FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Corporate Stranglehold on Education

As the school year begins, colleges and universities in North America are doing everything possible to attract students, including making themselves over in the image of a high-end mall or a cool brand name. Some institutions are giving students free Apple iPhones and Internet-capable iPods. Others are building attractive athletic facilities, developing more retail stores on campus, and providing plenty of specialized coffee shops. Some welcome this change as a brilliant market strategy while others believe that any face lift will improve the often stodgy academic image many colleges project.

Even as more and more students are excluded from a decent higher education because of the recession, educators seem less concerned about the plight of poor students than they do about how they can find the right brand to sell themselves to attract new students. But there is more at work here than the development of a new campus aesthetic or a recognition that students are now considered clients who represent an important market niche.

There is also the move on the part of many universities towards embracing  market mechanisms as a way of redefining almost every aspect of university life–in spite of the failure and excesses of this system as exemplified in the Bernie Madoff scandal, outrageous executive bonuses, financial corruption, the subprime mortgage crisis, and the corporate greed that caused the current economic recession. Rather than challenge the economic irresponsibility, ecological damage, and human suffering, and culture of cruelty unleashed by free market fundamentalism, higher education appears to be one of its staunchest defenders, uncritically embracing a view of itself based on a market model of the academy.

It seems that few educators have recognized that universities are in need of a moral bailout given that they are embracing the very market values, identities, and social relations that not only perpetuated the cut-throat values that caused the economic crisis, but also put many of them in the dire financial crisis they are currently experiencing.  The corporate stranglehold over higher education  gets stronger regardless of how devalued market fundamentalism has become during one of the greatest economic crisis the United States has ever experienced. Strapped for money and increasingly defined in the language of corporate culture, many universities seem less interested in higher learning than in becoming licensed storefronts for brand name corporations–selling space, buildings, and endowed chairs to rich corporate donors.  Not surprisingly, students are now referred to as “customers,” while some university presidents even argue that professors be labeled as “academic entrepreneurs.”  Instead of using their platforms to address important social issues, university presidents are now called CEOs and are viewed primarily as fund raisers.

In the age of money and profit, academic subjects gain stature almost exclusively through their exchange value on the market.  Twice as many students major in business studies than in any other major. The liberal arts increasingly appear to be merely ornamental, a dying vestige of an age not dominated by Gilded Age excess and disposability. Whereas the university was once prized as a place where students learned how to be engaged citizens educated in the knowledge, skills, values, and virtues of democracy, today they are trained to be workers and adept consumers. Educational value is now measured according to cost/benefit formulas, and the only rationality that matters is one of economic exchange.

Education is increasingly reduced to a narrow instrumental logic, only recognizable as a form of training, just as teaching is removed from the language of social and moral responsibility, critical imagination, and civic courage. In the age of increasing specializations, pay for grades schemes, excessive instrumentalism, and an increasing contempt for critical thinking, higher education is producing new forms of political and civic illiteracy, turning out students who have little understanding of the complexities of the larger world, unaware of their power as social agents, and removed from those capacities that combine critique and a yearning for social justice,  knowledge and social change, learning and a compassion for others.   And the outcome can be seen in a growing generation of young people and adults who are barely literate, live in an utterly privatized world, and are either indifferent or complicit with a growing culture of cruelty.

As higher education is transformed into a business or increasingly militarized, young people find themselves on campuses that look more like malls or recruiting stations for the national security state.  Moreover, they are increasingly taught by professors who are hired on a contractual basis, have obscene work loads, and can barely make enough money to survive. Tenured faculty members are now called upon to generate grants, establish close partnerships with corporations, and teach courses that have practical value in the marketplace. What was once the hidden curriculum of many universities—the subordination of higher education to corporate values—has now become an open and much celebrated policy of both public and private higher education.  There is little in this vision of the university that imagines young people as critical citizens or critical agents,  educated to take seriously their role in addressing important social issues and bearing some responsibility for strengthening and deepening the reach of a real and substantive democracy. Addressing education as a democratic endeavour begins with the recognition that higher education is more than an investment opportunity, citizenship is about more than consuming, learning is about more than preparing for a job, and democracy is about more the false choices offered under a rigged corporate state and marketplace.

Higher education may be one of the few sites left in which students learn the knowledge and skills that enable them to not only mediate critically between democratic values and the demands of corporate power, but also to distinguish between identities founded on democratic principles and identities steeped in forms of competitive, unbridled individualism that celebrate self-interest, profit making, and greed. Put differently, higher education should neither confuse education with training nor should it suggest that the only obligation of citizenship is consuming.

Higher education is a hard-won democratic achievement and it is time that parents, faculty, students, alumni and concerned citizens reclaim higher education as a fundamental public good rather than merely a training ground for corporate interests, values, and profits.  Education is not only about issues of work and economics–as important as these may be, but also about matters of justice,  freedom, and the capacity for democratic agency, action, and change as well as the related issues of power, exclusion, and citizenship. Education at its best is about enabling students to take seriously questions about how they ought to live their lives, uphold the ideals of a just society, learn how to translate personal issues into public considerations, and act upon the promises of a strong democracy. These are educational and political issues and should be addressed as part of a broader concern for renewing the struggle for social justice and democracy.  Let’s give our students the education they deserve in a substantive democracy. Schooling offers more than the promise of a decent job, however elusive that has become; more importantly, it offers the promise of a just and democratic society.

HENRY A. GIROUX holds the Global TV Network chair in English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Canada. His most recent books include: “Take Back Higher Education” (co-authored with Susan Searls Giroux, 2006), “The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex” (2007) and “Against the Terror of Neoliberalism: Politics Beyond the Age of Greed” (2008). His most recent book is Youth in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability? has just been published by Palgrave Macmillan

 

 

 

More articles by:

Henry A. Giroux currently holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and is the Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy. His most recent books are America’s Education Deficit and the War on Youth (Monthly Review Press, 2013), Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education (Haymarket Press, 2014), The Public in Peril: Trump and the Menace of American Authoritarianism (Routledge, 2018), and the American Nightmare: Facing the Challenge of Fascism (City Lights, 2018). His website is www. henryagiroux.com.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
November 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Meet Ukraine: America’s Newest “Strategic Ally”
Rob Urie
Wall Street and the Frankenstein Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Ukraine in the Membrane
Jonathan Steele
The OPCW and Douma: Chemical Weapons Watchdog Accused of Evidence-Tampering by Its Own Inspectors
Kathleen Wallace
A Gangster for Capitalism: Next Up, Bolivia
Andrew Levine
Get Trump First, But Then…
Thomas Knapp
Trump’s Democratic Critics Want it Both Ways on Biden, Clinton
Ipek S. Burnett
The United States Needs Citizens Like You, Dreamer
Michael Welton
Fundamentalism as Speechlessness
David Rosen
A Century of Prohibition
Nino Pagliccia
Morales: Bolivia Suffers an Assault on the Power of the People
Dave Lindorff
When an Elected Government Falls in South America, as in Bolivia, Look For a US Role
John Grant
Drones, Guns and Abject Heroes in America
Clark T. Scott
Bolivia and the Loud Silence
Manuel García, Jr.
The Truthiest Reality of Global Warming
Ramzy Baroud
A Lesson for the Palestinian Leadership: Real Reasons behind Israel’s Arrest and Release of Labadi, Mi’ri
Charles McKelvey
The USA “Defends” Its Blockade, and Cuba Responds
Louis Proyect
Noel Ignatiev: Remembering a Comrade and a Friend
John W. Whitehead
Casualties of War: Military Veterans Have Become America’s Walking Wounded
Patrick Bond
As Brazil’s ex-President Lula is Set Free and BRICS Leaders Summit, What Lessons From the Workers Party for Fighting Global Neoliberalism?
Alexandra Early
Labor Opponents of Single Payer Don’t  Speak For Low Wage Union Members
Pete Dolack
Resisting Misleading Narratives About Pacifica Radio
Edward Hunt
It’s Still Not Too Late for Rojava
Medea Benjamin - Nicolas J. S. Davies
Why Aren’t Americans Rising up Like the People of Chile and Lebanon?
Nicolas Lalaguna
Voting on the Future of Life on Earth
Jill Richardson
The EPA’s War on Science Continues
Lawrence Davidson
The Problem of Localized Ethics
Richard Hardigan
Europe’s Shameful Treatment of Refugees: Fire in Greek Camp Highlights Appalling Conditions
Judith Deutsch
Permanent War: the Drive to Emasculate
David Swanson
Why War Deaths Increase After Wars
Raouf Halaby
94 Well-Lived Years and the $27 Traffic Fine
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Coups-for-Green-Energy Added to Wars-For-Oil
Andrea Flynn
What Breast Cancer Taught Me About Health Care
Negin Owliaei
Time for a Billionaire Ban
Binoy Kampmark
Business as Usual: Evo Morales and the Coup Condition
Bernard Marszalek
Toward a Counterculture of Rebellion
Brian Horejsi
The Benefits of Environmental Citizenship
Brian Cloughley
All That Gunsmoke
Graham Peebles
Why is there so Much Wrong in Our Society?
Jonah Raskin
Black, Blue, Jazzy and Beat Down to His Bones: Being Bob Kaufman
John Kendall Hawkins
Treason as a Lifestyle: I’ll Drink to That
Manuel García, Jr.
Heartrending Antiwar Songs
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
Poetry and Political Struggle: The Dialectics of Rhyme
Ben Terrall
The Rise of Silicon Valley
David Yearsley
Performance Anxiety
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail