A specter is haunting U.S. public higher education: right-wing, free-market academic populism.
The most recent battle over right-wing academic populism is happening in the Lone Star State, where the Texas Public Policy Foundation has been pushing its “7 Breakthrough Solutions” on Texas A&M University. The Texas Tribune investigates the people behind the educational reform proposals, while the Chronicle of Higher Education reports on the faculty’s opposition to the “for-profit mentality” contained in the proposed measures.
What’s interesting about the proposals is the fact that they’re directed at full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty, who are taken to be the cause of higher tuitions and the declining quality of education. Basically, on the right-wing view, faculty members spend their time doing research and not teaching undergraduate students, who are increasingly taught by graduate students and adjunct faculty members. And the solution? To force faculty members to teach more classes, with more students, and to determine teaching effectiveness by using “customer (student) satisfaction ratings.”
That’s the right-wing populism: attack the “privileged” faculty and put the “customers (students)” in charge. (The free market comes in other proposals, to decrease the direct financing of universities and to put more money in the hands of students.)
The battle lines over public higher education are being drawn and, unless the Left is able to formulate an effective reformulation of the problem (and, of course, alternative “breakthrough solutions”), right-wing, free-market academic populism is going to come out the winner.