FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The End of Higher Education as We Know It

The academy is entering a dangerous time. Academics now find themselves entering a time when a more comprehensive politics that deals with the rise of authoritarianism through a variety of related fundamentalisms–economic, religious, political, and educational–is being overlooked as a result of an emerging limited and depoliticizing politics of civility and trauma. This is not meant to suggest that dehumanizing behavior and injurious forms of trauma do not matter and should not be addressed. What is disturbing is when such incidents lose their sense of specificity and connections to wider political and economic forces and become universalized and all-encompassing.

Frozen in time and space, this narrow view of politics functions largely to inflict injury against a broader politics and its myraid victims rather than respond to such injuries within a context in which they can be truly addressed. If a politics of civility substitutes conformity and the personal for the political, the politics of trauma collapses the political into the therapeutic. In both cases, the personal universalizes its own narrow privatizing interests and smothers dissent, elevates conformity and the therapeutic as the most viable political practice and in doing so fuels a form of political purity that undercuts any type of broad-based pedagogy of disruption.

As John and Jean Comaroff argue, under a neoliberal regime of affective management, “the personal is the only politics there is, the only politics with a tangible referent or emotional valence.”[1] Under such circumstances, the political value of marginalized groups to narrate themselves is often shut down by critics on the faux left and militant right who refuse to connect the injuries of racism, sexism, and homophobia, among others, to larger political, economic, and cultural structures.

What was once condemned as uncivil now is criticized as causing mass trauma- hence legitimating the move from a reactionary cultural capital that celebrates conformity to one that trades in fear while claiming to be part a fight against injustice. In the end such discourses are not only anti-intellectual, depoliticizing, and essentialist, but also fuel the ability of the right wing to use their
americas-ed-deficit-300x449massive cultural apparatuses to point to progressives as authoritarians who are against any viable notion of free speech. Conservatives such as David Brooks trade in this kind of discourse only too willing to portray leftists as the real extremists in American society. It gets worse. What gets lost in the discourses of civility and privatized trauma are those larger injuries of poverty, homelessness, racism, ecological devastation, and mass incarceration. That latter get erased in discourses wrapped in a kind of comforting quietism and universalizing of personal trauma that demands not just the suppression of dissent or the erasure of disturbing images and discourses, but any attempt to explore systemic structural reforms. This is a particularly dangerous position to take given the full-fledged attack now being waged by right wing politicians against the all vestiges of dissent, tenure, and the notion of the university as a democratic public sphere. Academics and their progressive allies need to flip the script and embrace a notion of the political that addresses those authoritarian forces ushering in truly dark times.

The closing down of free speech in higher education, the collapse of critical thought into a repressive, privatized affective, corporatized pedagogy that celebrates ideas, values, and representations that are comforting rather than unsettling, the defunding of higher education, the rise of a corporate driven managerial administrative class, the casualization of faculty, and the now aggressive attack on tenure in Wisconsin and other places should come as no surprise to progressives. This is a truly disturbing trend and historical conjuncture because it suggests a comprehensive authoritarian politics that cannot be addressed merely through the discourses of personal injury and individual responsibility. This current attack on higher education is a central project of the financial and neoliberal elite and dates back to the Trilateral Commission and the Powell Memo of 1971.

The attack on higher education as a democratic public sphere and the formative culture of questioning and critical scholarship it supports has been under attack under the regime of neoliberalism since the late 1970s. Reagan channeled McCarthyism and John Silber fired anyone on the left at Boston University. What came next was a reversal of the sixties–protest and large scale social movements became fractured, either falling prey to political purity, or simply accommodating themselves to power. And as academics have retreated from engaging larger public issues in their work and became more and more insular the attack has intensified, unchecked in many cases.

That kind of insularity is now dangerous, whether it hides behind academic silos, disciplinary specialization, or the jargon of theoreticism. The very conditions which make intellectual labor possible have been under siege intensely since the neoliberal revolution began at the end of the 1970s. The ranks of full-time faculty have been decimated and yet there is no national social and political formation fighting these assaults. Students are drowning in debt and still we have only a scattered response among faculty. Well, now the corporate elite and ideological barbarians have come for tenure and this attack will spread like wild fire

What is needed to counter this attack is not political purity or the fracturing of the left into discourses of personal injury. What is needed is much more. That is, unless academics begin to mobilize and join forces with other social movements, unions, young people, students, and others willing to see such attacks as part of a larger war against the social state, it is not unreasonable to conclude that any remaining vestige of democracy in the United States will disappear.   Academics need to embrace their rolls as public intellectuals and social activists. It is time for them to wake up and organize for a university that addresses crucial social problems, fights ferociously to give power back to faculty, joins with adjuncts to create full time positions and tenured positions for all faculty, join with students to address the forgiving of student debt, and begin and national movement for free public higher education. Such demands are far from radical and they are incomplete, but they certainly point to a new beginning in the struggle over the role of higher education in the United States. As I have said many times, resistance is not an option, it is a necessity.

Henry A. Giroux currently holds the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and a Distinguished Visiting Professorship at Ryerson University. His most recent books are America’s Education Deficit and the War on Youth (Monthly Review Press, 2013) and Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education (Haymarket Press, 2014). His web site is www.henryagiroux.com.

Notes. 

[1] Jean Comaroff and John L. Comaroff, A Millennial Capitalism: First thoughts on a Second Coming, Public Culture 12:2 (2000), pp. 305-306.

 

 

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.

September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead
Andrew Levine
A Bulwark Against the Idiocy of Conservatives Like Brett Kavanaugh
T.J. Coles
Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Celebrity Salesman for the Military-Industrial-Complex
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail