RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

Chomsky writes: "As universities move towards a corporate business model, precarity is being imposed by force."

Prof. Noam Chomsky, linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist and activist. (photo: Va Shiva)
Prof. Noam Chomsky, linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist and activist. (photo: Va Shiva)

The Death of American Universities

By Noam Chomsky, Jacobin

30 March 15


As universities move towards a corporate business model, precarity is being imposed by force.

hat’s part of the business model. It’s the same as hiring temps in industry or what they call “associates” at Walmart, employees that aren’t owed benefits. It’s a part of a corporate business model designed to reduce labor costs and to increase labor servility. When universities become corporatized, as has been happening quite systematically over the last generation as part of the general neoliberal assault on the population, their business model means that what matters is the bottom line.

The effective owners are the trustees (or the legislature, in the case of state universities), and they want to keep costs down and make sure that labor is docile and obedient. The way to do that is, essentially, temps. Just as the hiring of temps has gone way up in the neoliberal period, you’re getting the same phenomenon in the universities.

The idea is to divide society into two groups. One group is sometimes called the “plutonomy” (a term used by Citibank when they were advising their investors on where to invest their funds), the top sector of wealth, globally but concentrated mostly in places like the United States. The other group, the rest of the population, is a “precariat,” living a precarious existence.

This idea is sometimes made quite overt. So when Alan Greenspan was testifying before Congress in 1997 on the marvels of the economy he was running, he said straight out that one of the bases for its economic success was imposing what he called “greater worker insecurity.” If workers are more insecure, that’s very “healthy” for the society, because if workers are insecure they won’t ask for wages, they won’t go on strike, they won’t call for benefits; they’ll serve the masters gladly and passively. And that’s optimal for corporations’ economic health.

At the time, everyone regarded Greenspan’s comment as very reasonable, judging by the lack of reaction and the great acclaim he enjoyed. Well, transfer that to the universities: how do you ensure “greater worker insecurity”? Crucially, by not guaranteeing employment, by keeping people hanging on a limb than can be sawed off at any time, so that they’d better shut up, take tiny salaries, and do their work; and if they get the gift of being allowed to serve under miserable conditions for another year, they should welcome it and not ask for any more.

That’s the way you keep societies efficient and healthy from the point of view of the corporations. And as universities move towards a corporate business model, precarity is exactly what is being imposed. And we’ll see more and more of it.

That’s one aspect, but there are other aspects which are also quite familiar from private industry, namely a large increase in layers of administration and bureaucracy. If you have to control people, you have to have an administrative force that does it. So in US industry even more than elsewhere, there’s layer after layer of management — a kind of economic waste, but useful for control and domination.

And the same is true in universities. In the past thirty or forty years, there’s been a very sharp increase in the proportion of administrators to faculty and students; faculty and students levels have stayed fairly level relative to one another, but the proportion of administrators have gone way up.

There’s a very good book on it by a well-known sociologist, Benjamin Ginsberg, called The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters, which describes in detail the business style of massive administration and levels of administration — and of course, very highly-paid administrators. This includes professional administrators like deans, for example, who used to be faculty members who took off for a couple of years to serve in an administrative capacity and then go back to the faculty; now they’re mostly professionals, who then have to hire sub-deans, and secretaries, and so on and so forth, a whole proliferation of structure that goes along with administrators. All of that is another aspect of the business model.

But using cheap and vulnerable labor is a business practice that goes as far back as you can trace private enterprise, and unions emerged in response. In the universities, cheap, vulnerable labor means adjuncts and graduate students. Graduate students are even more vulnerable, for obvious reasons. The idea is to transfer instruction to precarious workers, which improves discipline and control but also enables the transfer of funds to other purposes apart from education.

The costs, of course, are borne by the students and by the people who are being drawn into these vulnerable occupations. But it’s a standard feature of a business-run society to transfer costs to the people. In fact, economists tacitly cooperate in this. So, for example, suppose you find a mistake in your checking account and you call the bank to try to fix it. Well, you know what happens. You call them up, and you get a recorded message saying “We love you, here’s a menu.” Maybe the menu has what you’re looking for, maybe it doesn’t. If you happen to find the right option, you listen to some music, and every once and a while a voice comes in and says “Please stand by, we really appreciate your business,” and so on.

Finally, after some period of time, you may get a human being, who you can ask a short question to. That’s what economists call “efficiency.” By economic measures, that system reduces labor costs to the bank; of course, it imposes costs on you, and those costs are multiplied by the number of users, which can be enormous — but that’s not counted as a cost in economic calculation. And if you look over the way the society works, you find this everywhere.

So the university imposes costs on students and on faculty who are not only untenured but are maintained on a path that guarantees that they will have no security. All of this is perfectly natural within corporate business models. It’s harmful to education, but education is not their goal.

In fact, if you look back farther, it goes even deeper than that. If you go back to the early 1970s when a lot of this began, there was a lot of concern pretty much across the political spectrum over the activism of the 1960s; it’s commonly called “the time of troubles.” It was a “the time of troubles” because the country was getting civilized, and that’s dangerous. People were becoming politically engaged and were trying to gain rights for groups that are called “special interests,” like women, working people, farmers, the young, the old, and so on. That led to a serious backlash, which was pretty overt.

At the liberal end of the spectrum, there’s a book called The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission, Michel Crozier, Samuel P. Huntington, Joji Watanuki, produced by the Trilateral Commission, an organization of liberal internationalists. The Carter administration was drawn almost entirely from their ranks. They were concerned with what they called “the crisis of democracy” — namely, that there’s too much democracy.

In the 1960s, there were pressures from the population, these “special interests,” to try to gain rights within the political arena, and that put too much pressure on the state. You can’t do that. There was one “special interest” that they left out, namely the corporate sector, because its interests are the “national interest”; the corporate sector is supposed to control the state, so we don’t talk about them. But the “special interests” were causing problems and they said “we have to have more moderation in democracy,” the public has to go back to being passive and apathetic.

And they were particularly concerned with schools and universities, which they said were not properly doing their job of “indoctrinating the young.” You can see from student activism (the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the feminist movement, the environmental movements) that the young are just not being indoctrinated properly.

Well, how do you indoctrinate the young? There are a number of ways. One way is to burden them with hopelessly heavy tuition debt. Debt is a trap, especially student debt, which is enormous, far larger than credit card debt. It’s a trap for the rest of your life because the laws are designed so that you can’t get out of it. If a business, say, gets in too much debt it can declare bankruptcy, but individuals can almost never be relieved of student debt through bankruptcy. They can even garnish social security if you default. That’s a disciplinary technique.

I don’t say that it was consciously introduced for the purpose, but it certainly has that effect. And it’s hard to argue that there’s any economic basis for it. Just take a look around the world: higher education is mostly free. In the countries with the highest education standards, let’s say Finland, which is at the top all the time, higher education is free. And in a rich, successful capitalist country like Germany, it’s free. In Mexico, a poor country, which has pretty decent education standards, considering the economic difficulties they face, it’s free.

In fact, look at the United States: if you go back to the 1940s and 1950s, higher education was pretty close to free. The GI Bill gave free education to vast numbers of people who would never have been able to go to college. It was very good for them and it was very good for the economy and the society; it was part of the reason for the high economic growth rate. Even in private colleges, education was pretty close to free.

Take me: I went to college in 1945 at an Ivy League university, University of Pennsylvania, and tuition was $100. That would be maybe $800 in today’s dollars. And it was very easy to get a scholarship, so you could live at home, work, and go to school and it didn’t cost you anything. Now it’s outrageous. I have grandchildren in college, who have to pay for their tuition and work and it’s almost impossible. For the students — that is a disciplinary technique.

And another technique of indoctrination is to cut back faculty-student contact: large classes, temporary teachers who are overburdened, who can barely survive on an adjunct salary. And since you don’t have any job security, you can’t build up a career, you can’t move on and get more. These are all techniques of discipline, indoctrination, and control.

And it’s very similar to what you’d expect in a factory, where factory workers have to be disciplined, to be obedient; they’re not supposed to play a role in, say, organizing production or determining how the workplace functions — that’s the job of management. This is now carried over to the universities. And I think it shouldn’t surprise anyone who has any experience in private enterprise, in industry; that’s the way they work.

On How Higher Education Ought to Be

First of all, we should put aside any idea that there was once a “golden age.” Things were different and in some ways better in the past, but far from perfect. The traditional universities were, for example, extremely hierarchical, with very little democratic participation in decision-making. One part of the activism of the 1960s was to try to democratize the universities, to bring in, say, student representatives to faculty committees, to bring in staff to participate.

These efforts were carried forward under student initiatives, with some degree of success. Most universities now have some degree of student participation in faculty decisions. And I think those are the kinds of things we should be moving towards: a democratic institution, in which the people involved in the institution, whoever they may be (faculty, students, staff), participate in determining the nature of the institution and how it runs; and the same should go for a factory.

These are not radical ideas, I should say. They come straight out of classical liberalism. So if you read, for example, John Stuart Mill, a major figure in the classical liberal tradition, he took it for granted that workplaces ought to be managed and controlled by the people who work in them — that’s freedom and democracy. We see the same ideas in the United States. Let’s say you go back to the Knights of Labor; one of their stated aims was “To establish co-operative institutions such as will tend to supersede the wage-system, by the introduction of a co-operative industrial system.”

Or take someone like John Dewey, a mainstream twentieth-century social philosopher, who called not only for education directed at creative independence in schools, but also worker control in industry, what he called “industrial democracy.” He says that as long as the crucial institutions of the society (like production, commerce, transportation, media) are not under democratic control, then “politics [will be] the shadow cast on society by big business.”

This idea is almost elementary, it has deep roots in American history and in classical liberalism. It should be second nature to working people, and it should apply the same way to universities. There are some decisions in a university where you don’t want to have [democratic transparency because] you have to preserve student privacy, say, and there are various kinds of sensitive issues, but on much of the normal activity of the university, there is no reason why direct participation can’t be not only legitimate but helpful. In my department, for example, for forty years we’ve had student representatives helpfully participating in department meetings.

On “Shared Governance” and Worker Control

The university is probably the social institution in our society that comes closest to democratic worker control. Within a department, for example, it’s pretty normal for at least the tenured faculty to be able to determine a substantial amount of what their work is like: what they’re going to teach, when they’re going to teach, what the curriculum will be. And most of the decisions about the actual work that the faculty is doing are pretty much under tenured faculty control.

Now, of course, there is a higher level of administrators that you can’t overrule or control. The faculty can recommend somebody for tenure, let’s say, and be turned down by the deans, or the president, or even the trustees or legislators. It doesn’t happen all that often, but it can happen and it does. And that’s always a part of the background structure, which, although it always existed, was much less of a problem in the days when the administration was drawn from the faculty and in principle recallable.

Under representative systems, you have to have someone doing administrative work, but they should be recallable at some point under the authority of the people they administer. That’s less and less true. There are more and more professional administrators, layer after layer of them, with more and more positions being taken remote from the faculty controls. I mentioned before The Fall of the Faculty by Benjamin Ginsberg, which goes into a lot of detail as to how this works in the several universities he looks at closely: Johns Hopkins, Cornell, and a couple of others.

Meanwhile, the faculty are increasingly reduced to a category of temporary workers who are assured a precarious existence with no path to the tenure track. I have personal acquaintances who are effectively permanent lecturers; they’re not given real faculty status; they have to apply every year so that they can get appointed again. These things shouldn’t be allowed to happen.

And in the case of adjuncts, it’s been institutionalized: they’re not permitted to be a part of the decision-making apparatus, and they’re excluded from job security, which merely amplifies the problem. I think staff ought to also be integrated into decision-making, since they’re also a part of the university.

So there’s plenty to do, but I think we can easily understand why these tendencies are developing. They are all part of imposing a business model on just about every aspect of life. That’s the neoliberal ideology that most of the world has been living under for forty years. It’s very harmful to people, and there has been resistance to it. And it’’s worth noticing that two parts of the world, at least, have pretty much escaped from it, namely East Asia, where they never really accepted it, and South America in the past fifteen years.

On the Alleged Need for “Flexibility”

Flexibility is a term that’s very familiar to workers in industry. Part of what’s called “labor reform” is to make labor more “flexible,” make it easier to hire and fire people. That’s, again, a way to ensure maximization of profit and control. “Flexibility” is supposed to be a good thing, like “greater worker insecurity.” Putting aside industry where the same is true, in universities there’s no justification.

So take a case where there’s under-enrollment somewhere. That’s not a big problem. One of my daughters teaches at a university; she just called me the other night and told me that her teaching load is being shifted because one of the courses that was being offered was under-enrolled. Okay, the world didn’t come to an end, they just shifted around the teaching arrangements — you teach a different course, or an extra section, or something like that. People don’t have to be thrown out or be insecure because of the variation in the number of students enrolling in courses. There are all sorts of ways of adjusting for that variation.

The idea that labor should meet the conditions of “flexibility” is just another standard technique of control and domination. Why not say that administrators should be thrown out if there’s nothing for them to do that semester, or trustees — what do they have to be there for? The situation is the same with top management in industry: if labor has to be flexible, how about management? Most of them are pretty useless or even harmful anyway, so let’s get rid of them.

And you can go on like this. Just to take the news from the last couple of days, take, say, Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase bank: he just got a pretty substantial raise, almost double his salary, out of gratitude because he had saved the bank from criminal charges that would have sent the management to jail; he got away with only $20 billion in fines for criminal activities. Well, I can imagine that getting rid of somebody like that might be helpful to the economy. But that’s not what people are talking about when they talk about “labor reform.” It’s the working people who have to suffer, and they have to suffer by insecurity, by not knowing where tomorrow’s piece of bread is going to come from, and therefore be disciplined and obedient and not raise questions or ask for their rights.

That’s the way that tyrannical systems operate. And the business world is a tyrannical system. When it’s imposed on the universities, you find it reflects the same ideas. This shouldn’t be any secret.

On the Purpose of Education

These are debates that go back to the Enlightenment, when issues of higher education and mass education were really being raised, not just education for the clergy and aristocracy. And there were basically two models discussed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

They were discussed with pretty evocative imagery. One image of education was that it should be like a vessel that is filled with, say, water. That’s what we call these days “teaching to test”: you pour water into the vessel and then the vessel returns the water. But it’s a pretty leaky vessel, as all of us who went through school experienced, since you could memorize something for an exam that you had no interest in to pass an exam and a week later you forgot what the course was about. The vessel model these days is called “no child left behind,” “teaching to test,” “race to top,” whatever the name may be, and similar things in universities. Enlightenment thinkers opposed that model.

The other model was described as laying out a string along which the student progresses in his or her own way under his or her own initiative, maybe moving the string, maybe deciding to go somewhere else, maybe raising questions. Laying out the string means imposing some degree of structure. So an educational program, whatever it may be, a course on physics or something, isn’t going to be just anything goes; it has a certain structure.

But the goal of it is for the student to acquire the capacity to inquire, to create, to innovate, to challenge — that’s education. One world-famous physicist, in his freshman courses if he was asked “what are we going to cover this semester?” his answer was “it doesn’t matter what we cover, it matters what you discover.” You have gain the capacity and the self-confidence for that matter to challenge and create and innovate, and that way you learn; that way you’ve internalized the material and you can go on. It’s not a matter of accumulating some fixed array of facts which then you can write down on a test and forget about tomorrow.

These are two quite distinct models of education. The Enlightenment ideal was the second one, and I think that’s the one that we ought to be striving towards. That’s what real education is, from kindergarten to graduate school. In fact there are programs of that kind for kindergarten, pretty good ones.

On the Love of Teaching

We certainly want people, both faculty and students, to be engaged in activity that’s satisfying, enjoyable, challenging, exciting — and I don’t really think that’s hard. Even young children are creative, inquisitive, they want to know things, they want to understand things, and unless that’s beaten out of your head it stays with you the rest of your life. If you have opportunities to pursue those commitments and concerns, it’s one of the most satisfying things in life.

That’s true if you’re a research physicist, it’s true if you’re a carpenter; you’re trying to create something of value and deal with a difficult problem and solve it. I think that’s what makes work the kind of thing you want to do; you do it even if you don’t have to do it. In a reasonably functioning university, you find people working all the time because they love it; that’s what they want to do; they’re given the opportunity, they have the resources, they’re encouraged to be free and independent and creative — what’s better? That’s what they love to do. And that, again, can be done at any level.

It’s worth thinking about some of the imaginative and creative educational programs that are being developed at different levels. So, for example, somebody just described to me the other day a program they’re using in high schools, a science program where the students are asked an interesting question: “How can a mosquito fly in the rain?”

That’s a hard question when you think about it. If something hit a human being with the force of a raindrop hitting a mosquito it would absolutely flatten them immediately. So how come the mosquito isn’t crushed instantly? And how can the mosquito keep flying? If you pursue that question — and it’s a pretty hard question — you get into questions of mathematics, physics, and biology, questions that are challenging enough that you want to find an answer to them.

That’s what education should be like at every level, all the way down to kindergarten, literally. There are kindergarten programs in which, say, each child is given a collection of little items: pebbles, shells, seeds, and things like that. Then the class is given the task of finding out which ones are the seeds. It begins with what they call a “scientific conference”: the kids talk to each other and they try to figure out which ones are seeds. And of course, there’s some teacher guidance, but the idea is to have the children think it through.

After a while, they try various experiments and they figure out which ones are the seeds. At that point, each child is given a magnifying glass and, with the teacher’s help, cracks a seed and looks inside and finds the embryo that makes the seed grow. These children learn something &mdash really, not only something about seeds and what makes things grow; but also about how to discover. They’re learning the joy of discovery and creation, and that’s what carries you on independently, outside the classroom, outside the course.

The same goes for all education up through graduate school. In a reasonable graduate seminar, you don’t expect students to copy it down and repeat whatever you say; you expect them to tell you when you’re wrong or to come up with new ideas, to challenge, to pursue some direction that hadn’t been thought of before. That’s what real education is at every level, and that’s what ought to be encouraged. That ought to be the purpose of education. It’s not to pour information into somebody’s head which will then leak out but to enable them to become creative, independent people who can find excitement in discovery and creation and creativity at whatever level or in whatever domain their interests carry them.

Advice for Adjunct Faculty Organizing Unions

You know better than I do what has to be done, the kind of problems you face. Just got ahead and do what has to be done. Don’t be intimidated, don’t be frightened, and recognize that the future can be in our hands if we’re willing to grasp it. your social media marketing partner


A note of caution regarding our comment sections:

For months a stream of media reports have warned of coordinated propaganda efforts targeting political websites based in the U.S., particularly in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

We too were alarmed at the patterns we were, and still are, seeing. It is clear that the provocateurs are far more savvy, disciplined, and purposeful than anything we have ever experienced before.

It is also clear that we still have elements of the same activity in our article discussion forums at this time.

We have hosted and encouraged reader expression since the turn of the century. The comments of our readers are the most vibrant, best-used interactive feature at Reader Supported News. Accordingly, we are strongly resistant to interrupting those services.

It is, however, important to note that in all likelihood hardened operatives are attempting to shape the dialog our community seeks to engage in.

Adapt and overcome.

Marc Ash
Founder, Reader Supported News

+45 # fredboy 2015-03-30 09:27
As a former prof who watched a once-great university and university program crumble under temper tantrum management, 'my way or the highway' Napoleans, bitter academics who demanded we twist and fabricate our grading to lift their class member performance ratings, recruit gang rapists to play football, etc., I say let the universities and colleges as they exist today die and let's start over. I would not send an ENEMY'S child to most colleges and universities today.
+7 # Justice Lady 2015-03-31 13:44
And when it comes to economics they surpressed "Progress & Poverty" by Henry George, the most widely read economics book of its day praised highly by Einstein, Tolstoy & many others because he showed the real solution.They don't want to upset the powers that be & the system that supports them & oppresses the rest of us.
+4 # mh1224jst 2015-04-02 20:51
You got it right, Justice Lady. Almost no one has heard of Henry George today. He and Karl Marx were the true heirs to the "classical" tradition in economics of maximizing social benefit (that is, "socialism.") All of that has been buried beneath piles of NEOclassical rubbish. "The real solution," of course, would have kept the wealthy, privileged classes from taking over again. Look how well that's working out.
+43 # reiverpacific 2015-03-30 10:36
As I've mentioned before, my very bright, multiple scholarship-ear ning daughter quit college after two years on realizing that she was just a unit on the faculty's roster and for the reasons Chomsky lays out in his usual merciless detail (And he should know if anybody does).
She's now well on her way to becoming a fully fledged and experienced Chef in Madison, Wisconsin and loving her work.
I myself was the President of the Student Representative Council at Edinburgh College of Art (And the Socialist Society) -one of the top, most sought after Art, Design and Architecture schools in the world, which truly and democratically represented and presented any problems and suggestions from the Student body, published a free monthly newsletter, kept the Faculty honest and in fact provided an almost seamless line of integration between the two bodies. It was efficiently run by a relatively small administrative and records office, who's staff were encouraged to attend all inter-Student/F aculty meetings.
I'm sad to learn from this article that such a thing seems to be obsolete in this corporate state intent on churning out conformist MBA's, and Math/Science/Me dical professionals that will head straight for conditional employment as profit-generati ng units on the corporate spreadsheet.
The Arts and Humanities are being cut to shreds -they're "Dangerous" of course, as encouraging free-thinking and acting, creative individualists capable of forming blocs of solidarity at need.
+5 # lexorcista 2015-03-30 11:21
Chomsky, as usual, informative and thoughtful.
Do think, though, in the last sentence, "Just GO ahead and do what has to be done" is meant -- 'got' doesn't make sense.
+4 # xflowers 2015-03-30 11:58
Chomsky is right on in my estimation, but Ohio adjuncts are hampered by this law:

4117.01 Public employees' collective bargaining definitions.
As used in this chapter:
(A) "Person," in addition to those included in division (C) of section 1.59 of the Revised Code, includes employee organizations, public employees, and public employers.
(B) "Public employer" means the state or any political subdivision of the state located entirely within the state....
(C) "Public employee" means any person holding a position by appointment or employment in the service of a public employer, including any person working pursuant to a contract between a public employer and a private employer and over whom the national labor relations board has declined jurisdiction on the basis that the involved employees are employees of a public employer, EXCEPT:

(11) Students whose primary purpose is educational training, including graduate assistants or associates, residents, interns, or other students working as part-time public employees less than fifty per cent of the normal year in the employee's bargaining unit;

(14) Part-time faculty members of an institution of higher education;

For purposes of brevity, this is a summary and not the complete text.
-38 # hydroweb 2015-03-30 12:17
I got to jump in here. Profs who teach 3 hrs per week have the sabbatical and get grad students to do their research ... universities are dead meat. Not to mention the emphasis on money making football programs. Students who drink themselves unconscious at every chance, fraternities where god knows what goes on. Wake up Noam!
+33 # wrknight 2015-03-30 13:08
Quoting hydroweb:
I got to jump in here. Profs who teach 3 hrs per week have the sabbatical and get grad students to do their research ... universities are dead meat. Not to mention the emphasis on money making football programs. Students who drink themselves unconscious at every chance, fraternities where god knows what goes on. Wake up Noam!

You should keep in mind that most of the students you are talking about are members of the plutonomy who have the money to belong to fraternities and party their lives away. Very few of the precariate have the money to afford that luxury. Furthermore, as tuition and college expenses increases, the precariate class diminishes, and in some universities is already a small minority. In time, given the current trend, I fully expect that higher education will only be available to the plutonomy.
+15 # Pikewich 2015-03-30 16:38
Obviously a thoughtless comment coming from a mind poisoned by FOX.

You completely missed the point and context of the article.
+6 # reiverpacific 2015-03-30 13:04
One mo' thing that I've lived my life by.
There's no institution of higher learning that can teach nor provide the true education that you can get from the "University of Life" lived with a certain perpetual wonder, occasional risk, pushing boundaries, willingness to be involved with and learn from other cultures, living on their economy (OK, I've done it rich too but appreciated the privileges I enjoyed for these spells rather than taking them for granted), doing what you love and sharing it with others in a spirit of exchange and o' aye: DO try to become at least competent in at least one foreign language; it'll open doors you'd never believe possible.
I'm reiverpacific and I approve this message.
Descends from soapbox, trips over loose shoelaces, bangs head and knees on floor and staggers off stage-left with as much remaining dignity as can be mustered!
+13 # hydroweb 2015-03-30 13:27
Quoting hydroweb:
I got to jump in here. Profs who teach 3 hrs per week have the sabbatical and get grad students to do their research ... universities are dead meat. Not to mention the emphasis on money making football programs. Students who drink themselves unconscious at every chance, fraternities where god knows what goes on. Wake up Noam!

Oh give me a break!
+7 # tgemberl 2015-03-30 14:20
I agree strongly with Chomsky's understanding of how our higher education system is in trouble. The corporate model is destroying it.

However, I want to say just one thing in favor of "flexibility." Mostly he's right, but there is an example from France about 10 years ago that shows the need for flexibility in the work world. There was a proposal to pass a law that would've allowed employers to fire employees under 26 without giving a reason. It was defeated. France really needed that. Let me explain why.

I know myself that when I was real young, I had trouble finding "my vocation" and was often not a very good worker. French labor laws make it extremely hard to fire someone once you hire them. That means that basically, French companies just don't hire people who are real young. It's too risky. So there is a very high unemployment rate among the young. France needs the kind of flexibility that we have for young workers. Workers need to be able to try different kinds of work and find out which kinds work for them. If you can't be fired, it makes it harder to learn what your strengths and weaknesses are.
-8 # corals33 2015-03-30 14:46
Mr Chomsky knows full well, like most of us do, that education like religion is a business. His comments will be duly noted and put on the broken record we leave for posterity.
+13 # mgwmgw 2015-03-30 15:15
Instead of going into heavy debt, American students might consider attending college in a foreign country where the cost is lower and the value is greater. This may require becoming fluent in some other language than English while still young enough to learn it easily. The shift takes time.

There is a risk that some large number of the smart students will leave America and not return, and if the brain drain is large enough, that might be a good thing to convince the universities to change their ways. This takes time.

There are many ways to rate a university. One way would be how well they deal with rape on campus. Another way would be how much of the teaching of undergraduates is done by full time faculty, how much is done by graduate students, and how much by adjunct (temporary) faculty. Another way would be what fraction of their alumni finish their degrees and what fraction succeed in paying off their student loans. Another way would be the relative spending on athletics as compared with education.

The college market is a market. The colleges will listen only if the consumers, the students and their families, stop buying bad product in large enough numbers. This only can work if they can find out the information.

Adjunct faculty who want to unionize should probably think in terms of all the colleges in a region, because their union membership is likely to work at more than one college at a time.
+8 # tgemberl 2015-03-30 16:49
I think the time when learning a second language is easy ends at about age 12. It is puberty when it starts to be harder.

That is a strong argument against bilingual education. Anything that delays when someone is learning English will cripple their ability in it. It's true you should learn to read in a language you speak, but if small children just play with English-speakin g children, within a few months they'll be speaking English.

I agree that more Americans should learn foreign languages.
+3 # medusa 2015-04-02 09:57
I don't think children become bilingual because they're taught two languages in school--it's exposure to a language in use inside or outside school that does it. School instruction n language in one or both doesn't affect fluency very much.
+8 # Pikewich 2015-03-30 16:49
2 things here:
This kind of analogy IS the problem. Agreeing to com-modify everything including education.

Education should NOT be a business, not if you want to develop people and develop the ability of critical thinking, a truly dangerous sport.

2. There is another way. Strike debt - as in refuse to pay it back, collectively. A number of students have started it and it could grow.

What do you lose? your good credit rating. And yes, a regular job where your wages could be garnished, driving the your participation in the economy underground.

Is that bad? Only if you plan on a regular 9-5.

And what is the root cause of these terms used? "plutomy, "precariot", the turning of education into a business, the layers of administrators, worker insecurity?

Rising inequality, climate change, computers and phones that are superseded by "better" models daily?

Capitalism. Everything becomes useful only in terms of how much money can be made from it.
+8 # moonrigger 2015-03-31 13:06
Pikewich, there are other costs for refusing to pay, unfortunately, as lawmakers circle the wagons and try to eliminate the type of workarounds many of us used in the past... For instance, a low **fair Ivan** credit score may make it all but impossible to rent an apartment, be treated by a doctor or hospital, or other ramifications. It's all part of the plutocracy's plan to bring us all to heel. They really hate occupiers and others protesting their nefarious deeds, and are daily influencing their puppets in office to legislate punishment. So, while civil disobedience is essential, young people will have to use creative strategies to win back the freedoms we naively believed we had secured for them.
+1 # tgemberl 2015-03-31 15:21
Other problems with the proposal: you'd never get everybody to participate. And there would be resentment between the strikers and those who'd already paid off their debts.

Since the cost of college has gone up so much, what I'd like to see is a reduction in debt, not a complete cancellation. If we could get it reduced by about 50%, it would be a big help to a lot of people.

Also, we need to reduce tuition increases to the level of general inflation.

I support debt strikes on the part of people who have debts to for-profit diploma mills. Educations from those "schools" are usually worthless.
+8 # 2015-03-30 18:00
And so now they COMMODIFY EDUCATION. I say "know thyself". WESTERN MAN is truly sick. He possesses a disease wherein he must turn all MATTER into "THINGS" thus DEHUMANIZING it and giving it an ABSTRACT VALUE (QUANTIFICATION ). This "VALUE" is abstractified into PROFIT, absorbed into a MARKET SYSTEM and converted into POWER … and thus the "SELF" and self-worth is expanded. Herein lies the mindset which creates a world infected with CORPORATE PSYCHOSIS.
0 # Justice Lady 2015-04-01 12:52
No land speculators psychosis & the corporations come after that.
+1 # Walter J Smith 2015-03-30 22:24
Every institution in the US is, like the US Government, eager to disintegrate.

Who could have imagined that ISIS was a threat when they cannot possibly dismantle the US as fast as we are doing it as if God commanded it.

Okay, God did command it with broad bipartisan support in all US Governmental offices, all three branches, and the fourth branch of the media nazi parroting society. His new name is Ungoverned Capitalism.
+3 # elizabethblock 2015-03-31 10:20
"Plutonomy"-- I like it.
+2 # elizabethblock 2015-03-31 10:21
In a little newspaper article that I wish I had clipped, Mao Tse-tung blamed Watergate on the US having too much democracy (which allowed the wrongdoings to be found out and publicized). He was right, of course.
+11 # moonrigger 2015-03-31 12:53
I watched the California school system, which was once the envy of the entire world, go to hell. First it was due to that f*kwit Howard Jarvis, who managed to convince people that the property taxes that helped pay for our schools were a rip-off, even though they produced arguably the world's greatest technological revolution. This cancerous idea spread like wildfire across the US, and persists to this day even more so, with idiots like Santorum saying we should get rid of universities altogether, they're too expensive, yadda yadda. And high school, too. What the hey, let's all home school so we can eliminate the expenditures for teachers and college professors. And we have the Cheney types bragging how much they benefited from free education, while wanting to close the barn door behind them, screw you if you don't like it.

This whole idea of not having to contribute taxes for the common good is part and parcel of the neoliberal idea that people won't appreciate education if it's provided by government, so students should pay dearly for it. Yeah, let's heap debt on the students so they must start out with this "original sin" monkey on their backs. And let's keep on devaluing schools and teachers, until they agree to preach the party line. All is forfeit if we passively allow this and more to continue. Get mad! And DO something!
+3 # Justice Lady 2015-03-31 14:09
A lot of truth in what you say. The land value tax part of the property tax is actually the only legitimate tax,being that it's a value that comes from the community itself.Taxes on labor & unmonoply capital are wrong & also discourage production. Taxing land & natural resource values opens up land & oportunitys by discouraging land specualtion. This is the real cause of low wages & unmeployment depressions etc. as Henry George explained.
If everyone had a college degree it would be of no value economically. We need to open up oportunitys by taxing land values. Then small farms & busineses would thhrive which is really our only hope.
+4 # mikemis 2015-04-01 06:35
The Board of Advisors' motivation to "keep costs low" is not the main reason for temps - the real motivation by the Board and the administration is to undermine faculty governance, so they can run the university as they see fit, without the interference of faculty whose motivations and concerns they find troubling. And, by the way, temps don't have to be adjuncts who are hired on a semester-by-sem ester basis. A prevalent trend is establishing an entire new cadre of non-tenured faculty, even with "professorial" ranks. Appointments carry specifc terms, usually renewable as long as the teaching is needed and the performance is adequate. Such appointments have diluted the faculty voice and been very effective in undermining faculty governance. If the motivation were to lower costs, universities would not have the financial problems they face, nor the growth of administration. The problem is that Board members endorse actions they'd never support in their "real" businesses. They allow the administration to throw away money on follies such as athletics, growing administrations , and pseudo academic enterprises such as "enhanced teaching and learning" centers populated by non-scholars who evaluate how faculty perform in the classroom. These centers don't contribute to the academic mission of the university, but they do burnish the credentials of the administrators who want to move up the ladder in these new non-profit corporations we used to call universities.
+1 # sschnapp 2015-04-01 10:46
A wonderful, as usual, analysis by Noam, with a great deal of dots connected. Since he does not proscribe what to do ("Just go ahead and do what needs to be done"), a typical Chomsky tactic, it is up to us to forge strategies. I wish more comments were directed at this task. Countering neoliberal capitalism is all about building power. Relatively recent social movements -- Chomsky names several that won reforms -- have some common elements: use of strategic alliances, a combination of tactics including direct action, mass mobilizations, electoral campaigns, and educational efforts; a narrative that explains how we got here and offers an inspiring vision of what a just world looks like. It is encouraging that strategic alliances are being built: labor, faith communities, and youth groups are working together to raise the income floor; corporate accountability, pro-democracy, fair taxation, and social service advocacy groups are organizing and mobilizing around getting big money out of politics and pressing for adequate funding of basic services. And more and more groups, beyond the traditional environmental movement, are seeing the importance of challenging the structures that contribute to global warming. We also need to figure out how these movements can connect to and support communities of color that are in increasing motion around mass incarceration, gentrification, employment discrimination, and immigrant rights. And there are many more questions to answer. Go to it.
+1 # Justice Lady 2015-04-01 12:50
Except the biggest question how to deal fairly with the natural resources that we all must have to live & work& thrive. Read "Progress & Poverty" by Henry George.
0 # 2015-04-02 10:28
Self-directed learning is ideal, but many (most?) students arriving at college today do not have the learning skills, background knowledge, and attitudes needed to succeed at it. Require them to be self-directed and many will fail.

My 1991 article, "Teaching learners to be self-directed" doesn't have all the answers, but it provides a way to start thinking about how to move students from dependent learners toward self-directed learners.
0 # Bjorleif 2015-04-02 23:28
Is not the most pressing issue relating to the "death" of USA-an higher learning that instead of being presented arguments for both sides of issues, students are often being "brainwashed" into taking one side of the issue - i.e. propaganda?

THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.