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Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday, December 12, 2011

Debt, Democracy, and the Future of the Public University: An Introduction

By James Vernon

The restructuring of higher education and the privatization of the public university has operated through a series of vectors: the push for online education, the challenges to access and diversity, the tremendous increase in studentfees and student debt, the growth of management bloat. It has been met—point by point—by a politics of protest. These protests have made clear that those defending Public Higher Education at UC must confront a number of problems. I’ll highlight just three:

Firstly we must recognize that whatever the particular nature of the crisis at UC it must be understood as part of a broader transnational restructuring of higher education and the privatization of public goods.

Secondly at the heart of this resistance is not simply a critique of the corporatization or privatization of the university – for these have a deep history – but a diagnosis of a new and distinct mode of contemporary transformation: the financialization of university. Universities are now in the grip of a culture of finance that produced a global recession and an insistence upon austerity cuts to public services, while redirecting the burden of higher education on to student debt through the very type of sub-prime loans that got us in to this mess in the first place.

And thirdly, as I suggested above, our current crisis has been a catalyst for critical thought and has been generative of new forms of politics on and beyond our campuses. It is no coincidence that the humanities have been central to the debates over the future of the public university. The value of the humanities seems at best precarious in the new financial culture of higher education. But as has been continually shown, humanities scholarship remains analytically and politically necessary for our universities and our democracies.

But we are here today less to discuss the content of arguments already made than than to take stock of where we are now as the restructuring of higher education proceeds apace and has been met these past months by the Occupy movement and the criminalization of protest on our campuses.

In that spirit let us begin.


Catherine Liu said...

Student loan debt is a ticking time bomb. We have mortgaged the future of the young to financial institutions. The culture of personal of responsibility promoted by Reaganites three decades ago has morphed into the economics of indentured servitude to debt.

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