2007, "The idea of the university as an ‘open’ institution, ‘freely’ in pursuit of knowledge, was, of course, never quite the case" (110). His point was that schooling has always been for the elite, to some extent, in need of democratization. Many others have pointed out the basic economics supporting education; students pay fees for the recognition that they have learned something useful (Collins 24, 254). While modern governments have been willing to pay for some education, the situation always favors the rich (Fabricant and Brier 8). The United States has chosen to limit the risks of this investment more and more over the years, favoring support for loans for the ambitious and scholarships for the talented. Expense and risk of wasted education both go up the more a person studies, so government support diminishes at the higher levels in the United States, with a definite preference for science. In many ways, this situation serves the interests of the state in that the investment and competition involved in higher education instill bourgeois values (Smyth 131), and cement the identity of a technocratic managerial class already at the undergraduate level (Newfield, Ivy and Industry 219; Haddad 19). According to Althusser, even the private schools that are dependent on tuition use ideology such as this to shape society (144). Certainly this is the case when schools receive massive amounts of state funding in various forms. So, the pyramid of elite scholars, in terms of wealth and talent, getting the highest levels of education is no accident, nor is the expectation that the educated will manage the rest (Haiven 145).

All along, American schools continue to sell students on the idea that the focus of undergraduate study remains general learning, along with the remmants of the idea of improving the individual through the liberal arts. Graduate training sits on top of this, in a way, teaching students how to research (Veblen 52). Even in medicine, preparation for the profession involves education in how to advance the field (Ludmerer 12). Though the liberal arts have always included the sciences, liberal arts colleges, and the undergraduate programs that imitate them, have come to be associated with the humanities. It is thought that the humanities provide the route for general self-improvement and training in democracy, while the sciences are for the creation of new scientists (Brown 180). The graduate school has been separated from the rest, akin to the professional schools of Kant's age (Levine 47); while the lower school retains the focus on what Kant himself described as training in reason through the study of humane letters (43). In practical terms, this has meant that the division between the humanities and the sciences continues into the graduate level as well, with fields like English and history focused for many years on the mere reproduction, or at most expansion, of the discipline in higher education. The work of graduate students as graders and discussion leaders in these expanded programs also supported the professors enough to allow them to work on research at universities that did not fund these fields as much as the hard sciences (Bérubé 79-81; Newfield 20). In Austerity Blues, Michael Fabricante and Stephen Brier explain how the work of students at apprentice wages also made it possible for institutions to teach the massive numbers of undergraduates who brought in so much tuition, to the detriment of teaching quality (130). Large classes, now common at every university are an effort to cut costs (7), rarely with the intention of saving students money (Dorn 228).

The many graduate programs across the country, producing innumberable PhDs, have offered a second possibility for lowering the cost of teaching through the hiring of adjunct instructors for general education courses (Gould 31). In the competitive tuition market, these cost-saving measures have spread to private liberal arts colleges, creating a general crisis in the quality of higher education (Krause 47-48). For tenure-track faculty everywhere, the most immediate effect of these changes has been that a smaller number of professors find themselves in charge of departments and faculty committees (Hearn and Burns 331-34). Peter Fleming argues in Dark Academia: How Universities Die that the stresses of academic work have eaten away at notions of collegiality and the whole idea of a guild of independent scholars creating an agreed-upon curriculum (8). In some ways, Fleming places the blame on the professors themselves, who generally have accepted the competitive careerism that rewards star researchers at the expense of other teachers, especially the semi-employed (11).

In Unmaking the University, however, Christopher Newfield calculates that not only is research not a money-maker, in general, but that science and engineering need to be subsidized by the tuition brought in from teaching the humanities and social sciences. This suggests that the belief in the income potential of research is just misguided dogma (213, 217). He also points out that the public university's project of creating a multiracial, inclusive majority of the educated has motivated years of conservative attack. More and more, this has included fights at the state level, even those with enormous public college systems, such as California (1, 5). Government funding of all sorts for higher education diminished, sometimes because of ideological attacks on the middle class, that had come to be defined by their education (265-68). A vicious cycle began. "Administrators looked to private funding to solve the problems that the ascent of private over public funding helped create" (271). In these calculations, research has the potential to bring prestige, government grants, corporate donations, and valuable patents (Vest 12-16). So, research has often served as the flagship of efforts to bring in other types of funding, even as the main support comes from constant tuition increases (Gould 31). More than an effort to improve the methods of science or expand general knowledge, the continuing shift to research at large universities is a way to increase their adoption of academic capitalism in acceptable ways, according to Slaughter (12).

The corporate approach involved in the management and funding of the university operating under academic capitalism shifts how schools handle administration. Management has come to replace faculty governance, further eroding collegiality and any idea of a community of scholars (243). More important has been the increased specialization of tasks and responsibilities. Some professors move into full-time administration positions to join the ranks of professional managers, many of them earning more than most of the faculty (Barrow 162). Countless other types of administrators have been brought on to manage the complicated needs of the multiversity. "The decline in the number of full-­time faculty and the concomitant growth in part-­time instructors have been accompanied by a growing trend of rapid increases in the number of high-­level administrators" (Fabricant and Brier 151). More than any star power researchers, the elite of any American university are now the top administrators, who form their own class of power brokers entrenched at the top (Krause 47). In the culture of higher education institutions, the corporate ideals of modern administrators now dominates employee mindsets more than the professional standards of the teaching faculty (Bousquet 11).

Richard Terdiman remarks that while Derrida had imagined a university free from outside authority (425), not only did he himself think that no school had yet achieved such independence, but Terdiman and many others would say that the ways in which real power works means that governments would never permit such an institution (432). Scholars often note the connections between educaton and political power, often locked into economic concerns, going back centuries. In an earlier book, Ivy and Industry, Newfield makes the important point that the American university grew up at the same time that the business corporation took form in the country, which was also the same period when the management science developed in both worlds also came to influence how government was run (3, 215). All linked management to the service of capitalism (218). Universities, for their part, have corporatism wired into its deepest mechanisms. So, it is not just that higher education works for the interests of the state, even as schools try to bring in enough tuition to pay their expenses, but that administration works in the same ways across institutions, government, and corporations (Steffen 24). And this binds them together, ever tighter as time goes on.

Sharon Rider describes Ortega y Gasset identifying three missions of the modern university: training in the professions, scientific research, and "the propagation of 'general culture'” (20). How does this make schooling political? More importantly, how does the growing state control over the university in recent years serve the many government interests involved? It is important here to think of public authorites as one of the communities Kerr describes with an interest in what happens at the multiversity. Concerns within the group can differ. In some districts, elected officials can burnish their ideological reputations by attacking university efforts to get citizens to believe in science (Jones 247). Local political concerns over spending, however, as well as reputation, education, and entrepeneurship create a complex arena for politicians to serve their constituents and to make names for themselves (Vest 34). What is certain is that public authorities at all levels have to work with the powers and responsibilities of the major research universities because of all that they influence. Higher education as a whole often draws the attention of politicians beyond questions of funding. Barrow would go further and insist that intellectuals sit in a shifting competition for power in society amidst administrators, polticians, and the rich (257). Furthermore, within the structures of hegemony that recognize the influence of the university, Barrow writes that modern higher education has been tamed in many ways by other authorities to keep scholars from fully exercising their power and even sharing their knowledge (254). Poltical interest in the university includes efforts to benefit from its power to train citizens, invent technology, and amplify campaign messages, but also to keep the state at the helm when it comes to defining ideas such as truth, authority, and regional identity.


How American higher education functions and also fits into the wider political economy hides many inequalities and the material workings of power relations. "The work of critique is therefore to bring those conditions to the fore. Once they are exposed and turned into the object of knowledge, it becomes possible to reflect on and act towards their elimination" (Szadkowski and Krzeski 195). While these have the potential to spark radical ideas (Murch 7), little of the scholarship on universities has even been tied to calls for reform. Some of the few improvements have only made the situation worse (Hearn and Burns 335). Habermas even thought many reformers worthy of critique themselves for attacking research institutions (Larsen 2). In what recent changes have come about in the United States, administrators often have been blind to the ideology behind attempts to reform higher education (Jones 15). Still, understanding just what is involved in college learning and the functions it serves in society requires a closer examination of recent scholarship critiquing universities (and much of it is focused on large research universities).

One issue that many critics have focused on is the ways in which higher education is now managed to secure the disired outcomes for administration. One only has to reflect on the experiences that people have had with managed health care in the United States to see that this situation means that profits and prestige reach the highest levels possible, while the core mission, teaching in this case, gets neglected (Bousquet 4). College sports continue to be promoted for large universities, while their typical teacher is now part-time, female, and without any hope for tenure (Bousquet 6-7). Profits may be a misleading term here, but it is clear that in addition to construction, sports, and high salaries for deans, the university builds up the institution in many ways, with education being a low priority (Dorn 190). Donations, and the endowments built from them, help to free schools, especially private institutions, from outside control while separating the elite from the general education institutions (Vest 15; Fabricant and Brier 117). In the enterprise university, stakeholders include administrators and tenured faculty, managing the institution to make it, and themselves, more secure while students, workers, and teachers are subject to their management without influence (Krause 50).

Fleming starts off his Dark Academia with a brief description of the types of books academics have been writing recently about their workplaces. Grim titles such as Toxic University, give a sense of the doom smothering the hopes and ideals of even the tenured these days (2). Fleming, himself, has a clear idea of the university before neoliberalism, not altruistic but structured in ways that made its idiosyncratic workforce effective at teaching. In unexpected ways, the rise of managerialism brought into academia because of neoliberalism has diminished the ability of schools to teach. He traces four historical shifts that have brought higher education to the current grim situation. After the Humboldtian concentration on reason, followed in the United States by the rise in the position of the humanities in general education, Fleming sees a recent pushback against the importance of college learning as an important third historical shift in education. He cannot really describe the effects of the fourth shift, the one we are in now. Most notable after the covid epidemic is the sense of exhaustion and danger (17). Fleming speaks of a crisis, in which many schools can only fail. The main cause of the current crisis, according to him, is the bureaucratic economism that has come to dominate university life over the past twenty years (159). This type of capitalist management, an expression of neoliberal ideology, can only lead to cycles of increased monetization until academic ideals completely fail. This has come about because of the ways in which neoliberalism has overwhelmed any other poltical stance in government. The state still determines the fate of higher education and neoliberalism has conquered the state (165).

Nancy Maclean goes so far as to write that neoliberal hostility toward academia has spurred a oligarchic conspiracy take over state politics in order to fight back federal efforts to end racism and to tax the rich, essentially to end democratic governance (11). Maclean points to a move in response to the Brown decision at the University of Virginia by UVA president, and former governor, Colgate Darden to give the economist James McGill Buchanan his own institute to defend states' rights (9). In his moves to Virgnia Tech and then George Mason University, Buchanan was able to maintain his independence for creating a Virginia school of political economy and to gather donations for his defense of a libertarian view that saw the federal government as an enemy of personal freedom (214). His work drew the attention of the billionaire Koch brothers, determined to diminish government's ability to regulate and tax their own financial empire. In the end, the Mercatus Center and Charles Koch's Institute for Humane Studies, that he moved to also be on the Mason campus, created academic arguments for neoliberalism, led the conservative attack on social security, and began an assault on the whole notion of public education (255). Buchanan's heirs in government, think tanks, and economy departments seek a liberty that further concentrates immense wealth while denying fairness and opportunity to most people (273).

The placement of many critics of neoliberalism, and of the university, within the neoliberal university creates, "'dangerous complicities' of imperial privilege and neoliberal capital" according to Piya Chatterjee and Sunaina Maira (9). In concert with the racial and gender controls inherent in neoliberalism (the "free" market is decidedly racist and sexist), the tendency of academics to stifle themselves to protect their careers means that critics are right to focus on neoliberalism and call it out as the first problem of contemporary higher education (22-25). With "Neoliberalism's War against Teachers in Dark Times," Henry A. Giroux goes further, arguing that the right attacks education as an institution that favors identity and dialogue and belief in democracy, which are threats to the commodification affecting our lives (459). Central to this claim is the idea that the neoliberals sees education as something that "no longer benefits the entire society but only individuals and rather than being defined as a public good is redefined as a private right" (460). The enemies of education have taken over the schools, and their style of management ensures that what they dislike about college will be destroyed.

Academic capitalism, at least as it has been lionized by neoliberals, brings with it the expecation that all schools should be able to make a profit without funding or donations, becoming truly involved in the market economy. Many decades ago, Flexner identified an American obsession among colleges to sell education in any way that could attract more customers and raise profits (150). What has changed, though, is the belief that administrators have to take on maximising profits and minimising expenses as central duties. Max Haiven, in Crises of Imagination, sees all the major problems of the age linked to the general crisis that is bound to come along under capitalism (4). Knowledge and imagination have become slaves to capitalist reproduction, largely through the tool of the university (7, 136). So, the use of precarious labor to teach and the production of as many degree holders, i.e. customers, as possible are reflections of the relationship between schooling and capital that has long been part of American culture. What is new is the ideological demands that schools adopt these and many other tactics to make a profit while neglecting other goals of education. "Universities adopt austerity like victims of a Stalinist show trial, admitting their guilt at not being profitable enough" (139). Schools cut as many expenses as they can, even when not in trouble, and little of the money saved goes to improve teaching (Hearn and Burns 349-51).

Corporate management shapes higher education in a variety of ways that go beyond labor policies and the hunt for income, according to Eric Gould. In The University in a Corporate Culture, he points out how marketing, quality control, public image promotion, the design of products, and incentives for growth have become the specific details of day to day life. All of this is hidden behind indefinite rhetoric about the pursuit of excellence that neglects to mention knowledge or learning (31). For students, the most immediate effect of the corporate mindset can be seen in the efforts to exact the highest tuition that the market will bear, while quality declines (51). This encourages the customers paying these costs to think in terms of obtaining the degrees and grades in their own cost-effective ways, which often means with as little effort or learning as possible (176).

The growth of higher education included an explosion of community colleges across the country, but many of them are suffering now under the new expectations for cost-effective education (Fabricant and Brier 128). As job-training, post-secondary education, and preparation for entering college, the quality of schooling has declined, largely because of the reliance, here too, on adjunct teachers but also a new student focus on just the courses that put them on track for jobs (Brown 193; Dorn 202,207). Another type of tertiary education has joined the scene in the form of for-profit schools, which suffer from the reliance on the market in its most extreme form. While millions of students have bought classes from these corporations, the focus on efficiency and profits there have not served them well. Many for-profit schools offer bogus training to the very poorest, after encouraging people to take on as many loans as possible, some at outrageous rates, others supported by taxpayers (O’Neil 57). "Treating educational provision as an extractive rather than additive enterprise, these corporations seek to accumulate wealth by transferring billions of public dollars to private shareholders" (Dorn 232).

Competition among schools has favored those which perfect their extractive practices, more than those with the lowest tuition. The results of Sara Goldrick-Rab's research shows that student costs have risen far faster than family incomes across the board for decades. She argues that the federal government developed financial aid programs to make college affordable for everyone, because of the social value of higher education. When these programs failed to keep up with tuition, student loans became a stopgap (1-4, 255). The result has been disastrous. More students now fail to graduate because the unexpected failure of financial aid to cover expenses. Even more common has become the degree-holders who then find that their income is never enough for the payments on the loans they have taken out (10). Financial aid and loans allow schools to charge more than their markets can bear by obscuring the true costs. They have responded with flashy perks and services for students and the highest tuitions they can get away with (Fabricant and Brier 117). In effect, the poor acquiesce to pursue academic success in response to the promise of financial success, with the understanding that aid programs will help them, but in the end many of them remain in similar or worse situations, far removed from the powerful (Goldrick-Rab 236).

Changes to how students can afford tuition came about because the federal government consciously shifted aid from grants to loans as part of the reduction of support for higher education that began under Reagan. More and more, college became a risky investment by students in their own futures, rather than the social benefit that governments had been willing to support for so many years (Loss 225-36). Josh Mitchell reports on the degree to which this change has failed Americans with The Debt Trap. Even while the economy has shifted to the point where college is no longer a luxury but necessary for good-paying jobs, "the investment has gone bust." Some people now take out hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans they will never escape (4). Student debt has become a major factor in the economy. American homeownership is down, as is investment in new businesses and even saving for retirement (6). Despite academics and adminstrators trumpeting the lifelong value of an education, the general difference in wealth between graduates and non-graduates smaller than ever, with many individuals destroying their prospects with the decision to go to college (191). In recent years, the situation has even become a drag on government. With student debt larger than mortgage or credit card debt, many have not been able to continue to make payments even on loans supported by federal programs (207).

The history and structure of higher education in the United States help to explain how it became such an important element of society, and such a problematic one. What was built up over decades became central to preparing and identifying the ruling class. The aspirations of everyone to reach some sort of agency, learning, and confidence have become tied up with going to college. Now that both the economic base and the role government have been shifting in America, the meaning of the university has changed, as well (Cowden and Singh 4). From the beginning of massive investment in higher education, people have argued for a reassessment of higher education. The multiversity should serve the wider culture. As Hoggart notes, "the student movement—at its best—was asserting that there should be ideals, principles, values, a constant critical questioning within society and pre-eminently within the universities," but professors and managers already had too much power for their interests to be ignored (137). In the twenty-first century, colleges and universities have failed to the point that they seem to do little more than protect administrators and impoverish job-seekers (Fabricant and Brier 121, 153). Many have commented on these failings, and academics have an industry of complaining about how the changes have eroded their standing, effectiveness, and ideals. (Hearn and Burns 336). Several critics, however, suggest that universities do much more damage to American culture than we might suspect, even amidst the general recognition that higher education faces trouble. Universities are actively destroying our ideas of knowledge, equality, and success, betraying the mission of education, or democracy.

So, scholars have described how higher education in modern America relies on part-time employees of various kinds to save money to support the tenure-track faculty who make up the core of the various departments (Haiven 137), though this does not support the production of new knowledge (Readings 1), or even maintain professor's salaries over the long term (Hearn and Burns 337). One thing these practices have done is contribute to the loss of higher purpose in academia (Loss 226). With How the University Works, Marc Bousquet reveals how the production of PhD degrees in many fields serve the departments of large institutions, solely. "The system is immoral and degrading but perfectly efficient" as Cary Nelson says in the introduction (xiv). The purpose of graduate training, for which students have dedicated years and fortunes just to be in the position to start, to provide the cheap teaching and research assistance that professors need to do their jobs. The labor is the point, even more than prestige or greater chances at research funding. This means, writes Bousquet, that most students end their academic careers when they receive the final degree; they no longer have value for the university (84). In many fields, the ever shrinking number of graduates, now less thatn thirty percent in many programs, who have a true chance at tenure-track work go off to schools with less security and more teaching than the programs they came out of. Most face poverty as adjuncts, with spousal support or extra-mural jobs required to pay for the teaching habit and the debts that come with it (16). For decades, critics have claimed that departments and disciplines need to be more aware of the number of jobs that will be there for graduates, but Bousquet points out that the universities depend on part-time labor so much that the slack would need to be filled by more adjuncts working at research universities (20). In a compelling phrase, he identifiess degree-earners as the waste products of a labor system that only seeks to give them jobs for eight to ten years, as students (28). Tenured faculty share many ideals with administrators, keeping the system running with the top wage-earners secure. They relate to most of the teachers at their universities as managers, employers, and guild masters, selling their colleagues away to the misery of part-time, journeyman lives. Not only does this cripple the role of intellectuals in society, but the system consigns some of its most talented to the rubbish heap of the exploited, bohemians desperate to proclaim that their service and experience make them part of elite culture, with all of the institutional protections that suggests in the United States (63). This strips away all moral authority from the top faculty in American academia, no better than the administrators they despise, and diminishes what learning they manage to obtain (75, 84).

Past and present universities have shored up the injustices of society in many ways, including the racism and sexism that are such large parts of how inequality works in America (Giroux, Living Dangerously 50). Numerous critics have pointed to the nationalism and conflict at the heart of academia, as well. Chatterjee and Maira see higher education really taking place in one overarching imperial university. "Intellectuals and scholarship play an important role—­directly or indirectly, willingly or unwittingly—­in legitimizing American exceptionalism and rationalizing U.S. expansionism" (6). Higher education does a lot of the work of defining the world and shaping knowledge in ways that protect the status quo and clearly strive to trumpet the domninating position of American culture (13). Even the academic freedom that faculty want so much to protect is kept in a very narrow lane, unable to provide any real challenge to politics or institutions (35-36). Its real purpose is provide an illusion of university autonomy in the larger corporate culture. So, we should not romanticize the potential for progressive change from institutions, and even critics, trapped in the academy's Quisling loyalty to militarist, capitalist imperialism (42-43).

In a book of essays on the possibilties for decolonizing higher education from the heart of the imperialist camp, Decolonising the University, Gurminder K. Bhambra, Delia Gebrial, and Kerem Nişancıoğlu catalog the many approaches of people seeking "to transform the terms upon which the university (and education more broadly) exists" (1). The first task is to challenge the unique authority of Western ideas in knowledge production and education, and this must be done in ways that do not empty decolonization of its true political goals. The global project needs to focus on dismantling imperialism, to end the suffering it causes, not to improve the public image of the university (5). Of course, belief in white superiority continues to be a significant part of American imperialism, and the role of higher education in shaping and prolonging these ideas has been the subject of much critique (Wilder 5; Ahmed 10; Collins 85-87). Past efforts to end segregation (Rooks 8), bring about equality (Gutiérrez y Muhs et al. 1), or end racism (Grosfoguel 75) have brought limited success. Even the presence of universities on the ground, in the midst of many urban neighborhoods, has been a cause for further division and injustice (Baldwin 11). Still, on this front too, some scholars see the situation as a call to arms, to answer the need to end university participation in the continuation of racial injustice by using the tools of academia itself (Abdi 9).

In past eras, the rich prided themselves on their leisure, which no one else could enjoy. Daniel Markovits points to the move away from real estate and even capital as the main sources of wealth for the elite in recent decades. His book, The Meritocracy Trap, traces how expert labor, and the requisite industriousness, have become the new secure source of status and riches. The middle classes and poor are denied work, because their work has no real value, so they are left with shame and uncertainty (4). Theose with the skills to be elite executives, doctors, and lawyers are the new rich, but their work is a desperate effort to maintain their elite station, marked by great concerns and inhuman hours (35-36). In this new world, education has become the investment for future elite work; "meritocracy transforms education into a rigorous and intense contest to join the elite" (5). Wealthy families rig the competition with tutors and private schools that prepare their children to win entry to the elite universities that will then allow them to attend the elite professional schools that lead to super paying jobs (7). Markovits figures that the investment can reach millions of dollars per child, with students expected to work hard at school from a young age (146).The rich do this because it works so often. Very few talented, poor students make it to the likes of Yale Law School, where Markovits teaches. A definite majority of people who advance to well-paid positions came themselves from rich families (155). Meritocracy links to earlier forms of injustice in how offers excuses and mechanisms for inequality, racism, and sexism to continue. It also brings new problems to society, such as soulless education, tremendous work, and lack off opportunities for most people. It also assures that higher education in general, pursued by millions at public schools and liberal arts colleges, offers no access to good jobs or even further study that is worthwhile. Progressives have little to criticize in this, since so many of them believe in the value of merit (272).

The diminishing value of most of the jobs that require a college education, and the long-term burden of college debt for so many, means that higher education has become a sad struggle for Americans to try maintain their status. "Educational degrees are a type of currency of social respectability, which are traded in for access to jobs. Like any currency, it inflates prices (or reduces purchasing power) when autonomously driven increases in monetary supply chase a limited stock of goods, in this case chasing a diminishing pool of middle-class jobs," according to Randall Collins (ix). His book, The Credential Society, first published over forty years ago, shows how few of the new jobs demand any technical skills that might be gained in college. Rather, higher education has exploded so much that people seek degrees and learning just as advantages in the competition for better jobs (x). While it is true that education is a marker for success, Collins argues that sociology has found little connection between stratification and expertise. The educationocracy, as he calls it, is just hot air (9). At times, education works against the status and wealth of the people who possess it (19). It creates a class consciousness, an almost pseudoethnicity, that separates the educated from everyone else, but the rewards are not always wealth (96, 244). Nor do the rewards have much to do with the skills or knowledge that came from education, diminishing the effects of learning for most students, who have little patience for the liberal arts or civic responsibilities in their competition for jobs (254). The salary has become the new means of production for most workers, and they get it by having all the credentials of success seen among the the college-educated class, regardless of learning.