Universal Universities

DearCommitteeHaving been in academia for nearly two decades, and having watched from the sidelines ever since being benched, I found Dear Committee Members a little too true to life. This novel by Julie Schumacher is presented as a series of letters of recommendation by an embattled English professor at Payne University. Set over the course of an academic year, the reader watches as the fictional university eviscerates the humanities to make the life of more “practical” departments like Economics much more comfortable. Sarcastic, bitter, and full of pathos, the novel is frequently funny, but it runs so true to life that it would be difficult to say whether it is indeed fiction or not. The book was a national bestseller, but universities continue down this very road, with all seriousness.

I have said before: it is time for those of us who really believe in education to take on, challenge, and overthrow this paradigm. Education is not about making money. There is more to life than that. My reading, which coalesces somewhat coincidentally around these themes (Dear Committee Members was recommended to me by a bookseller that I don’t know personally), paints a larger picture that is disturbing. The capitalist economy is growing out of control, its own dictates now excluding human decision (see my post on At the Altar of Wall Street earlier this week), and one of its strongest investors is higher education. It is a business, you see. The utter and complete devotion to the economy cannot take place without new generations of students indoctrinated into money as the meaning of life. Some of us—many of us—disagree, but we are not organized and we have no funding. We are the human resistance.

Setting out to make money was never my goal in entering the professorate. Motivated by finding authentic meaning in life, I have found that those departments where such a search resides—religion, philosophy, English, music, the arts—are under siege and constantly have to justify their existence to the administration. Dear Committee Members is funny in its overstatement, and in having a protagonist actually say what many of us think. And thinking is what it is all about. Education is about learning to think. Not earning a mint. We are in need of an altar call. The only ones with power to take back education from corporations are people. Who’s willing to join the cause with me? At this point I’d even be willing to consider sympathetic robots.

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