some of us are brave
I had a plan for the next blog post which rarely happens. I’m a one-and-done kinda girl on this space. I write it when I write it and I move on. I rarely plan or edit, which is likely obvious but whatever. But this week a minor kerfuffle at law school blog Above the Law about the genetic inferiority of blacks got me to thinking about the nature of courage. So, I was going to write about how being a norm breaker for the sake of party favors isn’t real courage. Courage is something altogether different.
But a day after I started thinking about that post a rumor started spreading at my university. It seemed that some programs were on the chopping block. The news put my blog plans on hold. There were too many different sources for it to be without merit. Several of the programs named have long been vulnerable so, while I was sad, I was not entirely surprised by the rumors. The official announcement from Emory University, however, contained quite a few surprises:
To create a financially sustainable path for traditional strengths in the arts and sciences, as well as for new emerging growth areas, the ECAS will reduce the number of academic programs it supports through the closing and reorganizing of three academic departments and several programs.
In a Sept. 14 letter to the Emory College community, Forman announced the closing of: the Division of Educational Studies; the Department of Physical Education (which already is being phased out in favor of new approaches to health and physical fitness education); and the Department of Visual Arts, in addition to the Program in Journalism.
In partnership with the Laney Graduate School, we are also suspending admissions to the graduate programs in Spanish and Economics, so that we can be deliberate in reimagining the role that graduate education in these fields will play at Emory.”
“Finally, we will suspend graduate admissions to the ILA (Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts) and reorganize the ILA into an institute without permanent faculty.
I find myself in a complicated situation.
I know, like, love, and/or am affiliated with someone or many someones in every single one of those departments. In the interest of full disclosure, I was once a graduate student in one of the shuttered programs. I wavered on analyzing this move out of respect for the real people who have been thrown a loop by this decision. They are real people I care a great deal for.
But, the work is the work.
And this type of analysis and research is exactly what I do. So, until my program is snatched or my credentials are revoked I feel obligated to react to this news.
It’s a sign’o'the times.
The move to privatize education at all levels in the U.S. has been going on for at least 30 years now. And it’s made strange bedfellows. White evangelicals resent the cultural changes the Civil Rights Movement wrought on classrooms. Private industry, facing tightened credit markets and greater competition, is eyeing public funds like the new girl at Sweet Valley High. Baby boomers had fewer children aiming to pour the best of themselves — and their resources — across fewer bloodlines. They obsess about good returns on their investment.
All of these endogenous and exogenous pressures have made it difficult to sell public education and accessible education as the great American way.
For all our rhetoric, no one wants an education system that actually provides equal opportunity. We want more opportunity for our children and a little less for “other” children.
And that’s what privatization of education promises.
MOOCs are so large and amorphous as to essentially be an aggregate of individuals, not a class or a classroom or a school. You can pick and choose the education you want and leave behind any parts that make you uncomfortable. You can get a PhD online and never have to battle ideas in an open forum, defend your position against better armed peers, or risk having a discussion on affirmative action or abortion. You can go to Patrick Henry with a few hundred other white, evangelical homeschooled students who believe exactly what you believe and who won’t give your parents brown grandbabies.
We are now the America that wants the opt-out button and privatization is more than happy to give it to us.
Only, we still have to work and mate and procreate in groups.
It’s mad inconvenient, that.
So, the new capital becomes institutions that actual provide socialization and social capital at the exact time that increased individualization and asocial learning is being promoted as the solution to all that ails us.
As any economist can tell you, scarcity tends to breed value.
Who will have the resources, the institutions, the networks to produce the opportunities to earn and exchange that kind of capital in the new privatized version of higher education?
Prestigious colleges with deep endowments and a high selectivity rating on their U.S. News ranking.
Prestige has always been hot in social mobility but it’s about to get hotter.
Which brings me back to Emory. Notice that programs being cut are in low prestige fields: education, journalism. Economics is an oddball but only if you consider that business tends to have overtaken economics among the managerial classes.
Sure, there’ll always be a few Ivy programs in “soft” fields. The Harvard Graduate School of Education will certainly live on. But, note that it will take a lot of institutional prestige to spend a little on a low prestige field. Aspirational schools, those on the prestige bubble, are sensing a change in the higher education landscape. It’s become more selective, more elite or go home. At the other end, public universities are being pushed to offer more of the individualized learning via technology.
So, what will all the people who were born to the wrong family do for education?
They’ll take it online at State U., enroll at Strayer, get a certificate at Everest College or they’ll get the one lotto ticket out of the educational slow lane and get into a more prestigious university in the name of diversity.
That’s a prescription for a segmented institutional field: the unlucky but ambitious paying more for State U, the unlucky and overwhelmed at a for-profit college, and those smart enough to be born well going to elite colleges where they’ll get the kind of social capital that will further sort the winners and the losers in the labor market.
If you were Emory and you saw these structural changes coming, what would you do?
I suspect you’d be sending the same email on a Friday afternoon and thanking ye gods that your children decided to be born lucky.