FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Back to School in the Twilight of Capitalism

by RON JACOBS

Universities serve multiple purposes in a modern capitalist society.  One of those purposes–the education of young adults–is a noble and worthy one.  It is how this is done that is often less noble.  If capitalism requires technicians and managers, it is technicians and managers that are trained.  If capitalism needs fewer of these positions, then fewer are trained.  Education as a worthwhile pursuit in itself is diminished by its subservience to the agents of capital.  It is further diminished when those agents limit said education by raising the costs beyond that which is affordable for most.  It is also diminished when the research it undertakes is primarily that demanded by the military and corporate behemoth commonly known as the military industrial complex.  When that subservience is enforced by police operating at the behest of the university administration (who are beholden to the corporate state for their funding), its function as an educational institution is replaced by its function of control.

Like protests in the 1960s and onwards, the Occupy-related protests on university and college campuses last year proved the veracity of the previous sentence quite dramatically.  The aggressive use of nightsticks and pepper spray by campus police remain vivid images in the memories of those who saw them, no matter what their opinion of the protests.  Like nightsticks and chemical agents of the past, the instances of their use are even more vivid in the memories of those who were the targets.

I work at a college in a college library.  I am not a faculty member, but my work involves plenty of interaction with both faculty and students.  Unlike many other institutions of higher education, the place I work tends to hire full time positions more than adjuncts.  Most places where higher education is sold tend to hire the latter for the simple reason that adjuncts are cheaper.  Indeed, they are the equivalent of hiring temps.  No benefits, lower wages for the same work, no guarantees.  In short, the same work is expected from adjuncts that is expected from full-time tenured faculty.  Often, however, adjuncts work at two or three institutions just to make ends meet.  Consequently, the work they do occasionally suffers.

Another aspect of today’s colleges that I would like to address is the shrinking of the recruitment pool targeted by colleges today.  This is caused in part by the decrease in government supplied financial aid, from grants to work-study. In an environment where most private colleges cost $40,000 per year, the cutback in financial aid ensures even less access to potential students from working class families. Another cause can be read into the questioning by right wing candidates of the value of a college education.  Of course, it is not their children for whom they are questioning the value; it is for those very same students that the curtailment of financial aid has already made clear they are no longer so welcome.  Many people can just plain not afford to go $20,000 or more in debt for an education, nor can their families afford to support them.

The first time I attempted college was in 1973.  When my dad dropped me off at the Bronx campus of Fordham University I was greeted by my RA and an invite to the freshman orientation picnic.  The first thing I noticed when I entered the courtyard where the picnic was just beginning was a garbage can full of iced-down Rheingold beers.  The next day I went to pay my bill.  I had received a scholarship for everything but five hundred dollars of my total costs.  Oh yeah, those total costs were around $5300 for the entire year.  Fordham now costs almost ten times as much.  I left Fordham after one year for non-financial reasons.  I spent my sophomore year at the University of Maryland’s College Park campus.  The cost for in-state tuition there in 1974 was $600 for the year.  It is now a little more than $5300.  That is almost nine times the rate in 1974.  The bottom line is that these increases make it very difficult for many desiring young people to go to college.  It cannot be stated often enough that much of this change is due to a decrease in funding from the government.

As news reports of protests against tuition hikes from around the world prove, this is not merely an American phenomenon.  In fact, student protesters in Britain, Chile and Quebec (among others) have not only protested tuition hikes, they have also made it clear that those hikes are designed to prevent working class students from getting a university education by making that education unaffordable.  The neoliberal mentality taking over education will destroy its essence.  That which is not necessarily quantifiable should not be commodified.  When this occurs, the wrong elements will always be those which are measured.  Education is not necessarily about getting a job.  It is about learning to think critically.  When the educational system no longer emphasizes this, its demise may not be far off.

Why are there not more student protests in the United States?  Perhaps it is because US residents are convinced that the government does not have a role in funding education.  When teachers are blamed for the recession and vilified for their wanting decent working conditions and a good wage to educate our children, there is something demented about the assumptions of our nation. When billionaires who made their money by destroying the economies of entire communities are given television shows where they “fire” people, there is something demented about our media.  When politicians from both the major parties are afraid to jail government officials, military officers and torturers for crimes against humanity, there is something fundamentally wrong with our entire nation.  When bankers write the very laws that govern their business practices and those laws have nothing to do with ethical business practices, the very system of laws is as bankrupt as the millions of people negatively affected by those laws.

The combination of high costs, a smaller job market, and decreasing financial assistance has made postsecondary education a less-likely choice for many capable potential students.  This is not an accident.  Neither are the attacks on education by politicians bought and paid for by the wealthiest of the human race.  After all, this latter bunch can always get a quality education for their offspring, just like they can get enough of the rest of us to fight their wars and work in their minimum wage jobs.

Ron Jacobs is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His collection of essays and other musings titled Tripping Through the American Night is now available and his new novel is The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

 

COMING IN SEPTEMBER

A Special Memorial Issue of CounterPunch

Featuring recollections of Alexander Cockburn from Jeffrey St. Clair, Peter Linebaugh, Paul Craig Roberts, Noam Chomsky, Mike Whitney, Doug Peacock, Perry Anderson, Becky Grant, Dennis Kucinich, Michael Neumann, Susannah Hecht, P. Sainath, Ben Tripp, Alison Weir, James Ridgeway, JoAnn Wypijewski, John Strausbaugh, Pierre Sprey, Carolyn Cooke, Conn Hallinan, James Wolcott, Laura Flanders, Ken Silverstein, Tariq Ali and many others …

Subscribe to CounterPunch Today to Reserve Your Copy

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
Brian Cloughley
What Money Can Buy: the Quiet British-Israeli Scandal
Mel Gurtov
Donald Trump’s Lies And Team Trump’s Headaches
Kent Paterson
Mexico’s Great Winter of Discontent
Norman Solomon
Trump, the Democrats and the Logan Act
David Macaray
Attention, Feminists
Yves Engler
Demanding More From Our Media
James A Haught
Religious Madness in Ulster
Dean Baker
The Economics of the Affordable Care Act
Patrick Bond
Tripping Up Trumpism Through Global Boycott Divestment Sanctions
Robert Fisk
How a Trump Presidency Could Have Been Avoided
Robert Fantina
Trump: What Changes and What Remains the Same
David Rosen
Globalization vs. Empire: Can Trump Contain the Growing Split?
Elliot Sperber
Dystopia
Dan Bacher
New CA Carbon Trading Legislation Answers Big Oil’s Call to Continue Business As Usual
Wayne Clark
A Reset Button for Political America
Chris Welzenbach
“The Death Ship:” An Allegory for Today’s World
Uri Avnery
Being There
Peter Lee
The Deep State and the Sex Tape: Martin Luther King, J. Edgar Hoover, and Thurgood Marshall
Patrick Hiller
Guns Against Grizzlies at Schools or Peace Education as Resistance?
Randy Shields
The Devil’s Real Estate Dictionary
Ron Jacobs
Singing the Body Electric Across Time
Ann Garrison
Fifty-five Years After Lumumba’s Assassination, Congolese See No Relief
Christopher Brauchli
Swing Low Alabama
Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones
La Realidad: the Realities of Anti-Mexicanism
Jon Hochschartner
The Five Least Animal-Friendly Senate Democrats
Pauline Murphy
Fighting Fascism: the Irish at the Battle of Cordoba
Susan Block
#GoBonobos in 2017: Happy Year of the Cock!
Louis Proyect
Is Our Future That of “Sense8” or “Mr. Robot”?
Charles R. Larson
Review: Robert Coover’s “Huck out West”
David Yearsley
Manchester-by-the-Sea and the Present Catastrophe
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail