In front of my desk at home sits a chair. That chair came to me when Gorgias Press was subleasing some of its office space and was necessarily divesting itself of unnecessary furnishings. Gorgias Press came to inherit the chair with the closing of the for-profit Katherine Gibbs School of Business, a branch of which leased half of the building. I sit in that chair, contemplating the future of education. I have just finished reading Frank Donoghue’s The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities (as recommended by my friend Marvin). Despite the fact that it is the first academic book I can recall leaving me in tears, it is a book every Ph.D. and potential Ph.D. in the Humanities should read and/or be forced to read. Buck the trend! Buy a book! Donoghue is a rare individual who actually takes time to research what is going on in higher education and who has the courage to report it directly. My regular readers will know that for nearly two decades I worked in higher education, spending every one of those years hoping that the next year things would get better. Thank you, Dr. Donoghue, for speaking the truth.
I didn’t enter higher education as a child of privilege. My career ambitions in high school were to be a janitor. Encouraged along the way by well-meaning teachers and professors, I eventually found a job (lackluster as it was) in higher education. What I didn’t realize is that the game had been rigged. I recall being told with crystalline clarity that college and university positions were headed for a vast turn-over in the 1990s and jobs would be abundant. Donoghue heard that story too. His research shows that the writing had been inscribed on the wall as early as the 1970’s (before I reached high school) that this would not happen. This is not hindsight either; studies were already indicating that higher education was going after the vaunted business model of the glitzy for-profit world. Shiny baubles. Worse yet, the roots of this inevitable transformation reached back to the Civil War and the nation that emerged from it—replace the dead on the battlefield with the dead in the factory. Only only method of judging value existed: money.
The most disturbing aspect of all of this is the irreversibility of this trend: in today’s world only one value system is admitted, and it is purely material. No other way in higher education is capable of assessing worth. Rather, the alternate ways are being ruthlessly silenced by the transformation of university to corporation. That transformation was well underway long before the 1970’s, of course. I had recognized at a young age that capitalism is a cancer that eats away the soul of people, convincing them that financial success is the only goal worth pursuing. I protested. I spent years earning a doctorate in the Humanities to show that other values still throbbed away in the hearts of those who weren’t taken in by shiny baubles. If you have any interest in resuscitating the human spirit, read Donoghue and weep with me. The only consolation that I have is that I am sitting on a chair of a for-profit school that fell victim to the value system it once supported. Capital and cannibal are too close for comfort.