Fall of Liberal Arts, Part I: Universities act as prostitutes

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Feb 5, 2015 1 Comment ›› Dan Bodine

By Dan Bodine


(Note: This is Part I of a 2-part series on the fall of America’s liberal arts, and what it means. Part II will follow tomorrow.)


University of YesteryearAll you older adults, diss those tech toys! Can you think of anything that’s changed more in the past 30-40 years in society’s standing than liberal arts programs? Trickle it on down. What about liberal arts vis a vis citizenship duties?

Besides God and country, one thing for sure you could depend upon from us ol’ country folks all these years before was firm belief in the hallowed halls of a university education. And in the diploma being worth “more gold than in all the world.”

Now, as our old society’s once sacred underpinnings are crumbling in the wake of corpocracy’s radical capitalism (in this Great Society‘s Great Recession, especially) — to  be replaced by newer, monetary ones with better glows — those once hallowed halls don’t seemed to’ve been so hallowed after all, do they? But as a people have we been violated in this process, too? Big-time flimflam left for us to chew on?

If you understand how corporatists and their lobbyists have taken over our national agenda, you’re ready to understand some of the ruins this change’s left in curriculum of many universities. Depending on the way you lean politically, of course.

Giant food corporations, especially Monsanto, have taken over large portions of agriculture research at some state land grant universities, i.e., giving them an edge in developing both new food or food service products as well as setting acceptable safety standards for those already on the market.

Thus, in acquiescing to corporatism, have we not turned the public’s consumer hen house over to the private corporate fox?

A sea change, in effect, has occurred in higher education, is the argument. For as government funding declined, old universities — who once stood on proud traditions steeped independently in liberal arts — succumbed to seeking money in the private market place. And it came with a price.

A little footnote here about the roots of this heritage, please. Many cringe at the word “liberal,” as in “liberal arts” education. Relax. A libertarian’s mother would’ve embraced it!

It comes from Latin, meaning “worthy of a free person” — e.g., someone who knows enough “to take an active part in civic life.” It differentiated the ignorant — e. g., the uneducated slaves — in the Roman Empire.

Basically, for our modern era, this label encompasses a number of subjects that fall in the broad purview of the humanities, the various social sciences, or the physical sciences.

As corporatism has spread itself by financing public education now, fewer and fewer students taking these once traditional subjects has prompted hand-wringing. Cries even such as “There goes our freedom!” So where’s the beef?!

This is the crux of it:

“…For more than 200 years, the liberal arts have provided the platform from which U.S. students developed reasoning and analytic skills that led them to become critical thinkers,” wrote the author of Liberal Arts at the Brink,

“(Students) able and eager to distinguish opinions from facts and prejudices from truths, alert to the lessons of history and unwilling blindly to accept unsupported claims and assertions…The welfare of our nation (indeed, of the world) is ever more dependent on thoughtful citizens who can hold leaders accountable. This is what democracy by and for the people requires.”

Until it couldn’t match strides with Sunbelt expansionism and the radical capitalism it unleashed. For universities, basically this pressure (the hostility of it) emerged publicly in the aftermath of the pivotal 1980 elections reform agenda, I dare say. Reformers coined the now famous phrase, devolution.

But what would it mean? Really!??

What began as slicing education funding to schools from the federal level, grew precipitously when states had to get in line and began slashing, too. And out of the void, almost on cue with free enterprise’s flag-waving, an idea began making the rounds.

University heads feeling the pinch realized the hallowed halls they were staring at could be commercialized — e.g., fees for departments performing certain studies and a few various other enterprises. And they looked to the private market place to raise money with these.

Trickling down then, “cost-efficient education,” thus became a buzzword for a new kind of government/university/private sector line dance.

Tuition fees rose with less state money; programs were cut that contained classrooms with the most empty seats; and to pad their budgets to cope with remaining costs, public universities “partnered” with private enterprise. A new (old) Economy 101 was born — get in line at the trough, it was.

But it was dangerous fiddlin’ around with a nation’s academic heritage, I’m arguing here! Students re-focused, ok. Can we call it that? But what else? Collateral damages?

First, curriculum that offered  these easier, more quickly accessible careers always have had the advantage on college campuses (market-driven curriculum, as such), if graduate numbers is the sole criteria for judging. Corporatists could’ve stepped forward at any time almost to claim victory as such.

But placing you directly into a job was never the primary purpose of liberal arts, the counter to all this is. Teaching you to think was.

To be building blocks of a better society thru citizenship! Not abandoning those duties to the often nonsensical whims of the marketplace! Are we not jettisoning citizenship responsibility in our new age of greed?

Ah, but you can’t fight a marketplace, can you? Not one in the midst of being unrestrained by the heat of competition in the Sunbelt.

Angry capitalists afterall, fearful America was getting left behind in the technology race (in the money-making race), had unleashed a new stridency, it turned out, a new call to arms. Evangelicals were called to hoist the banners.

And alas, a liberal arts education as a basis to society then became secondary. The Great Fleece was on!

Now private corporations — i.e., thru their investment in government agriculture research at state universities — have positioned themselves on university boards that are influencing federal safety standards and other policies. One noted critic’s “frightening facts” on corporations hijacking the U.S Department of Agriculture is a good example.

And this isn’t limited to state universities either. Many private schools are now up to their neck in these tenuous “private business” relationships. See, i. e.,Science’s worst enemy is private funding.”  Spells it out in blunt terms.

All of this, for this post, came up when I read a recent post by one of the better water experts around today, Dr. David Zetland, author of The End of Abundance: Economic Solutions to Water Scarcity. (The first link above is to his blog; the link here is to a controversial water study he discusses in that blog post.)

A respected university professor now in Amsterdam, Zetland commented on a recently released major university study of the Colorado River (influencing the future of Western states), commissioned by a consortium of private businesses whose livelihoods depend upon water from it.

Zetland criticized the expensive — but now expected to be heavily influential report — by some of the university’s scientists, urging, “Teachers should use this report as an example of propaganda (jobs created? really?)!”

And that, caught my attention, of course.

The consortium’s Arizona State University link is here (Protect the Flows). They’re obviously lobbyist-savvy (just from how they’re puffing up this study on their Twitter page, i.e.); fully intent to influence lawmakers on turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse!

Former Environmental Protection Administration scientist, Dr. David L. Lewis — now called a heretic, of course! — spells this practice out in more detail in his book, Science for Sale:

The greatest threat of all is the purposeful corruption of the scientific enterprise by the institutions themselves. The science they create is often only an illusion, designed to deceive; and the scientists they destroy to protect that illusion are often our best.

A recent headline posted atop a story on the storied blog Front Porch Republic says it even more plainly:

“…this is what the lady did. She could have been content to be the brainy girl in the all-covering sweater whom the captain of the football team never bothered to notice, whatever her assets,” wrote senior editor Jason Peters, an English professor at an Illinois college.

“But no. Instead she threw off her glasses, eschewed her Homer, and for the sake of a little fleeting fun with the rebel crowd on Friday night she put on the short skirt of the cheerleader (and later the jacket of the sorority girl) and went in search of the music and the parties where it played. She tried to make herself appealing to the eye of a quarterback already good at recognizing weak defensive formations.”

“Education capitulated to an all-consuming and all-rapacious economy,” he added. “What she lost was nothing less than her honor, and she lost it to a goat-like man who, being goat-like, never understood the first thing about honor.”

— 30 —

Part II of Fall of Liberal Arts will be posted tomorrow.

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  1. […] Note: This is Part II of  2-part series on the fall of America’s liberal arts, and what it all means. Part I can be found here.) […]

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