Posts Tagged ‘education’

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An anti-austerity protest has brought 150,000 people—students, workers, and others—to the streets of London to demand David Cameron’s resignation.

The March for Health, Homes, Jobs and Education was organised by activist group the People’s Assembly. The demonstrators called for an end to austerity, and demanded that David Cameron quit over the revelation that he profited from his father’s offshore investment fund. . .

The People’s Assembly used the protest to make “Four Demands”. With regards to health, they called for an end to Government spending cuts and the alleged privatisation of the NHS. The protestors’ demand over housing included rent controls and the protection of social housing.

On jobs, they called for a universal living wage and the scrapping of the Trade Union Bill, and they also demanded an end to student tuition fees and “the marketisation of education”.

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The “drown the bunnies” scandal at Mount St. Mary’s University has opened a debate about the growing role of college and university presidents who come from outside the academy, especially the business world.*

The problem is, only one participant in the debate, Shelly Weiss Storbeck, even raised the issue of governance. As I see it, the challenge facing colleges and universities is not where their presidents come from but how the institution itself is organized and governed. Without faculty governance—or, in Storbeck’s phrasing, “shared governance”—trustees will hire presidents who govern by decree in order to create and reinforce the corporate university. Then, students will be treated as customers, as passive recipients of an increasingly costly (and debt-accumulating) education, and the members of the faculty will be treated as employees, who in a pact with the devil will be paid to teach and conduct research and stay out of the key decisions facing the institution.

A good example of the real problem is James Ramsey, president of the University of Louisville. Ramsey is an economist, not a business leader, who taught at five different universities before being hired as president in 2002. But he has presided over an escalating number of scandals that, while they’re not as dramatic as putting a Glock to the heads of underperforming students, run from hiring and protecting top administrators who embezzled or otherwise misused federal funds through refusing to submit conflict-of-interest forms and yet offering university contracts to friends to sponsoring a basketball program that supplied dancers and prostitutes to basketball players and recruits (not to mention throwing a Mexican-themed Halloween party, replete with stereotypical sombreros and mustaches).

Both Mountain St. Mary’s Simon Newman and Ramsey, like many other college and university presidents, became embroiled in such scandals not because they came from outside the academy, but because faculty governance in the new corporate university has been undermined to the point where it barely exists. Increasingly, trustees and academic administrators make the key decisions and everyone else, including the faculty, is supposed to follow along and just do their jobs as corporate employees.

The problem, in other words, is the corporate model. We know it’s an undemocratic way of organizing enterprises in any sector of the economy. And it’s certainly an undemocratic way of governing the academy, where the main goals are critical thinking and creating an environment in which students and faculty can work together to produce a high-quality education.

 

*According to a 2012 report from the American Council on Education, “the share of presidents whose immediate prior position was outside higher education has increased since 2006, from 13 percent to 20 percent. Much of this growth occurred in the private sector, both nonprofit and for-profit.”

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There’s no doubt, after the crash of 2007-08, students—including those in middle schools—could use more economics education.

Unfortunately, they’re not getting it. They’re just being exposed to propaganda.

“What is the basic economic problem all societies face?” April Higgins asks her sixth-grade class.

Ava Watson, raises her hand: “Scarcity.”

The teacher asks for a definition and the class responds, in unison: “People have unlimited wants but limited resources.”

Not bad for a bunch of sixth-graders.

What April Higgins is engaged in is not economics education. It’s just neoclassical economics.

You see, there is no single “economic problem.” It all depends on which theory we’re looking at. According to neoclassical economists, all societies in all places and times have faced the same problem: scarcity. And, of course, private property and markets are their proposed solution.

But that’s not the economic problem as defined by Keynesians (how to analyze and use the visible hand of government to get out of less-than-full-employment equilibria) or Marxists (how is the surplus produced, appropriated, and distributed and how can exploitation be eliminated) or many other schools of thought.

The fact is, middle-school economics education (like high-school, undergraduate, and graduate economics education) is dominated by one school of thought, one approach among many, that is presented as “economics.” In the singular.

And that’s because it’s run by the Council for Economic Education and stipulated, in some instances, by government decree:

The Texas education code states that economics must be taught with an emphasis on the free market system and its benefits.

Economics education, at any level, means exposing students to and having them grapple with the assumptions and consequences of different economic theories and systems. Focusing only on one approach and system—neoclassical economic theory and capitalism—is just propaganda.

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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!