Posts Tagged ‘education’

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It used to be the case that, for the most part, the Koch brothers were bottom-feeders when it came to higher education. They approached (or were approached by) financially strapped schools that were only too willing to sell their academic-freedom souls for relatively small infusions of cash.

The exception was, of course, George Mason University, the largest public research university in the Commonwealth of Virginia, which took in just under $80 million from Koch foundations from 2005 to 2014.

Now, the grants are getting larger and the recipients much richer and more prominent. In some cases, the Koch brothers are supporting right-wing, free-market scholars and programs; in other cases, they’re buying the prestige based on an association with highly ranked colleges and universities. And, of course, a mixture of the two.

Here are three recent examples:

Earlier this year, the University of Louisville announced the receipt of $6.3 million from the foundations of businessmen “Papa” John Schnatter ($4.64 million) and Charles Koch ($1.66 million) to create the new John H. Schnatter Center for Free Enterprise.

Rebecca Peek, a U of L senior and member of the Student Labor Action Project, said she was ashamed of the school’s agreement.

“It will certainly affect curriculum and limit the viewpoints taught to business students,” she said in a statement. “As a student at the University of Louisville I want to know that I am being presented with information for the sake of knowledge, not to promote the personal agenda of a private interest group.”

The same pair has donated a combined $12 million to create a similar “free enterprise” teaching institute at the University of Kentucky.

At UK, the grant will establish a “John H. Schnatter Institute for the Study of Free Enterprise” and expand the work of a current capitalism program underwritten by BB&T bank, according to a university news release. About $10 million will go to the institute. The remaining $2 million gives Schnatter naming rights to an atrium in the new business school building.

Finally, the University of Notre Dame has just announced that its International Security Center has received a five-year, $3.5 million grant from the Charles Koch Foundation to further develop and expand its role as a forum for broader scholarship on U.S. foreign policy.

“We’re delighted to work with the Koch Foundation on our International Security Center, which we’ve been committed to for many years,” said John T. McGreevy, I.A. O’Shaughnessy Dean of the College of Arts and Letters. “We think it’s important for academics to have a voice in policy debates about international affairs, and we believe our scholars’ research can inform those policy debates.”

Just to be clear, Notre Dame has the tenth largest endowment in the nation, with $8.2 billion in its fund at the end of fiscal year 2014.

Update

Here is a link (pdf) to the list of of colleges and universities that, according to the Koch family foundations and philanthropy, have received grants from the Charles Koch Foundation.

The Center for Public Integrity has a list of 16 colleges and universities that received at least $25,000 in Koch foundation funding in 2014. Apparently, the University of Dayton in Ohio has decided it is no longer interested in receiving Koch-connected money.

WorkerCoOp

While we’re on the topic of democratic socialism, why not expand the definition—from improving the way the wealth of the nation is shared (e.g., by raising taxes on the one percent and strengthening the safety net) to exploring new ways of democratizing the enterprises where that wealth is actually produced (e.g., by promoting worker-cooperatives)?

The New Era Windows and Doors Cooperative in Chicago is one such example.

The New Era Windows and Doors Cooperative has been in operation since 2013. It hasn’t been easy, but the worker-owners have learned together how to operate their own business. And then there were the meetings: “It was difficult to make decisions together,” Robles said. “But it’s kind of fun, because at the end of the day it’s for the benefit of everyone.”

Sales are modest, but growing. Last year the company sold about a half million dollars worth of windows. This year, they anticipate the number will be significantly higher. There are 23 worker-owners, and two staff members who Robles hopes will opt to become worker-owners.

His vision is for New Era to help spawn other cooperatives. Instead of expanding by hiring drivers, for example, he’d like to see the company help start a cooperative of drivers.

How is this company staying alive when other owners have failed? The worker-owners made tough decisions about what equipment they could get rid of to save money. And they did a lot of sales via word of mouth.

“The good thing is we don’t have the CEO making millions of dollars,” Robles said, “so we have the ability to compete with the industry.” Also, they don’t have to generate big profits to keep investors happy; they just have to make enough to pay expenses and pay back their debt.

One of the keys for success at New Era is it operates according to a different logic:

This business model is based on “enough.” Enough pay and benefits to live with dignity. Enough of the machinery that is necessary, but not the sort that is too expensive. Opportunities for employee-owners to draw on their full capacities, not to be relegated to repetitive work while a few make all the decisions and much of the money. Their more equitable pay structure creates opportunities for more people to have enough to live and thrive; instead of keeping some at the edge of poverty while others prosper.

This is what local power looks like: companies like New Era Windows and Doors creating the stability that comes with locally rooted employment, insulated from the speculative finance that, in the case of publicly traded companies, requires many jobs be moved to low-wage regions. These worker-owners focus on values, including the possibility for others to also be worker-owners, and the importance of producing ecologically smart products. The company prides itself on selling energy-efficient windows and doors, and customizing them to the climate and location of the client.

Worker-cooperatives have many obvious advantages over capitalist enterprises, and thus should be part of any contemporary definition of democratic socialism.

They can also solve the problem of capitalist education—in which, according to Einstein, “An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career.” Participating in a worker-cooperative means making decisions “for the benefit of everyone.”

And, if New Era is any indication, learning to do that can actually be fun!

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I’ll admit I’m of two minds about all the positive references to European socialism these days. I’ve read enough police procedurals by Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall to know all is not well in the kind of social democracy that many countries in Europe managed to build in the postwar period. More seriously, I think we’re setting our sights too low if our horizon is limited to what some sectors of some European countries have been able to achieve (and, of course, what they’ve left untouched)—not to mention the forms of austerity European socialists have been attempting to manage after the crash of 2007-08 and their unwillingness to deal with the current massive inflow of refugees.

On the other hand, there’s something useful in challenging the constraints imposed on discussions in the United States by referring to the kinds of life and work people have been able to create in Western Europe. Bernie Sanders, to take one prominent example, refers to universal healthcare, free public education, better childcare, and higher wages in Denmark and Sweden as examples Americans might emulate.

And then there’s Chantal Panozzo’s description [ht: sm] of the differences between working in the United States and in Switzerland.

A hiring manager at an American company who interviewed me recently for a permanent position asked me how much vacation I wanted. When I said four weeks, which is the legal Swiss minimum, she paused and said O.K., but then informed me that I would need to check my phone and email during this time.

I responded that checking my email on vacation wasn’t my definition of a vacation. She didn’t know what to say. Finally, she grudgingly said they could write it into my contract that I wouldn’t have to check my email during vacation. But the situation made me wonder, once again, if a country that bred this kind of culture was a place where I wanted to spend the rest of my working life.

Later, when I asked a different American company about the possibility of working part time, four days a week, they said they didn’t know how that would work. I tried to explain how I had successfully worked part time in several jobs overseas — even creating television commercials while doing so, but it was no use. I was fighting a culture that was not ready for my “radical” Swiss ideas. The fact that it was my own culture — supposedly so advanced and creative — only made things worse.

So, what role does European socialism play in our current debates about life and work? Well, it shows, in a very concrete way, that things in the United States don’t have to be the way they are. “Look,” we can say, “they manage to do it over there. And we’re an even richer country. Imagine what we could do here.”

But then we can also say, there are more far-reaching changes we can make to enhance the life and work of the majority of the population—even more than European socialism has thus far been able to achieve.

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achievement gap

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We all know the gap between the rich and poor in the United States has been growing for decades—and there’s been no let-up of that trend during the current economic recovery.

That’s bad enough. However, unless we confront that problem and change the existing institutions, it’s only going to get worse in the decades ahead. That’s because, as Michelle Chan [ht: ja] explains, the country is leaving way too many children behind.

Poverty limits access to basic resources like nutrition and decent childcare. But a geometrically expanding class divide looms over all income brackets, as wealthier parents zealously splurge on “enrichment expenditures”. . .

So poor parents struggling just to cover basic food and shelter face both massive income inequality in their day-to-day lives, plus a seven-fold gap in the amount they can “invest” to help their children thrive in the future. Given that social mobility is already suppressed at all income levels—with children’s future earnings highly correlated with the earnings of their parents—the Herculean amount of “catch up” poor parents must undertake just to get on the same footing as their higher-earning peers makes the great American wealth gap seem even more devastating, for both today’s working households and generations to come. . .

economic status is a growing factor in academic outcomes, as “the relationship between income and achievement has grown sharply” over the last 50 years. So wealth trumps intellect on many levels.

In other words, the income gap is a growing factor in academic outcomes—and the children at the bottom are falling further and further behind.

Why? The achievement gap stems in part from the difficulty poor parents have in educating their children at home, as well as the massive funding gaps in programs like subsidized childcare and Head Start. It’s also because poor children are segregated outside the home into poorly funded and overburdened schools. The exact opposite has been taking place at the top, where both private and public expenditures are moving the children of wealthy households further and further ahead.

All of which means that, just as the income gap has grown sharply since the mid-1970s, so has the relationship between income and academic achievement.

The growing class divide in the United States looms over all aspects of society, especially the fate of our children.