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“An attack on the Social State”: Henry Giroux Interview (Pt.1)

Henry Giroux is an academic, writer, lecturer, activist, and a major thinker on critical pedagogy. He is also very passionate about what is happening to higher ed. If you think I’m dismayed on the topic, you should read his recent book Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education. I found the book pummeling, dismaying, bracing, at times overwhelming, but finally dedicated to the welfare of students, where the loyalties of teachers should always lie.neoliberalis's war

Giroux talks about the connections between various trends, arguments, and structures that are undermining university education, and yet, what I am most struck by in walking around most universities are the disjunctions: students disconnected from professors by time and attention spans, the generation gap between the few remaining tenured profs who are fifteen years older than myself and the great numbers of grad student instructors who are fifteen years younger, the cultural gaps between what academics believe about the liberal arts and what universities espouse, and so on.

We started talking, though, about the part of the book that I found connected with me the most, which was how strange it was to move into the world of higher education coming from a working class background and how the cultural capital that gets traded in the academic departments can make that daunting.

Henry Giroux: …They’re not taking you seriously because your body’s connected to your mind. They hate emotion. They hate any display of emotion. Or that you’re angry if you display any passion.

Rufus: “Uncivil” I think is the term.

Uncivil, yes, which is actually worse. The capital works in really odd ways in that there is a presupposition that if you’re from the upper class that’s the ruling class or the upper middle class and you have certain linguistic skills and you have a certain manner of dressing and talking that that automatically conveys certain types of privileges, one being that you are, by default “smart”. And I find myself often surrounded by kids who have all of those attributes who have a hard time making connections and thinking politically. Whereas my working class students, for the most part, without drawing any rigid divisions here, are often smart in ways that don’t register in terms of the value of cultural capital.

I found when I was teaching working class students in the university that the hardest thing was just to get them over that fear that, if you’re in any sort of position of authority, that you’re going to be condescending or use your power-

But that’s a pedagogical issue. They have every right to be fearful of authority and power because it doesn’t work for them; it works against them. I think, for me, the issue has always been to be able to speak to them in a way that is meaningful to them as it would be to other students that automatically assume that the university is no different than their neighborhood and the places they grew up. I really go out of my way with the working class students to connect because I know the kind of struggles that in some ways they’re experiencing. For me, to make something meaningful, to make it critical and transformative often works very differently in terms of how I deal with them than how I deal with middle class students.

I value their passion. It’s not something where I say “Wow, you’re angry! Keep your mouth shut!” I encourage them to talk because often they’re silenced. They don’t want to talk. They don’t feel as if they’re smart enough. They don’t have the linguistic skills to speak. I just cut right through that.

For me, the undergraduate years, I drank a lot of espresso and sat in the library and had imposter syndrome. When reading your book, however, I wondered about the students. As the university goes through this transformation, or maybe deformation, how aware are they that it’s not just increasing tuition, but that someone who is running around teaching four courses as an adjunct just to pay rent just can’t offer the same sort of time and quality in teaching?

I think that, as the university gets corporatized and students are seen as clients and a source of profit, there is clearly a diminishment in the quality of education, particularly for undergraduates. That’s for sure. I mean, they’re being taught primarily by TAs, who are overworked and underpaid, they often find themselves in a world where the subjects are often utterly disconnected from anything meaningful in the real world, they’re incredibly insecure about getting credentials, as opposed to learning something, and they’re being told they’re being trained, not educated. That what really matters is getting a job, which is not unimportant, but at the same time you should be able to think critically and expand your capacity to be a social and historical agent in some fundamental way.

But, I also think there are an enormous number of distractions now that bear down in their lives that make it difficult for them to really sustain the kind of focus and attention my generation had. My generation was a print culture. It wasn’t a visual culture. Now, in the classroom everyone is on their laptop. I find with students that there is a lot of information in bits and pieces that they’re aware of, but they have enormous trouble connecting it and with questions of historical and public memory. A lot of this stuff is on the surface. We’re not talking about students mimicking Edward Said, Stanley Aronowitz and Paolo Fraere and Adorno that generation was enormously well read with both breadth and depth, that’s something I very rarely see. That’s a generational issue.

I think I was lucky that my grandparents, who essentially raised us (and did not have college degrees) had the Great Books series and had us reading them at an early age.

It was interesting- even my parents used to get those encyclopedias with the coupons in the back so you could get one book a week. And I remember reading Stendahl at age 12 because they put them in some room with the plastic slipcovers on the furniture in the apartment because you never had a house, everyone rented an apartment back them. And I remember finding these books and staying home from school because the books were far more interesting than school.

Oh, I nearly flunked out and I was in the library reading Kant, although I have no idea what I could have possibly gotten out of Kant at that age. So I assigned a lot of books like Robinson Crusoe, which the students enjoyed.

So, when we talk about bringing the university back to its senses in some way, it seems like the students know about the tuition going up and that it hasn’t resulted in better education, but that gives the administrators a leverage point- “we’re saving money by getting rid of the Classics dept.” How do you get the students to come along?

You make sure that those issues are related. You say that it’s a bad compromise to say that we’ll lower tuition but we’ll hire more sessionals. And I think that raises fundamental questions about what the purpose of a university is in the first place and how it’s changing structurally and ideologically. And you can’t separate those questions. If it wants to define itself as a factory, structurally, even if it gives in to the students, it’s still functioning as a factory and it’s still implementing reforms in the name of that particular kind of project.

I mean you have students now who see this. The classic example that uprooted this was Quebec. The student’s struggle in Quebec over tuition was like nothing I had ever seen. Very different from the Occupy Movement, which was a single base movement, which was about inequality.

But what the students did in Quebec was they said: Hey look, this isn’t about tuition; this is about an attack on the social state. This is about your pensions. They’ll do it here and they’ll take your pensions away. They’ll privatize your healthcare. And so, all of a sudden, they had all of this support from outside the university.

I think where students will fail with the sort of student resistance that we see emerging now is if it’s only about tuition, and not about calling the very nature of the university, in its corporatization and its militarization and its surveillance techniques, into question- I think it’s going to fail. But, secondly, it has to raise not only fundamental questions about the university, but also about how they can mobilize people outside of the university to see how those issues are related to them.

You know, for me, I spent my university years studying French Romanticism. I was not particularly politicized. But, I just remember seeing what was happening all around me and thinking that… you know, there’s capitalism and there’s something different. What people call neoliberalism is something different. What is the bible of this ideology? What is its argument?

I think that what you see as neoliberalism in the 70s and 80s, and clearly it was going on long before that, but then it crystallizes into what might be seen as a historical formation. You know, Stuart Hall uses this term of a “historical conjuncture” to argue that certain things start to come into play, which actually suggest a break from a previous historical moment. In the 70s and the 80s all of the forces that might have been associated with, for instance, classical liberalism, classical economics, something happens, something gets intensified and changes its form and becomes more ruthless. It becomes an ideology, a mode of governance, and it becomes a mode of policy. It begins to break down and come together in a way that it almost seems like it’s sutured.

You remember the great line in the Matrix: Morpheus is talking to Neo and he says “look. You can choose the red or the blue pill. If you choose the blue, you’re going to be inside and you’ll never be able to see this from the outside.”

Where we begin to see neoliberalism become very powerful is when all of a sudden people in power now claim, through a whole range of apparatuses, that here’s what it is, they lay it out, and say that there’s no alternative to it, no alternative whatsoever. I mean Margaret Thatcher’s argument: That’s all there is. There is no alternative.

I think you can really see it with Milton Friedman in Chicago. They go to Chile and all of a sudden they’ve got Pinochet, who is absolutely willing to implement neoliberal policies. So, they see what works and what doesn’t work. Then, in New York, there’s that moment when you have the terrible recession and it’s implemented there. Then you have finally the merging rise of Reagan and Thatcher in that historical moment. And then you can lay out the elements of neoliberal ideology from there, as I do in my books: Profit is the essence of democracy. Public wealth should be transferred into private hands. It goes on and on.

Well, the reasoning is also that there’s some sort of crisis. And the reasoning in universities is that there’s always a “crisis in education”. Workers like me get replaced by contract hires and the claim is that there’s not enough money and we have to save the precious resources, even as capital expenditures are through the roof. How do you talk to people worried about the crisis in funding?

You flip the script. When people in power talk about crisis, it’s always a crisis that they defined in a way that serves their interests. It’s their crisis. They named the crisis so they could say they’re going to fire all of the workers and replace them with contract people.

I think the real issue here is to rename the problem. The problem isn’t with workers. It’s really with an administration that now outnumbers faculty and that refuses to fight politically with a government that does everything it can to continuously defund universities so they can fail. So they can break them up into training schools with a few at the top.

My argument always is that the terms by which they define what the crisis is must be made problematic. Not just how the crisis is solved or how to solve it, but what basically it is and where it comes from and how it’s fabricated and whose interests it serves and what that means.

I mean, it’s really ironic to talk today about a crisis of funding in the university when, in fact, labor has been completely eviscerated. That’s a crisis of labor. That’s not a crisis of funding. So, if we’re going to rank the crises, I’m not going to begin with their interests. Except to expose the contradictions.

[In Part 2, we start with my big question: Shouldn’t conservatives be on board to defend the liberal arts?]

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65 thoughts on ““An attack on the Social State”: Henry Giroux Interview (Pt.1)

  1. It was Morpheus, not Mephisto in the matrix.

    I’ll think about some things and give a more complete reply later. To some extent since I have not been in an American university, I’m not sure I have much to say, one way or another. I see some boilerplate about neoliberalism (in the article) but I see little connection to how things seem to be going wrong in the universities.

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    • Got it, thanks.

      We get into much of that later, but I would suppose this discussion does presuppose some familiarity with the topic. I have written pretty extensively about it here, on Salon, and elsewhere. Giroux’s book covers the topic, and there are many, many other books on this subject to be found.

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      • Assuming Canadian uni’s have dual governance also, you have a push-pull issue between admin and academics. And as money becomes an issue, something has to give. And that something seems to be additional tenured prof’s. Those who have tenure will position themselves to do more research and push more onto adjuncts as that is were they can save money at the same time as preserving privilege.

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        • Yes and no. I don’t disagree that many tenured profs have taken great advantage of the replacement of retiring tenured people with exploited adjuncts and grad students and have no intention of defending the privileges they’ve gained from that, nor the high self-regard many of them seem to have about their privileged positions. But it must be said that at the majority of universities it’s the admins who control the purse strings and they’re the ones who open up tenure lines for hiring, or most often refuse to. Not only do they set the budget, but admins are also “tenured” in the sense that usually nobody has the power to get rid of them.

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          • Oh, I absolutely agree with that. But those are often the complaints regarding any buraucracy. And as you point out below, business is absolutely susceptible to it also. I think that after a certain level of growth is realized it is inevitable and can only be cured by the failure of the organization.

            Not to get off track, but my wife is part of uni team that is working to consolidate many duplicate HR functions and reduce costs. And the amount of push back at all levels is frightening. Admin and Faculty The belief seems to be that the financial issues will go away and everything will be as before.

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  2. The problem isn’t with workers. It’s really with an administration that now outnumbers faculty and that refuses to fight politically with a government that does everything it can to continuously defund universities so they can fail.

    While I am not entirely certain that defunding is half the bugbear it’s portrayed as being, the fact that there are now shovelfuls of administrators when, in the past, they were thin on the ground is a huge red flag.

    Surely there are measurables involved with this. Are administrators adding value? (That is, is a college/university degree worth more today than it was back in the day?) From where I’m sitting, it looks like the value is nosediving at the same time that the price is going up (that is to say, even if people were paying what they paid in 1977, adjusted for inflation, the degree *STILL* wouldn’t be worth what it was back then).

    Are the colleges/universities that did not see similar leaps and bounds in administration costs also see their tuition go up that much? Did their degrees lose similar amounts of value?

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    • It’s still stunning to me that universities responded to state funding going down by hiring armies of administrators and bloating their administrative structure, while gutting their humanities programs and replacing professors with temps. And these are the brilliant business minds!

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    • “Are administrators adding value?”

      Administrators in, e.g., the Diversity Initiative Program are certainly adding value, because “do you have a Diversity Initiative Program” is how the federal government determines whether or not you’re eligible for federal funds.

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  3. There is at least the recognition of these problems in medical education. Many medical school admissions boards are finding that well-read, broadly-educated applicants (i.e. humanities majors, artists, people who’ve worked) are more intuitively adept at things like critical diagnosis and relating to patients. The multiple choice standardized test is still the gatekeeper, but questions have at least attempted in recent years to reflect basic concepts instead of vocabulary association and to require critical thinking, as opposed to the mere recognition of buzzwords.

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  4. Isn’t the main problem with Pinochet that he was an authoritarian thug, not the economic reforms that he at the behest of Milton Friedman introduced. As I understand, those reforms were good for Chile’s economy.

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    • There were plenty of people on the left who were happy to support left-wing authoritarian thugs, so for a lot of people I would say that yes the problem with Pinochet is that he was right wing, not that he was an authoritarian thug. Not that there weren’t plenty of equally-hypocritical people on the right, including Reagan and Thatcher.

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      • I have no connection to these people, although I’m sure they exist. Heck, there are people still wearing tee-shirts with Che Guevara, the Rudolph Valentino of red fascism, on them. As I get older, I’m finding I’m either very cynical or too libertarian for even the libertarians.

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        • Yes, sorry I didn’t mean that as an attack on you – rather an observation that the vast majority of political discourse is driven by raw tribalism rather than anything approaching principles, or even a coherent point of view.

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  5. I confess I have a problem seeing “neoliberalism” as a boogeyman. If I understand it properly, it’s an economic system that is to the “right” of a certain kind of idealized democratic socialism.

    That means among others, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, both George Bushes, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Milton Friedman, Paul Krugman and perhaps Barack Obama all get grouped under this label.

    Those who believe in such posit that you need markets/global capitalism to serve as the predominant means of production, distribution, and exchange. It’s strongly presumptive. Government has to justify its involvement (and that’s where the Democrats, Republicans, independents and libertarians who believe in “neoliberalism” have their debate.) This is prevailing wisdom. And it prevails in part because empirical evidence (testing for social welfare utility maximization) validates the claim.

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    • Well, not just “government”- all local democratic governing structures are problematic for the globalized market economics that we call ‘neoliberal’, right? That’s why Giroux, I believe, is using the ideology as a bugbear here, because you can see where a top-down economic ideology that seeks to transform university education into a market good has to, first and foremost, dismantle faculty governance in order to get there. It has to do away with local democratic governing structures in the name of “flexibility”. And this dismantling seems to be fairly central to the ideology. The social sphere is necessarily disempowered, often fairly radically. In the case of, say, getting the most sneakers to the most people quickly and cheaply, I think we probably could say that the evidence validates the claims. I think where people have a problem is in the notion that every single institution in society needs to function along a market model in a globalized economy now. In the case of universities, it’s true that a lot more people are getting a university education now, but it’s also not at all cheaper and it’s pretty hard to argue that the quality has improved.

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      • Rufus,

        I like your response. Alot. I think you’ve described the situation quite well. I just wonder to what extent there’s a confusion in applying the term “neoliberal” to what is pretty much a straight ahead efficiency model, one where increasing flexibility (to meet market demand) and reducing costs (especially long term costs which can quickly become liabilities) is pretty much a business 101-type rationale.

        Personally, I think neoliberalism comes into play only at the edges when it comes to university policy issues, and pretty much along the lines Jon Rowe outlines: insofar as one looks at and believes the data, the model (the Ideology!) seems to be justified. (For my part, I still have misgivings…) So why not, eh? But to me, the biggest “institutional thingy” that threatens the culture of academia and tenure and incites resistance in the higher ups to perpetuate a tenure-track model is innovation in the marketplace (and I mean that last term expansively, to include even the provision of goods and services required to provide goods and services and so on). Innovation has created a world where economic eras – the timelines, ya know? – are incredibly compressed and ever-changing. That means, to some extent, that the economic landscape in which kids are trying to get jobs requires specialized training, flexibility in thought processes, adaptability to new situations, and so on. So given that, why think that a four hundred year old model of education is gonna realize those needs/demands?

        Course, I don’t want to discount the cost/funding part of the equation here. Costs keep going up (because kids and parents continue to think that degree is a sweet ticket to the promised land!) while state-supported funding either can’t keep up or simply has to decline to get the sheet to balance. Neither of those last two strike me as particularly neoliberal.

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      • because you can see where a top-down economic ideology that seeks to transform university education into a market good has to, first and foremost, dismantle faculty governance in order to get there

        Actually, I don’t see the connection between university education as market good and dismantling faculty governance.

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        • I can see a connection. A faculty governed university is probably less likely to see education as a strictly market good compared to business people. Being mainly academics, they are going to be more interested in imparting theory on the students rather than skills except for majors like architecture, pharmacy, the various forms of engineering and a couple of others. Education as a market good is all about making sure students have a leg up in getting a career after they graduate. It will emphasize the practical over the theoretical. Business people are going to be more into this. To implement education as a market good, they are going to have to get rid anybody who disagrees.

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          • Republicans call themselves the true civil rights advocates, China and North Korea are both democratic people’s republics, university administrators fattening their own privileges, comforts and benefits are actually neoliberal market reformists.

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          • For what it’s worth, although I call myself neo-liberal, I’m not so devoted to the term, as a term, that I’m very concerned when others misuse it. I think of it as a handy term for my beliefs (pragmatism + welfare state + civil rights + an acknowledgment that “economic liberty is important”*). If it starts not to serve the use to which I put it, then I’ll gladly abandon the term. That said, I so far tend to largely agree with those people who I’ve met who call themselves neo-liberals.

            *Yes, those are in many ways contradictory.

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        • Because the faculty likely sees the university as something other than a market good, and even moreso doesn’t see the university as something which exists for the benefit of upper management and their cronies on the outside.

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          • In my university (National University of Singapore), deans etc are selected from the faculty. In fact, one of the philosophy professors is assistant dean for the faculty of arts and social sciences. Yet, funding for the philosophy department is still being cut. When I was doing my master’s the department was able to fully fund 2 PhD students and 2 masters’ students. (That is, provide fee waiver and $2000/mth stipend). Now, it only has enough to fully fund 1 or 2 PhD students. Master’s students at most get a tuition fee waiver. And they may get to TA, perhaps 1 class per semester (the department used to be able to afford to pay them for more).

            So, this seems to be a sample size of 1 (since we’re pretty much the only university with a serious faculty of arts and social sciences. The other major university is still growing their arts faculty, and the other universities are really just business schools) and is not in North America.

            Perhaps Singaporean profs are narrowly concerned with profit, but half I think about a third of the faculty are from the states or Europe (at the very least, a good many of them are white). The issue may have more to do with the fact that it is easier to publish if you are in say, the biological sciences than it is in philosophy. So, on paper, the guys from the department of biological sciences look amazingly productive while the guys in the philosophy department look like they are not doing anything.

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  6. @jon-rowe

    I think that the idea of neo-liberalism is seeing everything as being better served as a market good with a strict look at the bottom line or what gets the most money. There is no other consideration. “So the Italian department only gets three majors a year? Gut it. Renaissance Studies can only attract 50,000 in grant money? Gut it. Can we attract more students who can pay full way by building a rock climbing wall, luxury dorms, and having majors like Travel and Leisure studies? Yes! Do it!!”

    This debate really goes down to what is the point and purpose of the university. Is it for education or for skills? One side (called neo-liberals here) seem firmly on the skill and marketable set and about getting as much money for the university as possible. The other side is more like “You need to read Aristotle and Locke even if your only desire is to get hired by a Fortune 500 company.”

    I admit my bias is to the side that sees a university education as being for education. I also admit that when you go to a SLAC like I did, you don’t find too many people who are only putting up with “Intro to Philosophy” because they have to. You find people who want to take Intro to Western Philosophy even if they are Pre-Meds (which was not a possible major).

    This is a fight for the idea of the intangible. The idea that it is important not to reduce the entirety of human experience to charts and graphs and numbers. The idea that we should acknowledge the psychic benefits of being human in policy even if it is really hard to do so. These should be considerations when we talk about policy and funding beyond “cheaper iPhones.”

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    • Interestingly the majority of institutions in the US were set up as vocational type schools. Consider all the teachers colleges and normal schools they were set up to train teachers. Later they became comprehensive universities. Also the land grant schools were set up to train agriculturalists and engineers and military officers. As well as help the active farmer thru the extension service. It was during the flush times post WWII that the missions of both kinds of institutions expanded. You can sort of see this as the names of the institutions changed For a land grant school from Michigan Ag College to Mich State univ of Ag and applied science and then chop the ag and applied science off. (as an example).

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    • I think a very crude essentialism is going on here. It seems that you are presupposing that there is some definite Essence of education (or maybe Education). (Thus someone who studies Aristotle and Kant is Educated, but not someone who studies microbiology or chemical engineering). It seems like a very weird and elitist holdover from the days when landed aristocracy (or more generally the leisure class) would look down on people who had to work for a living. Thus, the former’s children would study the classics, and it was a point of pride for them that there were no industrial applications to their study, while the children of (not exactly peasants) the middle class would, out of necessity/ambition, study agriculture or engineering so that they could join the industry (or mechanise the family farm).

      It seems, at the very least, that it is extremely difficult to establish that there is any such essence. The mere fact that education was historically one way does not mean that that is what education is for. Given that such is the case, a fully privately funded university could have any goal for education. (It seems that if you want the university to keep to the mission of Educating, such provisions should be entrenched into the university’s charter.)

      For a fully publicly funded university (like the ones you might find in Europe) there may be problems with basing policy on intangibles. The main problem is that a liberal state ought not pursue policy based on controversial ideals of the good. But education for education’s sake is precisely such a controversial ideal. But money is an all purpose good. The goal of getting people trained for more advanced skilled work is a value that everyone can, in principle, endorse (even if they may disagree about any given means of achieving it). Thus the only public justification for allocating funding for university education is that doing so helps people acquire skills for jobs.

      But now, your allegedly public universities in the states are only partially publicly funded. So, the second part of the argument applies less. The state, insofar as it justifies contributing money to the university, must do so for publicly justifiable reasons, and insofar as it is possible, the money that the state contributes should go to fulfilling those public purposes. Of course since money is fungible, the university may allocate it’s own privately acquired funding as it sees fit. Of course if the bulk of a university’s funding is from the government, such latitude may be limited.

      The hard problem, as I see it, is how to structure the university in such a way that it keeps to a given mission (provided that it has such latitude to do so). One way to stave this off is to have all students in the same course pay the same fees only that disadvantaged students get subsidised by the state. Thus the sort of worries where universities focus on micky mouse majors or athletics facilities in order to attract wealthy students should be negated. After all, that way, wealthy students do not earn the university more money than less wealthy ones. Of course, with such public funding comes the other part of the bind, namely less latitude in how to allocate funds.

      What private donors should do is to allocate money to specific research programmes or courses (in fact, I think, many private scholarships indeed do this). The most that can be done is to lament the fact that there are not more private donors who actually care about how their money is spent. In theory, really turning the whole thing into a corporation (with shareholders and board of directors and everything) might put a stop to this burning of one’s seed corn which seems to be going on. I do not know how effective that will actually be, as shareholders are rarely that intimately involved with the day to day running and values of the companies the partially own. It is plausible that universities are in a similar situation to many “too big to fail” corporations, and thus share many of the same pathologies. But unlike the banking sector where it seems marginally more credible to just not help them if they fail, it is unclear if the same can be said about universities.

      IIRC, some private universities in Singapore did end up closing down because their reputation as degree mills cut down their enrolment sufficiently to make their continued operation unprofitable. (Or perhaps it was because their license to operate was revoked once it was discovered that they were merely degree mills)

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    • But that’s the problem Saul, even if one grants the definition of neoliberalism as you’re positing the outcome in universities is the -opposite- of that. There is no definition of “running university like a business” or “strict look at the bottom line” that would support a ballooning university administration with multiplying layers of pencil pushers displacing professors and jacking up student prices but that’s exactly what universities are suffering from these days.

      Now maybe that ballooning bloated admin likes using neoliberal catch phrases as an excuse but it’s pretty much the opposite of any form of neoliberalism you’d like to name. It’d be like saying that you blame the philosophy of social conservatism for the growing embrace of out unashamed gay people in the US today. What the ideology calls for and what critics are laying at it’s feet are exact opposites.

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      • If running a university as a business is code for using it as a means to get rich than ballooning the administration and jacking up prices is compatible for it. You jack up prices and operate it as a resort to get more money for yourself. I generally find that running x as a business tends to mean using it as a money making scheme.

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          • Neoliberalism is the current bogey man word for anything people do not like about the current economic policy and how politicians support it. People use bogey man words all the time. A lot of liberalism got denounced as communism during the Cold War in a related phenomenon.

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          • Besides what Lee said, I think a lot of people get aggravated by neo-liberals and neo-liberalism because the most public supporters of neo-liberalism tend to be Krugman’s “very serious people.” They adopt an attitude of “We are the adults and your concerns are merely childish and inchoate. Please be quiet and let the adults do their thing.”

            You often see this in disputes over deficit reduction vs. social-welfare spending, debates over the future of the American job because the neo-liberal attitude is seen as being “The future of the American job might be crummy, part-time, and soul-sucking. Let’s see if we can marginally make it better. Republicans don’t want to increase social welfare spending. No worries then, free markets will help those with crummy, soul-sucking jobs.”

            Except there is not so much proof that this is true. I think that there is a certain kind of economic thinking that says “If people are going along, we are justified and people are acting in their own, rational self-interest.” This sort of economic thought does not ask if people just lack better options and agency and the ability to stand against income and wealth-inequality.

            People on the left might have a better opinion of neo-liberalism if neo-liberalism decided to jettison some precious market deregulation and free market stuff in defense of the Welfare State and all the stuff that you said is difficult to graph. Though doing so would amount to market criticism so I doubt it would be done.

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            • Well sure Saul, but what exactly is on offer beyond that? The right has conservative corporatism and libertarian idealism one of which is flat out corrupt and the other which is so massively unappealing to the masses as to be pointless as a free standing ideology (though deeply useful as a critique).

              The left meanwhile mostly has nostrums and indignation. So yeah the serious helpful neoliberals are mainly trying to marginally improve things as they are right now (while the unhelpful ones are mainly just indulging in their own version of corporatism trying to pad their own nests and using the terms of neoliberalism as a cover).

              People in the center would probably have better opinions of leftist economic thought if they didn’t mix and match their arguments so badly. So much of the left of center argument falls into so many bad categories. You have the old “something must be done, this is something, so this must be done and never mind if it doesn’t help or makes things worse (for instance rent control). Then there’s the whole “dignity, opportunity etc. cannot be measured and graphed so we should spend endless measurable resources to try and address them; oh and no we can’t measure if it’s working; we’ll know it’s working because we’ll feel good about it. At least center leftists manage to accomplish changes and can say with great confidence that said changes are improvements (The ACA for instance, unlovely, imperfect but better than the status quos).

              Liberalism took its turn at the windmill with this line of thinking which led to the conservative/republican backlash of the 80’s and early 90’s. It wasn’t until neoliberalism and centrists moved back in and started playing the role of “very serious people” or “adults in the room” that voters in general thought the left could be trusted with governing again. If liberals go indulging in that stuff again then it’ll be the same backlash again only this time the right is so much more incoherent and nonsensical that there’s no telling how much damage they’ll do. Maybe the left could use a bit more very seriousness for itself so it can come in out of the fringes and draw some support from people other than the true believers.

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    • So the Italian department only gets three majors a year? Gut it. Renaissance Studies can only attract 50,000 in grant money? Gut it. Can we attract more students who can pay full way by building a rock climbing wall, luxury dorms, and having majors like Travel and Leisure studies? Yes! Do it!!

      I don’t know how often the tradeoff between, say, Italian literature and Renaissance Studies, on the one hand, and elite amenities on the other, is provided in such stark terms. (By the way, and correct me if I’m wrong, you have previously gone on record as endorsing the view that as many people as possible should live on campus and, presumably, we should encourage them to do so. You’re weren’t arguing for luxury dorms, etc., but I imagine even modest campus housing can be a big cost. Am I misrepresenting you?)

      I also don’t know if universities necessarily say “gut it” in response to the fact that certain programs attract only a small number of majors or bring in only a small amount of money. Sometimes the university’s answer might be–per the last paragraph of my comment below–“do away with the major but keep the minor” or “merge the Italian department with the French and Spanish departments and create a ‘department of romance languages'” or “do away with the Renaissance studies major but empower students to study the same thing, perhaps in a certificate program, through the departments of history and literature.” Maybe doing away with a major is bad, but demand for the major and the university’s ability to honor that demand with a high-enough quality program need to be considered.

      I’m speculating because I have no particular insight into how those types of decisions get made. I suspect it’s not always rah rah markets and it’s not always either/or propositions.

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  7. Like I fail to see what any of this has to do with Neoliberalism. I also don’t understand what this has to do with universities acting as businesses, since nothing you describe looks particular business-like to me. I’ll admit I’m not an expert on how businesses work (I’m the wrong kind of economist for that) but I’m pretty sure spending up massively on administrative staff while neglecting your core function is considered good business strategy by no-one. It doesn’t even fit with the stereotype of businesses – which is more about cutting staff across the board. If I were looking for a stereotype to the behaviour you are observing, it would come from Yes, Minister, not Dilbert.

    Perhaps the question you should be asking is “why are universities behaving more like government Departments?”

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    • This could be a misconception caused by taking these people at their words. To be honest, I’d like to know why they can’t behave like universities, but I have the horrible suspicion that many of these people talk about running them “like a business” because they have no idea what a university actually does.

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      • Exactly, I am suspecting that instead of taking aim at the administration this line of criticism is taking aim at their camouflage instead. No university admin is going to say “I want to run this school in a way that best pads my personal take-home pay, minimizes the work I have to do, minimizes the financial accountability I am responsible for, maximizes the comfort of my office and maximizes the number of minions that report to me.” No, same admin is going to pick out some jargon to cloud the issue like a squid spraying ink.
        “We have to run more like a business which means professors need to tighten their belts, we’re not flush with cash anymore because the mean public isn’t throwing it at us hand over fist oh and by the way could you mention to the students that we’ll be jacking tuition because money is tight.”

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      • I think they know very well what a university is supposed to do and they don’t like it one bit. During the Cold War, a lot of American conservatives were pissed off at universities for corrupting American youth with radical ideas. There was a magazine cover from the 1950s that I saw once that had a vaguely Jewish looking professor lecturing a bunch of wholesome white students about “Asia” according to the blackboard. It was obviously a veiled reference to the various national liberation and communist movements. The magazine featured an article about what conservative concerned parents can do to prevent the corruption of their kids on campus.

        The stakes are smaller now than they were in the Cold War but many conservative activists still see universities as quintessential liberal institutions and want to crush them. That is why the deny them funds. Art Pope of North Carolina is the most explicit example of this. Anything that might lead to challenges of the conservative orthodoxy must be crushed to them.

        Another group are simply grafters. They look at all the money that is available for basically free to universities in the form of student loans and they want in on it. So the work themselves up to the level of administrators and executives and rob the place blind.

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        • I’m getting the impression from most of the criticisms I’m reading (mostly from left wing sources rather than the right, Freddie for instance) that the serious trouble is from your latter group. While funding isn’t rising like it used to it hasn’t exactly been enormously cut in absolute terms.

          Though there might be another element in which the University see’s its donors as the customers so to speak and the students more as background noise.

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          • Though there might be another element in which the University see’s its donors as the customers so to speak and the students more as background noise.

            Well, if Saul wants his preferred outcome (more funding for the humanities) he is going to need donors who donate to the university with the aim of funding the humanities and the university to listen to them. Its not like loading additional administrative duties onto teaching/research staff will magically cause the university to focus on the humanities again. The budget that a university gets is what it gets. Certainly money could be spent more wisely, but the problem seems more deeply structural than just a matter of the profit motive running amok.

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            • Indeed, in fact if profit motive were truly the university’s priority then admin would be one of the first places they should be looking to cut. It’s not like administration is a revenue generating cost center.

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  8. Leaving aside the issue of whether what Giroux describes is truly “neo-liberalism” and whether current approaches to managing universities are healthy/unhealthy, there’s something about what Giroux says that bothers me. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but this quotation perhaps illustrates what it is:

    They [working-class students] have every right to be fearful of authority and power because it doesn’t work for them; it works against them. I think, for me, the issue has always been to be able to speak to them in a way that is meaningful to them as it would be to other students that automatically assume that the university is no different than their neighborhood and the places they grew up. I really go out of my way with the working class students to connect because I know the kind of struggles that in some ways they’re experiencing. For me, to make something meaningful, to make it critical and transformative often works very differently in terms of how I deal with them than how I deal with middle class students.

    I value their passion. It’s not something where I say “Wow, you’re angry! Keep your mouth shut!” I encourage them to talk because often they’re silenced. They don’t want to talk. They don’t feel as if they’re smart enough. They don’t have the linguistic skills to speak. I just cut right through that.

    That strikes me as potentially…condescending? pandering? essentialist? I’m not sure of the right word.

    What gives Mr. Giroux the standing “to speak for them”?

    How does he even identify which students are the working-class students and which are not, and how differently does he treat them from middle class students? I can see after he gets to know them over the course of a semester, but that takes a while, and a lot of students don’t choose to wear their class position on their sleeves. It’s not always obvious to look at or to listen to them.

    Mr. Giroux seems to imply a dichotomy: working-class students have “passion,” while middle-class students, I presume, are caught up in the staid status quo and are probably doomed to live lives of quiet desperation as members of the managerial class.

    Mr. Giroux “cuts right through” a working-class student’s reluctance to speak because, presumably, the students lack linguistic skills. Does Mr. Giroux also try to introduce those students to the linguistic skills he overlooks? Isn’t part of an education about training students in those soft communication skills that give them the social capital they need to advance? (Note for some people here: I say “part of education,” not the sum total of it.)

    Other than this OP, I confess I know nothing about Mr. Giroux or what he’s written. I’d need to know more before judging his attitudes on working-class students, his pedagogical approaches, or the other things he stands for. In short, I’m reading quite a lot into comments that because they were made in an interview, might not necessarily be as fleshed out as he’d prefer. But I just wanted to register that what I’ve seen so far does disturb me.

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    • To be sure, when I taught college classes (quite a while ago), I did try to make the classroom more welcoming to people who had some of the markers of a working-class background or other marginalized group, and to try to validate their efforts to participate and to express their views on matters relevant to the course. I have no idea whether or how much I was successful at doing so, and it’s entirely possible, even likely, that I fell into the same trap of being condescending/cloying that I identified with Mr. Giroux’s statements.

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    • I do hear where that section might read badly. I really should add some notes to be fair here:
      1. Due to me having a bit of trouble with my recording unit, I started the discussion in media res here, so there was a bit we discussed before this begins,
      2. Mainly, we talked about the jump both of us had made from working class families off to university and the ways that university discourse tends to intimidate students who don’t come from a more privileged background. I went to university with private school kids and really did have to learn not to give a damn if they tried to talk down to me, which they very often did, and we discussed how, quite often, academic discourse obliviously assumes that students come from a very WASPish privileged background where they learned to use certain language, speak in a sort of slow monotone voice, and remain detached in conversations,
      3. Giroux teaches in Hamilton and I’m fairly familiar with the student body that he is teaching to. It really is a place where it’s important to be aware of where they’re coming from and where a lot of academics won’t be,
      4. Finally, I would say that, even though he’s got over 50 books to his name, his area of specialty is public pedagogy, so there’s a lot of background to this part of the discussion.

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      • Thanks for the explanation, . I will say that my experiences were a little different, perhaps because I went to a second tier state university and because (sorry to those who know I’ve mentioned this before) I had a lot of advantages others from a working-class background don’t/didn’t.

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  9. Henry Giroux: “In the 70s and the 80s all of the forces that might have been associated with, for instance, classical liberalism, classical economics, something happens, something gets intensified and changes its form and becomes more ruthless.”

    In a sense I disagree. I feel that what happened was that the forces gathered enough strength that they could shed the velvet glove, and try to reassert the pre-New Deal American.

    Go to Lawyers, Guns and Money, and read the posts titled ‘This day in labor history’, to get a feel for how things went.

    SPOILER: the normal theme is ‘workers here were really, really f*cked over [with examples given]. They revolted, and were brutally crushed’.

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  10. Interestingly enough, I thought to link to this piece by Stanley Fish and just noticed it quotes Giroux. Fish does a good job of explaining what critics mean when they use the term “neoliberalism” and how they criticize it:
    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/03/08/neoliberalism-and-higher-education/?_r=0

    What I’ve learned (and what some readers of this column no doubt already knew) is that neoliberalism is a pejorative way of referring to a set of economic/political policies based on a strong faith in the beneficent effects of free markets. Here is an often cited definition by Paul Treanor: “Neoliberalism is a philosophy in which the existence and operation of a market are valued in themselves, separately from any previous relationship with the production of goods and services . . . and where the operation of a market or market-like structure is seen as an ethic in itself, capable of acting as a guide for all human action, and substituting for all previously existing ethical beliefs.” (“Neoliberalism: Origins, Theory, Definition.”)…

    Harvey and the other critics of neoliberalism explain that once neoliberal goals and priorities become embedded in a culture’s way of thinking, institutions that don’t regard themselves as neoliberal will nevertheless engage in practices that mime and extend neoliberal principles — privatization, untrammeled competition, the retreat from social engineering, the proliferation of markets. These are exactly the principles and practices these critics find in the 21st century university, where (according to Henry Giroux) the “historical legacy” of the university conceived “as a crucial public sphere” has given way to a university “that now narrates itself in terms that are more instrumental, commercial and practical.” (“Academic Unfreedom in America,” in Works and Days.)

    It really should be read as a whole, but what I think is important to understand here is that the people most actively involved with transforming higher ed over the last three decades or so really have been making the argument that fuddy duddy profs need to stop thinking of academia as some privileged sphere separate from the market and start thinking of it as a market good subject to the forces of a highly competitive sphere, which they use as a justification for eliminating “underperforming” departments like Classics. There was actually a quote that I found fascinating in the recent discussion of ending tenure in the Wisconsin public university system from a reformer to the effect that universities are weakened in their efforts to be competitive by having to allocate resources to teach students languages like German that nobody speaks. I’ve heard people similarly argue that universities are wasting money by maintaining philosophy programs.

    So, this is what profs are reacting against. Now, so far, all I’ve heard from defenders of neoliberalism is that what the critics are responding to is not really neoliberalism, an argument that, frankly, reminds me of how many times I’ve been told that “true Communism has never been tried”, and moreover that neoliberalism is common wisdom at this point, which doesn’t really say much. So, I would sincerely appreciate hearing how neoliberals describe their ideas, instead of how their critics describe them, and how they see their ideas playing out more effectively.

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    • Interesting. I may very well have read that Fish essay before, and probably need to again. Where I see my neo-liberalism differing from the definition Fish cites is that I don’t think of markets as good in themselves. To me, they’re a means to an end. And that end, I suppose, is individual autonomy, secure in his/her personal space and necessities of life. Maybe that’s a distinction without a difference, but that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. For now.

      What that means about the appropriate university policy, I don’t know. I do think universities should do something to curb the price of tuition, ideally through not spending a lot on fancy amenities like rec centers. Perhaps the growth of administrators is a problem, although “there’s too many administrators” seems, to some of the faculty I know personally, to be something of a shibboleth, assumed to be true and a sign that one is a serious academic who cares only about the life of the mind. I also think faculty should be prepared to accept pay cuts in some situations if it is part of a broader plan (and one more sensible than the one on offer in a lot of universities) to reduce costs.

      Finally–and unfortunately–a worthy discipline for whatever reason just doesn’t attract a lot of majors. Sometimes doing away with the major, cutting the number of classes, and maybe even doing away with the minor and/or closing the department or merging it with another is the right thing to do with the scarce resources the university has. I’ve never studied classics qua classics (although I did take a year of ancient Greek in college and tried (and mostly failed) to teach myself Latin while I was a high school student), but it’s a worthy discipline. I’m not against Classics departments per se. But if there are too few majors, maybe it needs to merge with the literature department, or the foreign languages department, or the history department.

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      • I don’t think of markets as good in themselves. To me, they’re a means to an end.

        I wish to amend and partially retract that statement. I do think markets represent the promise of choice, wherein two (or more) people voluntarily exchange something for something they want or need. In that sense, I do believe they’re goods in themselves. But people get in trouble when they advocate whole hog for markets without looking at who’s doing well and who’s doing poorly, and especially when they advocate for MARKETS as some rarefied, ahistorical principle not grounded in what’s happening to others. That type of rarefied advocacy is what I criticize some putatively “liberal” reforms (like rent control) for. It applies to those neoliberals who do it, too. Perhaps even to myself sometimes. See my preference for “jobs first” policies (but please also note that I spend at least half of that post explaining what’s wrong with that policy and wrote a couple other posts explaining where I might depart from that preference).

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  11. I guess the question is whether the inner-city mother who’s been hearing for her whole life about how education is the key, education saves your children, education provides access to good jobs and a better life…whether “a thorough grounding in the classical underpinnings of modern philosophy and aesthetics” is what she actually has in mind when she thinks of what education will do for her children.

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