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If Academe is Part of the Problem of Inequality and Oligarchy, What Is the Solution? #FuturesEd

My critique of higher education rests partly on our hypocrisy. We are great at "critical thinking" and analyzing the inequalities in "society" yet academe so clearly exacerbates rather than improves  income inequality (in admission policies), its own salary hierarchies (from presidents to adjuncts), and in its hiring practices of future, tenure-track academics.

 

A recent sociodemographic study of how the top 10 universities supply the professorate way beyond their numbers to every other university documents how much the attitudes of elitism academics so often critique pervade its own practices.  "The Academy's Dirty Secret" documents the academy's systematic contribution to what Guinier calls "the tyranny of meritocracy."

Okay.  So what are we going to do about it?  One component of the Futures Initiative and HASTAC is something called "critical university studies."   CUS (cuss!) ensures that critique and critical thinking do not stop at the gateway to the Ivory Tower but are part of what we discover and act upon. 

Since it is not likely that we will reverse a structural socio-economic trend, increasing over the last fifty years, then those of us within the academy need to take seriously the fact that we are, in essence, training the leaders of global oligarchy. 

If academe is fueling the global oligarchy (and the sociodemographics say we mostly are), then what are we doing to ensure that future leaders take responsibility for problem solving, humaneness, community, ethics, and not the abundant possibilities for exploitation?  How can we restructure the liberal arts requirements of our universities, for example, not for workforce readiness but for responsible, ethical, engated life readiness for those who will be, the sociodemographics underscore, leaders in all realms, including likely in community, social entrepreneurship, and even the global struggles for human rights in its various forms.

For the students and at the institutions not training the 1%, what tools, ideas, methods, and tactics can we build into a reformed higher education that allows them to cope and thrive in this new world where democracy becomes increasingly a platitude and nothing like its dictionary definition: "government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system." 

In no way does this mitigate the terrible things happening to universities at the hands of state goverments all over the US--and the world.   So we must look in two directions at once:  outward to protest and, at the same time, inward to identify and change.

Key starter principle: 1. let's rethink the liberal arts as a start-up curriculum for resilient, responsible, ethical, committed global citizens.   Instead of "check off the box" general education, let's reshape it purposively, taking into account the relevant, specific sociodemographics of the institution at which we teach?   Community college in a city?  In the country?  Harvard?  Berkeley?  There are things that are the same about each, and things vastly different.  Why not use liberal arts as the place to change not for "workplace readiness" but for "life readiness"--and life in a connected world where there is terrible inequality and inequal distribution of material resources.

The issue here is turning from critical thinking about everyone else to look inward at what we can change and making the change there.   This means faculty and students and administrators working together to grasp the extent of the problem, to understand the nature of the legacy forms of higher education that we've inherited, and to survey the situation of the specific institution (and its students) where we teach and making the redesigned curriculum, methods, metrics, and practices for the kind of ethical world we say we want outside of academe.

This is a second key principle:  2. let's start with critical thinking and build upon it to make a creative contribution.  And let's make academe at our own institution the place we begin.

 

3.  Make a change, today, in your classroom.  Pedagogy is something every teacher can incorporate.  Formative feedback (think-pair-share, exit tickets) can work even in a 1000-person lecture.  So can experiential learning.  So can asking the "why."

4.  Support adjunct faculty and livable workplace conditions for all.

And then a fifth key principle:  5. make alliances with other change-makers and, together, celebrate your victories.   It's too scary to go this alone.  Find friends.  Work together.  Report on your successes.  Celebrate your successes in every way that inspires you and others to more.

 If Academe is Part of the Problem of Inequality and Oligarchy, What Is the Solution? That is our question.   What will we do about it?  Let's get started!

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