Posts Tagged ‘academy’

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I’ve made the case before that student-athletes are performing unpaid labor. That is, U.S. colleges and universities produce and sell athletic performances—especially, but not only, football and basketball games—that are produced by student-athletes who are not paid anything for their labor.

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The question then is, who’s benefiting from that unpaid labor? It’s certainly not the professors who teach at those schools (nor, for that matter, the staff who keep the academic programs and infrastructure running). Faculty members are not making anywhere near what the athletic coaches do, and their salary increases have lagged far behind the amount of money being paid to coaches in recent years.

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And much more money is being spent on athletic programs—although clearly not in the form of pay to the players—than on academic programs.

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So, where are all those revenues from the athletic program going? As it turns out, the single biggest outlay—more than a third—is for coaches’ salaries.

Apparently, according to a recent article on the Huffington Post [ht: ja], that’s the reason so many coaches are opposed to paying college athletes for their labor.

“Schools quite often move around or spend money to basically get rid of excess revenue — what would be called profit in a profit-making corporation,” said Michael Leeds, a professor of economics at Temple University. “‘[That’s why] you have several coaches [in the NCAA] getting paid NFL money, despite working for an enterprise that really does not match what the New England Patriots and the New York Giants take in.”

That would explain why some universities end up with state-of-the-art sports facilities. Or why Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski makes nearly $10 million per year, much more than the typical NBA coach. Or why in so many states, the best-paid public employee is a basketball or football coach. . .

“The coaches very likely are very upset over [the prospect of] players being paid because, for one thing, that means a pay cut for them,” Leeds said.

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This, according to Kevin Carey, is what a university looks like:

Mr. Trachtenberg understood the centrality of the university as a physical place. New structures were a visceral sign of progress. They told visitors, donors and civic leaders that the institution was, like beams and scaffolding rising from the earth, ascending.

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The largest university in the United States—the University of Phoenix, part of the Apollo Education Group [ht: ja]—has been given an F by Wall Street investors. Its stock tumbled almost 30 percent in today’s trading.

A key problem is that, while for-profit colleges only enroll roughly 12 percent of the nation’s students, students at those colleges accounted for about half of student loan defaults in 2013. And, as we know, the quality of education continues to be dismal.

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Student enrollments and revenues have thus been falling in recent years. Degreed enrollment in the Apollo Education Group was most recently 227,400 students, less than half its own peak five years ago and down 13.5 percent from the first quarter of fiscal 2014. This year it will be lucky to take in $2.7 billion, although it had revenues close to $5 billion in 2010.

This would be the perfect time for public colleges and universities to attract many of the students who are leaving the for-profit sector of higher education. The problem is, public institutions are behaving more and more like their for-profit counterparts, being forced to rely more and more on tuition payments from students, who are taking on increasing levels of debt, instead of public financing.

In that sense, the country as a whole deserves an F for its failure to provide high-quality, affordable higher education to its citizens.

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Larry Rohter’s interview with Sebastião Salgado (whose work I have discussed before, here and here) includes an important exchange about the role Salgado’s previous study of economics has played in his photography.

Q. Wim Wenders makes a very interesting observation in the film, saying that your training as an economist helped prepare you for the kind of photography you do. Do you think that’s true? Did it help, and if so, in what way?

A. Yes, it helped. In reality, when you consider a photographer, he’s the fruit of his heritage. My visual heritage comes from the mountains where I grew up and a lot of my intellectual heritage from having been an economist. The economics I did was not the economics of business administration, it’s not micro. I did macroeconomics — the economics of public finances, political economy, I studied Marx and Keynes. In reality, that kind of economics is a kind of quantified sociology, so that kind of preparation gave me a real training. I had to study, I had to read a lot of philosophy, political science, I had to read a whole bunch of things that gave me a solid grounding, and that was something fabulous.

So when I became a photographer, I had a series of instruments for analysis and synthesis, and clearly all of that helped me.

Salgado’s answer has two important implications—one concerning the liberal arts, the other economics. The point about the liberal arts is that we’re teaching students how to think, not providing them job skills. As they acquire the ability to think critically about the world around them, as they develop an intellectual foundation to grapple with new and old ideas and challenge the existing common senses, they can decide how they’re going to leave their mark on the world. Along the way, of course, they’re going to have to figure out how to earn a living—to put a roof over their heads, pay for their food and clothing, and so on—but that’s not the goal or aim of their liberal arts education. Clearly, Salgado’s studies of economics didn’t direct him to a career as an economist but, instead, gave him some of the intellectual tools he could later use as a “photographer without adjectives.”

But it’s also clear that Salgado’s involvement with economics is not the same as many students today have. It’s much closer to what I had in college and graduate school, and continue to try to provide to my students in the classroom (even when I teach microeconomics). He studied Marx and Keynes, he read philosophy and political science, he was exposed to economics he refers to as “a kind of quantified sociology.” That’s certainly not what many of my colleagues in economics are doing to students today. They build formal mathematical models, which the undergraduate and graduate students are never taught to think about critically let alone question. They teach students the conclusions of the models but never the underlying assumptions. As a result, students learn how to manipulate the equations (at least well enough to pass the exams) but not how to relate those models to what they’ve learned elsewhere in the liberal arts or to consider what other kinds of economic theories and models might be used to make sense of what is going on in the world.

In both those senses, many students today—in the liberal arts generally, and perhaps especially in economics—are simply not being given the “instruments for analysis and synthesis” Sebastião Salgado acquired in his early intellectual formation. Our students may be able to take lots of pictures but I worry they’re being denied the opportunity of becoming great photographers.

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about utopia these days—from the plenary address I gave at New Harmony last November to the talk I’m giving at Manchester University in April.

So, I’m fascinated by the fact that Mark Bittman, in honestly confronting the Brave New World—”featuring even fewer haves and more have-nots than the current one”—has turned to the idea of utopia. He looks at some top-down solutions (such as public works and Guaranteed Basic Income) but then argues that bottom-up changes have “even more potential for a more equitable economic system.”

What we’re seeing, on a small but growing scale, is a world where energy and even power may become increasingly decentralized, and communities are building more on local and regional levels, creating organizations that benefit more of their members. Worker ownership — which, for obvious reasons, combats income inequality directly — is becoming more common, and these organizations are talking to one another locally. Even something as simple as the farm-to-school movement means that economies are becoming more local and communities are supporting their own businesses.

Those kinds of institutions—in which workers, their families, and the communities in which they live—do, in fact, have much more potential than more jobs and an economic safety net to challenge and provide an alternative to a system in which “capital has full control, as it nearly does now.”

Socialist utopia is what we used to call that change from the bottom up, although Bittman worries that “both those words are forbidden in neoliberal society.” Maybe he’s right, and we might want to come up with a different “pitch.”

For my part, the key is to connect the idea of utopia to critique—to a “ruthless criticism” of the existing order. And that’s what I plan to talk about at Manchester University in April, connecting the idea of utopia as critique to the task of reviving the idea of the intellectual and challenging the new corporate university.

As William Deresiewicz argued in his 2008 American Scholar article,

The liberal arts university is becoming the corporate university, its center of gravity shifting to technical fields where scholarly expertise can be parlayed into lucrative business opportunities. . . Yet there is a dimension of the intellectual life that lies above the passion for ideas, though so thoroughly has our culture been sanitized of it that it is hardly surprising if it was beyond the reach of even my most alert students. Since the idea of the intellectual emerged in the 18th century, it has had, at its core, a commitment to social transformation. Being an intellectual means thinking your way toward a vision of the good society and then trying to realize that vision by speaking truth to power. . .

Being an intellectual begins with thinking your way outside of your assumptions and the system that enforces them.

Fortunately, we can count Bittman among those who are thinking their way toward a vision of the good society and then trying to realize that vision by speaking truth to power.

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I’ll be heading out to the University of California-Riverside in a couple of weeks, to participate in a conference in honor of my friend Stephen Cullenberg (who served as the dean of the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences from 2006 to 2014), on the topic of “Unsettling the University: Confronting Capitalism and the Crisis of Higher Education.”

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Special mention

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