Posts Tagged ‘academy’

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For the first time in American history, students in more than half of all U.S. states are paying more in tuition to attend public colleges or universities than the government contributes.

The privatization of public education has been under way for decades but this inflection point was hastened by deep cuts states made to their higher-education appropriations in the midst of the Second Great Depression.

For the United States as a whole, according to a new report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, students and their families were forced to come up with almost half (46.2 percent) of total educational revenue for public colleges and universities in 2017. They had to pay only 28.8 percent of the total in 1992, a share that had risen to 36.2 percent in 2007.

Increasingly, public higher education in the United States is public in name only.

And the privatization of the public educational system is costing the American working-class dearly. In 2016, net tuition for one student (full-time equivalent) came to 10.9 percent of median household income. That’s almost double what it was in 1992: 5.7 percent. Even as recently as 2007, it was only 7.9 percent.

While public financing for higher education has improved in recent years, the overall trend of less public support and students having to shoulder more of the burden continues.

After the crash of 2007-08, educational appropriations dropped 24 percent over four years, to $6,525 in 2012. This was largely due to accelerating enrollment growth (especially in community colleges) and the lack of proportional funding increases. Reversing this decline, appropriations have now increased for five straight years: 2.0 percent in 2013, 4.9 percent in 2014, 5.0 percent in 2015, 1.6 percent in 2016, and 2.5 percent in 2017. However, in 2017 states appropriated almost $2,000 less per student than they did in 2001, and $1,000 less than before the crash.

The same question applies today as when I wrote about the problem of higher education back in 2016:

What’s the American working-class to do? The same as in many other rich countries: demand free higher education for all high-school graduates who want to attend an in-state public college or university (and, while they’re at it, forgiveness for the student debts they’ve been forced to take on in order to attend increasingly out-of-reach public colleges and universities).

 

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Chen Wenling, “What You See Might Not Be Real” (2009)

I’ll admit, there are times when I regret the fact that I’m a relativist. Wouldn’t it be nice, I say to myself on occasion, to be able to claim—beyond a shadow of a doubt, to my students, colleagues, or readers of this blog—that something or other (neoclassical economics or capitalism or name your poison) is wrong and that the alternative (Marxian economics or socialism or what have you) is absolutely correct.

But then I read a defense of capital-T truth—such as David Roberts’s [ht: ja] attack on the alt-right and fake news and his presumption that the liberal mainstream is uniquely capable of upholding “truth, justice, and the American way”—and I thank my lucky stars that I don’t have to make such outlandish, embarrassing arguments. Fortunately, my relativism means I’m not saddled with the mainstream liberals’ delusion that they have, if not God, at least Superman on their side.

I’ve been over this epistemological terrain before (e.g., here, here, and here). But it seems, in the current conjuncture, mainstream liberals—in their zeal to attack Donald Trump and the right-wing media’s defense of his administration’s outlandish claims about a wide variety of issues, from climate change to the Mueller investigation—increasingly invoke and rely on an absolutist theory of knowledge. And then, of course, claim for themselves the correct side in the current debates.

As Roberts sees it, the United States

is experiencing a deep epistemic breach, a split not just in what we value or want, but in who we trust, how we come to know things, and what we believe we know — what we believe exists, is true, has happened and is happening.

The primary source of this breach, to make a long story short, is the US conservative movement’s rejection of the mainstream institutions devoted to gathering and disseminating knowledge (journalism, science, the academy) — the ones society has appointed as referees in matters of factual dispute.

In their place, the right has created its own parallel set of institutions, most notably its own media ecosystem.

Consider the assumptions built into those statements for a moment. Roberts believes that society has appointed a unique set of mainstream institutions—journalism, science, the academy—to serve as referees when it comes to adjudicating the facts in play. Nowhere does he discuss how, historically, those institutions came to occupy such an exalted position. Perhaps even more important, he never considers the disputes—about the facts and much else—that exist among journalists, scientists, and academics. And, finally, Roberts never mentions all the times, in recent years and over the centuries, the members of those institutions who got it wrong.

What about the reporting on the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Or the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male? Or the university professors and presidents, at Yale, Harvard, and elsewhere, who supported and helped devise the U.S. war in Vietnam?

The list could go on.

There is, in fact, good reason not to simply accept the “facts” as gathered and disseminated by mainstream institutions. Historically, we have often been misled, and even mangled and killed, by those supposed facts. And, epistemologically, the members of those institutions—not to mention others, located in different institutions—produce and disseminate alternative sets of facts.

Maybe that’s Roberts’s problem. He actually thinks facts are gathered, as if they’re just out there in the world, waiting to be plucked, harvested, or dug up like fruits and vegetables by people who have no particular interest in which facts find their way into their baskets.

Alternatively, we might see those facts as being created and manufactured, through a process of knowledge-production, which relies on concepts and theories that are set to work on the raw materials generated by still other concepts and theories. The implication is that different sets of concepts and theories lead to the production of different knowledges—different sets of facts and their discursive and social conditions of existence.

I have no doubt that many journalists, scientists, and academics “see themselves as beholden to values and standards that transcend party or faction.” But that doesn’t mean they actually operate that way, somehow above and apart from the paradigms they use and the social influences exerted on them and the institutions where they work.

As for as Roberts is concerned, only the “far right” rejects the “very idea of neutral, binding arbiters” and adheres to a “tribal epistemology.” And mainstream liberals? Well, supposedly, they have the facts on their side.

If one side rejects the epistemic authority of society’s core institutions and practices, there’s just nothing left to be done. Truth cannot speak for itself, like the voice of God from above. It can only speak through human institutions and practices.

For Roberts, it’s either epistemic authority or nihilism. Absolute truth or an “epistemic gulf” that separates an “increasingly large chunk of Americans,” who believe “a whole bunch of crazy things,” from liberal Democrats.

What Roberts can’t abide is that we “live in different worlds, with different stories and facts shaping our lives.” But, from a relativist perspective, that’s all we’ve ever had, inside and outside the institutions of journalism, science, and the academy. Throughout their entire history. Different stories and different sets of facts.

And that hasn’t stopped the conversation—the discussion and debate within and between those different, often incommensurable, stories and facts. The only time the conversation ends is when one set of stories and facts is imposed on and used to stamp out all the others. A project always carried out in the name of Truth.

Clearly, Roberts mourns the passing of a time of epistemological certainty and universal agreement that never existed.

Roberts instead should mourn the effects of a Superman theory of knowledge that got him and other mainstream liberals into trouble in the first place. In recent years, they and their cherished facts simply haven’t been persuasive to a large and perhaps growing part of the population.

And the rest of us are suffering the consequences.

 

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