Wal-Mart Edu

Marc Bousquet has an interesting response to Obamba’s initiative to pump some money into higher ed, in particular community colleges.  The short of Bousquet’s concerns, which I think is warranted, revolve–for one– around the consequences of the top-down organization of cc’s:

Louisville fails for the same reason many community colleges fail: they put cheap, permanently temporary teachers (students, retirees, moonlighters, folks willing to work for status) in the front lines of first-year courses, and then–desperate to armor-plate the curriculum against the uneven preparation of the faculty–convert the tenure stream into supervisors of the temps.  The bribe for the tenured overclass includes being freed to teach only the fraction of students who get through the obstacle course of the first year or two.

But this suckiness is what Obama and Duncan like about community colleges and enterprise universities like the U of L.  Not the low graduation rates–they’ll pull at their chins thoughtfully and agree with you there.

What they like–no, love–is the organization of community colleges, the top-down control of curriculum, the tenured management and the disposable teachers. That’s perfect! Community colleges regularly fire union officials and anyone else who gets in their way.

Bousquet continues:

With management firmly in control of curriculum and governance, there’s no pathetic and irritating faculty to raise their hands and whine while local employers are trying to place their education orders with the college administration: “Gimme about fifty x-ray technicians! naw, make it seventy-five–we got about ten jobs and wanna make sure we can replace any with union sentiments. And hurry it up, will ya? I gotta fly to Hilton Head this afternoon for dinner and a round of golf in the morning. Oh, you only make a hundred grand? Heck, I can offer you five times that if you can get my people to work for the crap wages you pay your faculty!”

The fact that the best research shows that a perma-temp faculty and several decades of total managerial dominance are causing low graduation rates won’t stop the prez and his basketball buddy, because control is their goal. However unjust and racist the consequences, they are fundamentally anti-democratic in their aspiration to fulfill the Clinton-Gore dream of quality-managing the public sphere.

(Follow the link to see what I mean by “unjust and racist,” but essentially: when you drive the wages for teaching down to the point where it’s a luxury good providing status–”I teach at the U” is a variation on the theme of “I live on Wisteria Lane” or “I drive the 600-class”–only the already well-off can afford the luxury of spending time on teaching.  You pretty much inevitably perpetuate the beliefs, interests, racial composition and gendered division of labor of the class providing the teachers. Including that class’s disproportionate whiteness and their belief that the folks they’re teaching–”workers”– are a pretty unworthy bunch.)

Despite increasingly threadbare efforts to wrap himself in the legacy of FDR, in any reasonable world-historical perspective Obama is our Herbert Hoover: a pro-business “moderate” eager to keep good relations with organized labor while minimizing labor’s impact on public policy.

To put it another way, he’s essentially a fixer for the status quo ante Bush II.

In his wildest dreams, the prez just wants to get back to the crappy “good economy” of the Clinton years. Those were the years that inspired my favorite first-year student writing assignment, on the question of “for whom is a ‘good economy’ good?” (Hint: the cast of Bravo’s “Real Housewives” franchise has done okay, but their servants–not so much.

Read the whole response here.

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