The past two weeks have been dominated by higher education cuts, conferences, writing, and massive reading. In short, I’ve been busy being a graduate student in the U.S.
As Emory University continues to navigate the aftershock of deep cuts to liberal arts programs at the undergraduate and graduate level, my intellectual home feels like mom and dad are getting a divorce. No one asked for my opinion but my wish for students is that they take this opportunity to learn how to organize, mobilize, and effect social change. It’s a useful skill and, I fear, a skill that will only become more useful as pressures to privatize all sectors of public life increase.
I had to take a break just as these kinds of things were developing to attend the Access, Competition and For-Profit Higher Education conference at Duke University last week. If you’ll forgive me a little hubris, I worked for over two years (with Sandy Darity and a stellar team at the Research Network) to organize this two day research conference on for-profit colleges. With generous support from AERA, Sanford School of Public Policy and the Research Network over two dozen scholars gathered to create a research agenda for the study of for-profit higher education. I am particularly proud that so many senior representatives from for-profit colleges took seriously my invitation to engage and collaborate. Kaplan University, American Public University, DeVry Institutes, and Corinthian Colleges deserve recognition for participating fully in the two day event. It could not have been easy but each representative acted in good faith and the conference was better for their participation.
Goldie Blumenstyk at The Chronicle of Higher Education pulled me aside at one point to say that she cannot remember a gathering quite like this one. A 2003 conference at Teacher’s College discussed for-profits. We tried to build on that model by including interdisciplinary scholars and the for-profit sector itself. I think it is just the beginning and I am excited to see what the future holds for those of us in this line of inquiry.
Lest y’all think I’ve lost my mojo, I’m back on the case pushing the radical idea that race and gender matters, women are human, and organizations are not bastions of neutrality. Ms. Magazine’s Femisphere has included me in a list of feminists education and teacher bloggers. When I answered the editor’s questions it was 2 am and I was on the third straight day of last minute conference planning, grading, and comps reading. When I’m tired I always forget to obfuscate. As a result my responses are admittedly pointed. I will own that. My mentor and new friend Gaye Tuchman told me this weekend that I’m my best when I’m shooting straight in my writing. I reflected on how the graduate school process endeavors to make you do any and everything BUT speak and write plainly. This blog became my refuge when the academic acculturation to scientific writing made me feel trapped and stymied. All I’ve ever wanted to do my whole life is talk to people and to ideas. Writing is only ever, for me, a conversation. Subheadings and inverted pyramids and forced outlines have always made me feel violated. I learned, however, to mimic being a good student by giving people what they want. You want an outline even though I don’t use them? Fine, I’ll make one up…after I’ve written the paper. You want to force me to free write? Fine, I’ll scribble nonsense on a few pages an hour before the assignment is due. You want me to wield convoluted prose and academic-ese so that I can become one of the cool published kids?
I try to pick and choose my battles. It’s the gift and the curse of double-consciousness: we learn early to preserve our strength for fights that matter most.
But, the Ms. Magazine assignment and Gaye’s words are rambling about my addled brain today and I’m thinking that maybe I’m tired of writing to assignments.
This life is only fun if I get to do it my way.
So, thank you Ms. Magazine for reminding me of who I am and, more importantly, what I sound like.
And, thank you Gaye for having the guts to tell me my paper was tortured compared to my blogging and that I am obligated to do better.
You’re right, of course. I can. And, I shall.
World: this is your final warning.