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The Fannie and Freddie University

November 20th, 2011 - 11:52 am

If Only They Were as Fair as Wal-Mart …

The “part-timer” or “adjunct faculty” now became a sort of Messenian helot to square the circle of the universities lacking the resources to meet their pretensions. With dozens of Ph.D. applicants for each liberal arts or social science tenure-track job (graduate schools likewise turned out far more doctorates than were needed, given their own desire for the prestige and the smaller load of graduate instruction), universities found plenty of cheap labor. When the full professor retired, his courses could be outsourced to itinerant part-time lecturers, for thousands less dollars per class in salary and benefits. That the faculty hated Wal-Mart and yet treated its campus employees far worse than did the retailing bogeyman was assumed, but never acknowledged. In some sense, those hired in the 1960s and 1970s before the “Fall”, like senior California public employees now ready to retire, were the proverbial rat in the snake’s belly that had to make its way out, with the understanding that never again would anything like it make its way in.

And So?

But what cannot go on will not go on — at least for most universities without the billion-dollar plus endowments. The present reckoning is brought on not by introspection, self-critique, or concern for our increasingly poorly educated students, but by money, or rather the lack of it. Higher education is desperately searching for students with cash, loaned or not. And it is, by needs, panicking and will ever so slowly start changing. For-profit tech schools, online instruction, and the two-year junior college deliver a cheaper “product,” one not necessarily any longer an inferior one, given the nature of the contemporary university curriculum and values of the faculty.

It used to be that one did not dare go to a DeVry or Phoenix for-profit school for computer certification or accounting, because one would miss out on the rich undergraduate experience, both social and intellectual — best exemplified by the core curriculum of some 50-60 units in liberal arts and sciences. But if the university is serially subsidizing panels about global warming, lauds Palestinian activists, and runs workshops on homophobia (all without balance and counter-opinion), and if its GE required courses, whether so titled or not, are too often little more than the melodramatic obsessions of over-specialized, ranting professors who otherwise would have small audiences, then why spend the money and go through the charade of classically liberal instruction, especially given that the trade school is cheaper and more honestly pragmatic?

Much that was good will fall along with more that was bad. But it was a comeuppance long overdue. With hubris comes nemesis — leading to atê or ruin.

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