The Lost Soul of Higher Education

by Michael Utzinger

There is a really nice interview with Ellen Schrecker, author of The Lost Soul of Higher Education: Corporatization, the Assault on Academic Freedom, and the End of the American University (The New Press, 2010) by Serena Golden at Inside Higher Ed.

Schrecker highlights, it seems to me, some of the key issues facing higher education today. The questions remain: how can faculty articulate their vocational goals and how do these goals dovetail with their institution’s mission in the current climate? I wonder if Schrecker’s final hopes (quoted below) are possible in a world in which “re-branding” has become the tool of survival, especially at small tuition-driven schools, to reach our potential students, who act and are treated like consumers. The pressures to mold one’s institutional mission in new directions may be especially acute if you are at a small church-related institution, especially if being, say, Methodist does not appear to be a brand that potential students initially find appealing. As colleges and universities increasingly retool their identities and missions in a tough economy, we may need to speak now or forever hold our peace.

Here is a short excerpt from the interview:

For the past 40 years, professors have been abandoning their collective responsibility for maintaining the quality of higher education. Some have been careerist or lazy, but most, I think, are just overwhelmed …

This situation must be reversed; faculty members must return to their traditional role at the heart of the university. They must explain to the public – and to their students and their administrators as well – why their input is essential if American higher education is to meet its current challenges. This reversal will not be accomplished easily; the nation’s faculties face a legacy of more than forty years of demonization by the media and marginalization on their campuses. Collective action – through unions, faculty senates, and organizations like the American Association of University Professors – is crucial. Fortunately, the situation is not yet hopeless. As many administrators admit, faculty members still have considerable clout within their institutions, even if they do not always exercise it. At the same time, as the failure of David Horowitz’s recent campaign against academic freedom revealed, once politicians and the general public understand the real issues involved, they do support the intellectual openness and faculty autonomy that American higher education requires. And, who knows, they might even pay for it.


Anonymous said…
Where do adjunct instructors fit into that collective action?
Tom Van Dyke said…
"That said, it is also a system that reflects and to some extent increases the inequalities within our society. Its flaws, it must be noted, do not stem from some uniquely academic shortcomings, but are the product of larger social and political forces. In other words, our universities are mirrors of our society. So, if we are seeing an increasingly inegalitarian, competitive, and stressed-out academic community, welcome to the world of 21st century America."

EricStratton for the defense.

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